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Drunk cyclists: Under new Denver policy, DUIs for bike riders won't affect driving records

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The news that the Denver Police Department will now be enforcing state drunk cycling laws and giving out DUIs to intoxicated riders has sparked a lot of debate.

But as word spread earlier this week, DPD officials said it was unclear how DUIs for cyclists would affect their driving licences. Now, police have an official answer: It won't.

The new policy in Denver, announced internally last week, is an alignment with state law in Colorado, which says cyclists can be charged for cycling while drunk. Denver had not been enforcing this law, but after an official researched the matter in response to a citizen complaint, the department's leadership decided there was no good reason to maintain a contradictory non-enforcement practice.

Still, the announcement has raised a lot of concerns in the cycling community about the logic of the policy and whether it makes sense for cyclists to be subject to a DUI charge when biking under the influence is arguably much safer than drunk driving. And some cycling advocates -- worried that DUIs for cyclists could inadvertently incentivize drunk driving -- argue that less harsh policies for drunk cycling in other states are much more reasonable.

One of the lingering questions has been about how DUIs for cyclists -- which is really actually a BUI (Biking Under the Influence) -- impacts their driving record and license. In an original memo Denver Police Chief Robert White sent out, he explained that bicycle operators are not subject to having their license revoked if they refuse to submit to a test. This is correct.

But the memo also said that a bicycle operator charged with a DUI, DUID (Driving Under the Influence of Drugs) or DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired) would receive a "zero point alcohol violation" on their record, which wouldn't actually impact the status of the driver's license. Turns out that this is not quite right.

DPD Lieutenant Robert Rock, the Traffic Investigations Unit overseer whose research led to the policy change, writes to us in an e-mail:

I have received the definitive answer from the Department of Revenue that any violation on a bicycle is not supposed to be recorded on a person's driving history and no points are to be assessed. As you know, sometimes a conviction will be sent to DOR that may be ambiguous and is entered in error. If someone becomes aware of a bicycle violation that is on their driving record, they can appeal to DOR and it will be deleted.

In other words, a cyclist charged with a DUI won't have anything on his or her driving history -- not even a "zero point" violation.

This is less harsh than the law in Oregon, where drunk cyclists are essentially treated exactly the same as drunk drivers and face the same consequences.

Regardless, Brad Evans, founder of the Denver Cruiser Ride, the well-known Wednesday-night group ride that includes stops at bars, says he is still concerned about the new enforcement plan and would like to see more data on cycling accidents to better understand if the policy shift is really necessary.

"Right now, this is reactionary," Evans says, noting that the change only came about because of a citizen complaint from someone unhappy that a drunk cyclist wasn't charged after an accident. "Let's take the morality out of this and look at it in a purely fact-based way. The damage a bicycle can cause is so, so much smaller than damage that a car can do. So why are we applying the same rules?"

He adds, "I'm not saying there shouldn't be rules, regulations and penalties; I'm saying they shouldn't be the same."

But the fact that BUIs won't affect driving records makes sense, he concedes. "You don't need a license...to ride your bikes. If you don't need one, then your license shouldn't be affected by it."

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Johnathan Jordan letter clears co-defendant in murder -- but will anyone believe it?"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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