What are the laws on drinking & riding?
Rolling home in a slightly wobbly fashion is the choice of many a student and young professional across Australia. Having a run-down ‘pub bike’ that is safe to leave chained up overnight – or in the case of Barry* a keen Melbourne cyclist whose bike was chained up for weeks on account of being unable to remember where he parked it – is almost a rite of passage for city dwellers.
To help you understand the ins and outs of riding home from the pub or a party we decided to investigate.
To be clear, Reid Cycles want to see you home safe and recommend against cycling while under the influence.
Before getting to the legality, there is a question on whether or not it is a good idea? Cycling around town after a boozy session is certainly cheaper (at the time) than catching a taxi, as we all know the lion’s share of our money will be spent on alcohol, but is it safe?
Alcohol and judgement
Logic would say that like driving drunk, cycling drunk exposes you to a greater risk. Logic would be right, even relatively small amounts of alcohol can have a profound effect on how well you can ride by lowering your ability to concentrate on multiple tasks, stay focused on the task of cycling and reducing the ability to actually see and react to what is around you.
Taking the bus or train is the safest option, but if you did ride home from the pub, what would happen if the boys in blue decided to stop you?
Where do you stand?
In many ways cycling is off the radar from a drink driving point of view, and while in most states it is illegal the penalties vary significantly.
South Australia considers cycling while intoxicated to be an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1961, the same offence as driving while drunk. There is one key difference; the penalty is considerably less at $500.
If you are in Queensland the penalties are more costly as the offence can carry a maximum 40 penalty units ($4,400) or nine months in prison. To clarify, “Any person who, while under the influence of liquor or a drug, drives or is in charge of any vehicle (other than a motor vehicle) on a road, or attempts to put in motion any vehicle (other than a motor vehicle) on a road, is guilty of an offence,” according to the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995.
In New South Wales a bicycle is considered a vehicle and as such, drink driving restrictions apply. The way the Road Transport Act 2013 is written means that low range, mid-range, and high-range drink driving offences don’t apply, but cyclists can be charged with using or attempting to use their bicycle under the influence of alcohol or any other drug. The maximum penalty for a first offence is $2,200 and/or 9 months imprisonment. If convicted for cycling while drunk you could also lose your licence for up to 12 months.
If in the past five years you had a previous drink driving conviction (motor vehicle or cycle) then the maximum penalty is $3,300 and or 12 months imprisonment. If convicted for cycling while drunk you could also lose your licence for up to three years.
Critically though, the power to breath test applies only to motor vehicles but an evidential blood sample can be taken should you find yourself in hospital.
In Western Australia, the Road Traffic Code 2000 states that: “A person shall not on any road or path…ride a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or alcohol and drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the bicycle” and the penalty is two penalty units. Getting caught in WA would cost you around a hundred bucks.
In Victoria the laws are quite outdated and is actually ‘Drunk in charge of a carriage’, yes a carriage. You could be charged under the same rules that govern those horse drawn carriages parked up near Flinders street station on weekend evenings. If convicted expect around 10 penalty units (around $1,400) or two months’ imprisonment.
These rules do mean the Police can’t breath test you and if charged you wouldn’t lose any demerit points.
In Tasmania cycling is treated as per any motor vehicle, you will be subject to the same penalties as if you were caught behind the wheel. The penalty varies depending on how much alcohol is in your system but runs up to 12 months in jail and 30 penalty units for a first offence and up to double this if you are caught again.
In the Northern Territory the laws are specific to motor vehicles and don’t appear to apply to cyclists. The full force of the law may still apply if you are deemed to be a danger to other road users.
In ACT you will not be subject to the penalties that apply to motor vehicles, instead the law states, “A person must not drive or ride a vehicle or animal on a road, or be in charge of a vehicle or animal on a road, while under the influence of alcohol.” So if you were caught while cycling or riding a horse you would face a maximum of 50 penalty units and/or imprisonment for six months.
Losing your licence will only apply in NSW and Tasmania.
If you were breath tested at the station, the legislation in all states but Tasmania and New South Wales relates specifically to motor vehicles. If you were tested at the station you should seek legal advice on the admissibility of the test as evidence. Be aware though that if you have a crash and end up in Hospital then yes they generally can and are likely to take an evidential blood sample.
Can it get any worse?
While the penalties may not seem that big of a deal depending on where you live, the Police can take you into custody for other serious traffic offences that relate to your behaviour and conduct. For example, you could face serious criminal charges if your actions resulted in a car crash or injury.
Is cycling drunk really that dangerous?
High quality statistics are difficult as cyclists typically under report accidents with the vast majority of non-serious crashes never reported.
But what we do know suggests that alcohol was more common in fatal crashes, that male riders were most likely to be involved, that riders were less likely to be wearing helmets, and that crashes were most frequent on weekends and nights according to a 2010 paper presented by The Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland.
We all know that alcohol affects our ability to drive, giving you a false sense of bravado, making our reactions slower and changing our balance. So while you might not have a motor (unless you're riding your electric bike) you are more vulnerable and if you have an incident the consequences can be dire.
Taxi’s, sober drivers, or public transport remain the best options for getting home safe, they just may not be the cheapest.
*Barry is not the rider’s real name. It has been changed for identity protection.
Disclaimer: While this information has been researched and we believe it to be accurate at the time of writing, we take no responsibility for actions resulting after reading it. For confirmation about your local laws please contact your state police department.