Is it illegal to ride a bicycle when drunk?

Alcohol consumption affects reaction times, reduces inhibitions and can render a cyclist incapable of controlling a bicycle. Does that mean cycling under the influence is against the law?

Is cycling when drunk illegal?

Section 30 Road Traffic Act 1988 reads:

A person who, when riding a cycle on a road or other public place, is unfit to ride through drink or drugs (that is to say, is under the influence of drink or a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the cycle) is guilty of an offence.

In this definition "a road" includes bridleways, so it would also be an offence to cycle "off-road", as well as on the pavement.

The Highway Code Rule 68 states that "you must not ride when under the influence of drink or drugs, including medicine", or "ride in a dangerous, careless or inconsiderate manner", something that an intoxicated cyclist may be likely to do.

Cycling when drunk is an offence, but what are the penalties?

The maximum penalty for cycling whilst under the influence of drink or drugs is a £1,000 fine.

Cyclists are under the same laws as other road users when it comes to obeying road signs and signals. With alcohol having reduced their inhibitions, a drunk cyclist may ignore road signs and thereby commit further road traffic offences.

Recent research has shown intoxicated cyclists are ten times more at risk of being injured in a cycling accident than sober cyclists. A drunk cyclist also risks endangering the safety of others.

A police officer could stop a cyclist riding in a dangerous, careless or inconsiderate way and request a breath, blood or urine sample. If this is refused and the offender is subsequently charged with cycling under the influence, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) would not be allowed to use the refusal as evidence against the offender.

What happens when it cannot be proved that the cyclist was drunk?

Sometimes it cannot be proved that the cyclist was drunk, but riding in a dangerous manner can mean being convicted under a separate offence. 

For example, a cyclist ignoring a red light could be stopped by the police, who suspecting the cyclist to be under the influence, could charge him with careless or inconsiderate cycling AND cycling under the influence.

If Magistrates could not find the cyclist guilty of cycling whilst under the influence, the cyclist could be found guilty of careless and inconsiderate cycling; with a maximum penalty for dangerous cycling of £2,500.

Other considerations

Ignoring a red light risks a Fixed Penalty Notice of £30. Although a cyclist's driving licence cannot be endorsed for this or any other cycling offence, the Courts may disqualify a cyclist from driving a car.

According to the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000:

 "The court by or before which a person is convicted of an offence committed after 31st December 1997 may, instead of or in addition to dealing with him in any other way, order him to be disqualified, for such period as it thinks fit, for holding or obtaining a driving licence."

If you are unsure as to whether the issues discussed in this article may affect your cycling accident injury claim, contact a member of Quittance today to discuss your questions on 0800 612 7456.