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Could you be cited for DUI if you ride your bike home after one too many?

Members of the Lahar Bicycle Club and Bonney Lake Bike Team climb out of the Auburn valley toward Edgewood on Aug. 26, 2011. We’re sure they were biking sober, but a state trooper tells traffic columnist Candice Ruud you could be cited for DUI if you operate your bike drunk or high.
Members of the Lahar Bicycle Club and Bonney Lake Bike Team climb out of the Auburn valley toward Edgewood on Aug. 26, 2011. We’re sure they were biking sober, but a state trooper tells traffic columnist Candice Ruud you could be cited for DUI if you operate your bike drunk or high. Staff file, 2011

Q: Can you get a DUI for riding your bicycle drunk or high?

A: This one is a bit complicated, but ultimately, if a person was charged with DUI on a bicycle in Washington, the charge would be dismissed in court.

While the state law on driving under the influence includes the word “vehicle,” and the state definition of a vehicle includes bicycles, a 1995 state Supreme Court case ruled that the DUI statute does not include bicycles.

Here’s more detail. The state’s DUI law says the following:

“A person is guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within this state: (a) And the person has, within two hours after driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person's breath or blood made under RCW 46.61.506; or ... the person has, within two hours after driving, a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher as shown by analysis of the person's blood ...”

For our purposes, the important word here is “vehicle.” Under the state's Title 46 laws, the definition of vehicle includes bicycles.

According to the RCW:

“‘Vehicle’ includes every device capable of being moved upon a public highway and in, upon, or by which any persons or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a public highway, including bicycles. ‘Vehicle’ does not include power wheelchairs or devices other than bicycles moved by human or animal power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.”

But in the City of Montesano v. Wells, the state Supreme Court reversed Daniel Wells’ DUI conviction, which stemmed from an incident in which he was riding a bicycle. The court determined that the Legislature had intended the DUI law to apply to motor vehicles only.

According to the court’s decision, a reading of the state’s DUI law and the state’s definition of vehicle “appears to allow the state to charge bicyclists with driving under the influence. However, when we consider the intent of these and related statutes, we conclude that such a reading is incorrect.”

And, further: “A review of the statutory scheme as a whole also leads us to conclude that the Legislature did not intend to apply the DUI law to bicyclists.”

By the way, the opposite is true in Oregon — if you're caught biking under the influence, you can be cited for a DUI.

For the purposes of full disclosure, I was going to write a different column about biking in traffic, but then this topic came up and it seemed more interesting.

Note: This story has been updated to include a state Supreme Court ruling from 1995 that overturned a bicyclist’s DUI conviction.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud

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