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Cycling, Alcohol and a Legal Route Home

Updated: Feb 17

With the introduction of stricter drink drive legislation in 2014, the law is clear; even a pint or a glass of wine could put a driver in breach of the limit. If drivers don’t wish to risk criminal liability and the loss of their licence, they would be wise to take a taxi, an uber or even take a sobering walk home in the fresh air. These alternative modes of transport would keep drivers in the clear with the law. However, operating a push bike while under the influence of alcohol is a comparably murkier area.

Under the Licensing Act 1872, it is an offence for anyone to be in control of a “vehicle, carriage or cattle” while drunk. In terms of the law, a bicycle is defined as a carriage, bringing it under the scope of the offence. Although this seems cut and dried, the act is no longer enforced as illustrated by the fact that it prohibits all forms of public drunkenness.

Notwithstanding, Section 30 of the more modern Road Traffic Act 1988 deems it an offence to operate a bicycle when unfit by way of drink or drugs. The term ‘unfit’ is defined as being in a state whereby you are incapable of having appropriate control of the carriage. The section goes on to provide that in Scotland, a PC may, without a warrant, arrest a person who is suspected of being in breach of this offence.

Unlike the senile 1872 act, Section 30 has seen some form of modern enforcement. In 2012, at least six cyclists in Scotland had been charged under the provision. Cyclists should not fret too much though, as the penalties for the offence pale in comparison to that of drunk driving.

As it is not termed as a ‘driving’ offence per se, you cannot receive penalty points on your licence under the offence – even if the state of intoxication is to the tune of 12 pints or two bottles of wine. Nor are persons suspected of committing the offence obliged to submit a breath, blood or urine sample to the police. Given this to be the case, it is unlikely a person will be stopped unless they overtly show signs of intoxication while riding the bicycle.

Should you be found guilty of riding a bicycle while intoxicated, the maximum penalty is a £1000 fine. The same is applicable for careless or inconsiderate driving. However, should you cycle ‘dangerously’ while drunk, you could be fined up to £2500.

In any event, it is strongly advised that you leave your bike at home should you be having a few drinks. Apart from the legal implications, alcohol will inevitably slow your reaction times and your ability to control the bike properly, endangering the safety of you and anyone in relative proximity. If you are drinking, take a taxi, an Uber or even walk home but don’t drive, or cycle for that matter.

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