With the opening of bike paths like the Lafitte Greenway connecting the French Quarter and Mid-city, New Orleans continues to establish itself as one of the premier biking cities in the country. And considering that traffic congestion in the city continues to get worse, it’s easy to see why so many residents are opting for a bicycle as their main mode of transportation.
Unfortunately, this also includes using a bike as a way to get home after a night at the bar or after enjoying a Saints win at the Superdome.
Although it’s no question that driving a vehicle under the influence is a significant issue and should be avoided, people often wonder if similar DUI laws apply when using a bicycle. As is the case with most legal questions, the answer isn’t always straightforward and courts are still grappling with the question.
Many states in the U.S. do have specific laws on the books that forbid riding a bicycle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, while many others have stated that their respective DUI law applies to bicycles. And when you look at the statistics, their reasoning isn’t completely wrong.
According to a recent article from the NHTSA, nearly 37% of bicycling deaths in the country involve an intoxicated rider. In addition to the impairing effects of alcohol and other substances can have on vision and coordination, studies show that these numbers are so large because these substances lead to riders taking more unnecessary risks, such as wearing a helmet.
Because of these dangers, states such as Delaware, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Ohio, North Carolina and more have state DUI laws that apply to bicycles. South Dakota even goes so far as specifically naming bicycles in their DUI laws. On the flip side, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, Kansas, Illinois and other states have no such laws that apply to cyclists.
In contrast to states like South Dakota which chose to address the issue specifically, as well as states like Illinois that have no applicable laws on the books, Louisiana is a bit of an anomaly. In our state, although the DUI laws do not specifically mention bicycles, the issue has been addressed by the State Supreme Court.
According to Louisiana law, a DUI prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, vessel, or other means of conveyance while intoxicated. The question of whether a bicycle is considered an “other means of conveyance” was addressed in the case of State v. Carr, 761 So.2d 1271 (2000).
In this case, the Court held that the DUI law did not apply to bicycles because the law did not specifically cover “bicycles”, and the intention of the law is ambiguous in its application to bicycles. In other words, since the law does not specifically mention bicycles, the state’s DUI law does not apply to them.
In many cases since Carr, courts continue to follow this precedent-setting case, and in the nearly 20 years since its decision, Louisiana lawmakers have not amended the statute to include bicycles. However, with the growing popularity of cycling and access to quality biking in the city, these laws may soon change.
So if you’re biking in New Orleans, you may not be subject to a possible DUI offense. However, police in the city can issue citations or arrest you for numerous other offenses, such as public intoxication or disorderly conduct. If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI or other related charges in New Orleans, it’s important to have a qualified attorney that knows the law and will ensure your rights are protected.