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Can You Get a DUI on a Bicycle?

***NOT UPDATED SINCE JULY 2014***

Updated news: Another attorney pointed this out to me, seems very apt for today’s news. Here’s today’s news:

"A 27-year-old woman is in serious condition after she was struck by a police car while riding her bicycle early Sunday morning in Kailua. Officials say that alcohol may be involved on the part of the victim."

Original post:

Can You Get Cited for Driving Under the Influence While on a Bicycle?

Absolutely not. If your bicycle has a motor, you are on a moped, and the answer is YES, you can get a DUI on a moped, on a bicycle? Absolutely not.

It shocks me how many people think that you can get a DUI on a bicycle. Just this week I was with a group of attorneys who do a lot of DUIs, make a living on them. And one said to the group “Do you know you can get a DUI on the bicycle? It’s true!”

The group agreed. Probably to be more polite than anything. But one person even said that they saw someone convicted of a DUI! But you can’t, at least not the way the law has been for the last ten years. Let me explain how lawyers (should) look at laws:

I. Read the Law. Again.

The most useful skill I learned in law school was not in a criminal law class but in a business law class. The teacher called in Close text interpretation, at least, I think that’s what he called it.

II. Close Text Interpretation

The rule we learn at the Public Defender’s office is this: “Re-read the law, every time.” Every time a new case lands on your desk, re-read the law, every time. You’ve done 1,000 DUI cases and there’s another one on your desk? Re-read the law, every time. There’s always something new that shows up.

III. DUI Law

In Hawaii, the DUI law is called Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant. Here we’re going to call it DUI, since everyone I know, even the judges, call it DUI. Most laws get one statute, DUI has evolved to have its own section of statutes. Any statute that begins with 291E has some relation to the DUI law.

a. The DUI law is HRS 291E-61

The definition of DUI is held in Hawaii Revised Statutes sec. 291E-61 and reads below:

§291E-61 Operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant. (a) A person commits the offense of operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant if the person operates or assumes actual physical control of a vehicle:

  1. While under the influence of alcohol in an amount sufficient to impair the person's normal mental faculties or ability to care for the person and guard against casualty;
  2. While under the influence of any drug that impairs the person's ability to operate the vehicle in a careful and prudent manner;
  3. With .08 or more grams of alcohol per two hundred ten liters of breath; or
  4. With .08 or more grams of alcohol per one hundred milliliters or cubic centimeters of blood.

This is not the FULL text of the DUI law. This is just the charging section. This is the part that is relevant to today’s issue. Actually, we can reduce that part to a shorter section:

§291E-61 Operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant. (a) A person commits the offense of operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant if the person operates or assumes actual physical control of a vehicle:

And here’s where the confusion lies:

Notice the first sentence: “VEHICLE” what does that mean? Notice most laws talk about “Motor Vehicle”. But we’re not talking about Motor vehicles here. Why?

BUT before we get to the problem, let’s finish the close text analysis. The rule is Definitions, ALWAYS definitions.

b. Read the Definitions in HRS 291E-1

Hawaii makes definitions easy, they’re almost always (ALMOST!) in the first section of the same statute. here we find a vehicle. The definition is found in Hawaii Revised Statute sec. 291E-1:

"Vehicle" includes a:

  1. Motor vehicle;
  2. Moped; and
  3. Vessel.

"Vessel" means all descriptions of watercraft that are used or are capable of being used as a means of transportation on or in the water.

III. Answer:

Vehicle means Motor Vehicle. Is a bicycle a motor vehicle? no. Case closed.

YOU CANNOT GET A DUI ON A BICYCLE. (as long as it doesn’t have a Motor.)

Addendum: Answers are easy, why the confusion?

Confusion is more fun to figure out. Here’s why: the Hawaii Revised Statutes criminal traffic sections define “Vehicle” no fewer than three times! There’s the above.

There’s HRS Sec. 291C-001: “Vehicle” means every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a roadway or highway, including mopeds and bicycles, but excluding toy bicycles, devices other than bicycles moved by human power, and devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.

And there’s HRS sec. 286-002: “Vehicle” means every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, but excludes devices moved by human power or devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks and mopeds.

And then I got tired of looking things up.

Three sections, three different definitions, SAME WORD. Notice, for 291C-1, both bicycles and mopeds are vehicles. For 286-2, both bicycles and mopeds are NOT vehicles. Whoever the attorneys were who believed that you can get a DUI on a bicycle, got their definition statutes confused.

On closer look, the charges you CAN get while riding a bicycle include

  1. speeding ticket
  2. racing charge

On the other hand, if you get a Hawaii Revised Statutes sec. 291-2 Reckless Driving charge while on a bicycle, now there is a problem, because which statutory definition of “Vehicle” applies since there is none! Horse, on the other hand, is explicit. Guilty!

And that’s the long way to say, Drink and Bike is legal, just make sure your balance is good enough to you don’t land face first!

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