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What are the laws for drinking alcohol & riding a bike?

4 February, 2021

Rolling home in a slightly wobbly fashion is the choice of many students and young people across Australia. Having a cheap, no-frills ‘pub bike’ that is safe to leave chained up out the front of a boozer is a pretty standard feature in most student sharehouses.

It may be free, and it may be easier than public transport or an Uber - but there can be some very real consequences to riding home drunk if you get pulled over or are involved in an accident.

Here we investigate the laws and consequences of riding a bike under the influence of alcohol in each state of Australia. It varies widely and there are a lot of urban myths surrounding this topic, so we figured we'd spell it out.

To be clear, Reid Cycles wants to see safe cycling and strongly recommends against riding your bike home while intoxicated.


Is Drinking & Cycling Really A Good Idea?

Before getting to the legality, there is a question on whether or not it is a responsible option. Cycling around town after a boozy session is certainly cheaper (at the time) than catching a taxi - but is it safe for you and other road users?

Alcohol & Judgement

Just like driving drunk, cycling drunk exposes you to a greater risk of having an accident. Even relatively small amounts of alcohol can have a profound effect on how well you can ride your bike:

  • Lowering your ability to concentrate on multiple tasks like controlling the bicycle while seeing and reacting to what is around you.
  • Reduced ability to judge speed and distance.
  • False confidence and increased tendency to take foolhardy risks.
  • Slower reaction times.
  • Impaired vision and judgement of obstacles.

Given these impacts, taking the bus or train starts to look like a more reasonable choice.

The drunk version of you might see things differently though. So on the off-chance you did ride home from the pub - what would happen if the cops decided to stop you? Is it legal to drink and cycle?


What are the drinking & cycling laws in Australia?

Cycling drunk does not expose you to nearly as many legal risks as drink driving. For one thing you're not operating a 2-tonne SUV at high speed... you're pedalling along mostly endangering yourself.

It is still illegal in most states though - but the penalties vary significantly.

South Australia

SA 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 though: the penalty is considerably less at $500.

Queensland

If you are in Queensland though, the penalties are more serious. 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.”
Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995

New South Wales

A bicycle is considered as a vehicle in NSW, 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 in NSW 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.

Western Australia

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 drugs or alcohol to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the bicycle.”

The fine is two penalty units - getting caught in WA would cost you around a hundred bucks.

Victoria

In Victoria the laws are quite outdated and are actually classed under ‘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 Saturday nights.

If convicted, expect around 10 penalty units (approx $1,400) or up to two months imprisonment.

These rules do mean the Police can’t breath test you though and if charged you wouldn’t lose any demerit points on your driving license for DUI on a bicycle.

Tasmania

In Tasmania, riding a pushy is treated the same as driving a motor vehicle and 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. It can be up to double this if you are caught again.

Northern Territory

The drink driving laws are specific to motor vehicles in the NT 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 though.

ACT

In the 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.




So can you get done for drink driving on a bike?

In many states the Police cannot take a breath test or blood sample from you (unless you wind up in hospital). See the rules in your state above.

If you were breath tested at the station though, the drink driving legislation in all states (but Tasmania and New South Wales) relates specifically to motor vehicles and not bikes. You can only lose your car driving license for riding a bike drunk in NSW and Tasmania.

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.


What else can the Police do if you get pulled over?

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.

The takeaway: if you hurt someone else while riding drunk - things will get real bad, real fast.


Is cycling drunk really that dangerous?

It's hard to say. High quality statistics are difficult to find as cyclists typically under report accidents, with the vast majority of non-serious crashes never reported.

But what we do know suggests that is risky (according to a 2010 paper presented by The Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety Queensland):

  • Alcohol was more common in fatal crashes involving cyclists (young male riders were most likely to be involved).
  • Crashes were most frequent on weekends and nights.

We all know that alcohol affects our ability to drive though - giving you a false sense of bravado, making your reactions slower and hampering judgement of risk.

Throw the additional requirement for balance when riding a bike into the mix and it's pretty obvious that you are exposing yourself to danger (bikes don't come with airbags either, so if something does go wrong, the consequences can be serious).

So next time you find yourself outside a bar at closing time with a decision to make about getting home, you'll at least know the risks you're facing.

If you do decide to ride your bike - maybe drink less and look for a bike path or quiet back streets where you're at least not endangering anyone else with your decision.

Ride safe.

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.