Drunk cycling: Is Denver's new bike DUI policy harsher than rules in other states?

Yesterday, we reported that Denver Police are now enforcing state drunk-cycling laws -- meaning intoxicated cyclists can be charged with DUIs just like inebriated drivers. Some cycling advocates question whether this is good public policy -- and a look at parallel laws around the country shows that Denver's approach is harsher than some other states' enforcement rules.

The Denver policy change was spurred by a complaint from an individual who got in an accident with a cyclist who did not face charges for riding while intoxicated. Although Colorado law says drunk cycling is illegal and cyclists under the influence can be charged with DUIs, the Denver Police Department had not been enforcing this policy. Then, last week, Denver Police Chief Robert White announced in an internal memo that the department would start enforcing state law and charging drunk cyclists with DUIs.

The move has sparked a lot of debate in a city where cycling is on the rise, and so are the number of collisions on the road. At the same time, tensions between cyclists and drivers seem to be at an all-time high, especially with recent high-profile cases of alleged bike rage.

The policy change is especially of concern to the organizers of the city's famous Denver Cruiser Ride, a weekly group cycling event during which participants stop at bars.

DPD officials argue that the department is simply enforcing state law and encouraging safe behavior, but some cycling advocates worry that this new plan could potentially encourage bar patrons to get back in their cars -- which they see as a more dangerous option -- instead of riding their bikes. Some question whether the DPD enforcement is an efficient use of resources, arguing that intoxicated cyclists are much less of a menace than drunk drivers.

So how do other cities address this somewhat complicated question?

Piep van Heuven, executive director of BikeDenver, the city's main advocacy group for cyclists, sent us a article outlining different state's policies in regard to riding bikes under the influence.

In some cases, it appears that the laws are more lax for drunk cyclists than for drunk drivers.

Notably, South Dakota has a law designed to encourage people who have had too much to drink to ride bikes instead of cars, as detailed in this excerpt:

South Dakota changed its state law to make bicycling under the influence legal. Legislators wanted to encourage people who'd had too much to drink to ride their bikes instead of driving. However, you can be arrested for disorderly conduct if you make a drunken spectacle of yourself.
A site called notes that, as a result of a case called State v. Bordeaux in South Dakota, officials carved out an exception in DUI policies for people riding bicycles (and, apparently, horses).

"The reason they changed it [in South Dakota] was because they wanted to encourage people not to drive drunk," says Rick Bernardi, who is a research assistant with, law practice of attorney Bob Mionske, who focuses exclusively on representing injured bicyclists. "If someone is riding a bike and they're drunk, we'd rather have that than a car."

Continue for more drunk biking policies in other states.