Is it illegal to ride a bicycle under the influence of alcohol?

Is it illegal to ride a bicycle under the influence of alcohol?
Is it illegal to ride a bicycle under the influence of alcohol?

You won’t be the first person to have thought, “I won’t drive to the pub; I’ll ride my bike and then I can ride home and I won’t get booked!”. And you won’t be the last, either.

Riding a bike is widely considered to be operating a vehicleDoing so under the influence of alcohol is punishable by lawFines and prison time may apply

But the fact is that if you ride a bicycle in Australia while under the influence of alcohol, you could find yourself in serious strife.

Bike riders are considered to be road users in most jurisdictions, and as such, they are expected to abide by the road rules just like someone driving a car, SUV, ute, bus, truck or any other vehicle.

There are some differentiating factors, of course. You don’t pay registration fees for a bike. You don’t need a licence for a bike. And in most cases, you cannot be subjected to a breath test or any other type of test to check your blood alcohol levels – unless you end up in a hospital. 

So, here’s a rundown of the potential penalties and the applicable rules for bicycling after beers for Australia.

New South Wales

Under the state’s traffic offences legislation, Drink Riding is considered an offence, as bicycle riders have “the same rights and responsibilities as other NSW road users”.

“Riding under the influence of alcohol is a serious offence. You can be fined or imprisoned by a court if you are found to be drink riding,” the NSW government’s transport site states.

Fines of up to $2200 and/or nine months imprisonment may apply. And don’t go thinking that’s where the pain ends – you may also lose your driver’s licence for up to 12 months if you are found guilty of drink riding. 

Victoria

The state’s Bike Law booklet (A Bicycle Rider’s Guide to Road Rules in Victoria) points out that cycling after drinking or while under the influence of drugs is a dangerous and illegal act. “Do not drink or use drugs and ride – it is dangerous to ride your bike if you are drunk or drug-affected, and it is also against the law.

What is the law, then? It falls under the old-school wording of “Drunk in charge of a carriage”, and it could see you slapped with a $1400 fine, or possibly two months behind bars. Unlike NSW, you won’t lose your driver’s licence, and you cannot be breath-tested.

Queensland

“Any person who, while under the influence of liquor or a drug, drives or is in charge of any vehicle (other than a motor vehicle) on a road, or attempts to put in motion any vehicle (other than a motor vehicle) on a road, is guilty of an offence.” That’s according to the Queensland Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995.

The state comes down hard on those who are found to contravene the act, too, with a maximum penalty of up to $4400, or nine months prison time.

South Australia

The state’s Cycling & The Law handbook states, under the heading Alcohol & Other Drugs: 

“It is both dangerous and against the law to ride a bicycle or any other vehicle, ‘under

the influence’ of alcohol or drugs. This is a criminal offence, and upon conviction you will be fined and will consequently have a criminal record. 

“You may also lose up to six demerit points from your driver’s licence or learner’s permit, and potentially lose your licence. If you do not hold a driver’s licence you will still incur demerit points which can prohibit you from obtaining a licence in the future.”

Pretty serious stuff. Fines of up to $500 may apply, but court-imposed penalties are likely. 

Western Australia

The WA Road Safety Commission’s documentation on drink and drug driving laws states the following: 

“Western Australia’s drink and drug driving laws don’t just apply to people driving cars on roads. The laws also apply to people driving or riding:

Any motor vehicle as defined in section 4 of the Road Traffic (Administration) Act 2008 including:eRideablesMotorised mobility scootersMotorised wheelchairsMotorcycles and quad bikesTractors and agricultural vehiclesOn roads, paths, tracks, carparks and any other place the public can access.

The biggest notable consideration there is that a bicycle is not considered a “motor vehicle”. 

However, under the WA Road Traffic Code 2000 – Reg 229 – Proper Control of bicycles and electric rideable devices (eRideables), the following is stated: 

A person must not on any road or path —

Ride a bicycle or electric rideable device while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or alcohol and drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the bicycle or electric rideable device; orRide a bicycle or electric rideable device recklessly or without due care and attention.

The penalties are far less imposing, too. A fine of $100 may apply. 

Northern Territory

There is no applicable law that we could fine relating to riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol in the NT. The territory’s own safety guidelines for cyclists makes no mention of riding under the influence of alcohol, but does point out that you shouldn’t use a handheld phone while riding, and you should keep one hand on the handlebars at all times.

Tasmania

The island state imposes the same rules on anyone using any type of vehicle “with one or more wheels” under the Road Safety (Alcohol and Drugs) Act 1970. 

So, don’t go thinking you won’t get in strife if you ride your unicycle to the club.

The Act stipulates that drink and drug driving offences apply equally to motorists and cyclists. First offenders could be met with fines and/or potential imprisonment.

ACT

In Canberra, there’s been a roll-out of shared e-scooters that has lead to a uptick in incidents of drink riding, and those using the on-demand electrified scooters have the same laws in play as those who may ride a bicycle.

As such, The Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill No. 2 puts in place that those who drink and ride a bike, e-scooter or even a horse could face big penalties. The applicable offence could result in a court-imposed maximum 20 penalty units – or a fine of $3200.

If you’ve never been, Canberra has one of the nation’s most accommodating networks of cycle paths… so those who are found to ride their cycle under the influence on a road face even harsher penalties, aligning “with similar offences of driving under the influence by drivers of a motor vehicle and introduces a 12-month imprisonment term for repeat offenders”, not to mention a fine of up to $4800 for both first-time and repeat offenders.

Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.

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