Scooter and Bike DUIs in California

Are bicycle- and scooter-share riders within the reach of California’s DUI laws?

You can find dockless scooter and bike share services like Bird, Lime, and Gobike in nearly every large California town. In some areas, scooters, bikes, and e-bikes seem to litter the streets. And when you leave a bar or restaurant after having a few drinks, it may be tempting to just hop aboard and ride instead of calling a cab or finding some other way home. But what does California law say about scootering and biking while intoxicated? Could a short scooter ride home with booze in your system lead to a DUI charge and a night in jail?

Motorized scooters, electric bikes, and traditional bikes are subject to most of the same traffic laws as regular vehicles. However, it appears the Legislature has recognized that intoxicated operation of a bike or scooter might not pose the same level of risk to the public as operating a car or truck while under the influence. Accordingly, California has enacted special laws that apply to some instance of intoxicated scootering and biking and are less harsh than the DUI laws that apply to other motor vehicles.

Intoxicated Scootering

California Vehicle Code section 21221.5 specifically prohibits operating a “motorized scooter” on a highway while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. A person is considered “under the influence” if substantially affected by the substance or substances ingested.

However, whereas with California’s traditional DUI statutes there’s a “per seblood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08%, there is no intoxicated scootering “per se” law. So, for scootering under the influence, BAC can be a consideration but not necessarily determinative of whether the scooter operator has violated the law.

Also, motorized scooter operators who are suspected to be in violation of section 21221.5 are not subject to California’s implied consent law—which normally requires motorists who are stopped for drunk driving to take a chemical blood alcohol test. Although you don’t have to take a test, if you believe a blood, urine, or breath test will help prove your sobriety, you have the right to ask for one.

Without the ability to compel a BAC test, to justify an arrest, an officer must rely on observations of actual impairment such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, and poor driving or field sobriety test performance.

Although conviction is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $250, your driver’s license won’t be impacted, and the conviction won’t count against your driving record. Keep in mind, though, that a misdemeanor can stay on your criminal record for life.

Intoxicated Biking

Pedal bicycles. For regular pedal bikes, California has a specific law against “cycling under the Influence” or “CUI.” California Vehicle Code section 21200.5 prohibits riding a bicycle while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two.

CUI is a misdemeanor carrying the same $250 fine as scootering while intoxicated. A CUI conviction won’t count against your driver's license unless you are under 21-years-old, in which case your license may be suspended.

Motorized and electric bicycles. California doesn’t have a statute that specifically applies to riding an electric or motorized bicycle while under the influence. And California’s CUI statute applies only to those riding bikes that are “propelled exclusively by human power.” So, presumably, anyone caught riding one of these bikes while intoxicated could be arrested for and charged with a standard DUI.

Possibility of Facing Standard DUI Charges

California’s DUI laws generally apply to all motor vehicles. And “motor vehicle” is defined as a vehicle that is “self-propelled”—with a few exceptions, including for electric wheelchairs. So, although it might not be common, it would seem that anyone who operates an electric or gas-powered scooter or bike while drunk or high could be charged with a standard DUI. Basically, in DUI cases involving these types of bikes and scooters, the prosecutor would get to choose how to charge the offense.

General and Special Traffic Laws Apply

Although scooters, bikes, and e-bikes may seem toy-like, riders must obey all traffic laws that would reasonably apply to those types of vehicles (such as stopping at stop signs and traffic lights, obeying speed limits, and traveling with the flow of traffic). Additional special laws apply:

  • Riding scooters (and often bikes) on public sidewalks is prohibited.
  • You cannot carry passengers on scooters or e-bikes.
  • Scooters and bikes must use bike lanes whenever possible.
  • You cannot use the left turn lane on a scooter but must pull to the right and use the pedestrian crosswalk.
  • While state law doesn’t require adults operating a scooter to wear a DOT-approved safety helmet, you must wear one while riding a motorized bike. Also, individual cities can enact their own helmet ordinances, so be aware of local laws.

You’ll need a valid driver’s license to ride a scooter but not a motorized bike if that bike has pedals, an electric motor smaller than 1,000 watts, and a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour or less. Most bike-share electric bikes meet these criteria. And although you don’t need a license to operate an e-bike, you must be at least 16 years old.

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