The tipsy bike rider

As summer is coming to a close, many of us are trying to jam in just one more campfire, one more jump in the lake, one more night of good times with friends, on a patio or in the woods. What about when the fun’s run out and we’re leaving for the night? We know not to get in our cars and drive home: there are strong social taboos about drinking and driving. But what about hopping on our bike and pedalling our way home – could we still face a dreaded DUI charge?


The simple answer is no.


But that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. We can’t be charged criminally with driving under the influence because, in Canada, that requires operating or having care or control of a motor vehicle. And, so long as our bikes don’t have motors, impaired driving won’t stick. E-bicycles present an interesting hybrid: they do count as motor vehicles federally and could attract Criminal Code attention and regular rules that apply to driving a car apply to them as well, including that driving prohibitions prohibit using e-bikes (although e-bikes aren’t considered motor vehicles provincially).

For a traditional, non-motorized bike, however, we could find ourselves being charged under the province’s Highway Traffic Act or Liquor License Act for a host of possible offences, including careless driving, public intoxication, consuming alcohol not in a licensed establishment or residence, depending what fits. We couldn’t be charged with speeding or impaired driving under the Highway Traffic Act because, like the Criminal Code, those offences are restricted to operators of “motor vehicles.” So, likewise, we couldn’t lose our license or be given demerit points for riding our bikes when we were “a bit sloshed.”


We tend to have a sense that bikes are a safe and reasonable means of transport after a night of partying


This isn’t the case everywhere. In California, for example, bicycles are treated the same as any other vehicle on the road – and bicyclists may be charged with driving under the influence; the same criminal process that is followed as for someone operating an SUV, a truck or a car while impaired.

We tend to have a sense that bikes are a safe and reasonable means of transport after a night of partying, especially during warm summer months and crisp fall evenings when some extra fresh air seems exceedingly preferable to paying cab fare. Bikes certainly pose different dangers than most motor vehicles. They tend to put the rider in greater harm than other drivers – there’s very little between a cyclist and the road or other vehicles – and tipsy cyclists might forgo important safety equipment. They also place pedestrians and other cyclists in harm’s way and could damage property. In extreme cases, you could be open to criminal negligence charges.

Just because you may not need a key to operate your bike – or your boat – and you may not be open to a traditional DUI charge, doesn’t mean not to think twice before going for a ride. Are you going to be safe?



About Katrina Trask

Katrina Trask is a graduate student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. Prior to beginning her graduate studies, she was a legal research lawyer at the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal. Katrina’s undergraduate and law degrees are both from the University of Manitoba.