Can you get an OWI on a bike?

OWI on a bike – is it possible?

The short answer is no.  You cannot receive a drunk driving ticket (or a drunk driving criminal charge) for driving drunk on your bicycle.  An OWI on a bike is not possible.  That all being said, could you still be subject to other criminal liability?  In this blog post one of our criminal defense lawyers explains this area of law and possible legal problems an individual drunkenly operating a bicycle faces.

At Van Severen Law Office we defend individuals accused of committing crimes throughout Wisconsin.  Our drunk driving attorneys fight all OWI charges.  If you face any kind of criminal charge, contact us immediately.  Our drunk driving attorneys are available 24/7 to answer your questions and to begin fighting your case.  Contact us immediately.

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The statutory definition of operating while intoxicated

Wisconsin Statute section 346.63(1)(a) prohibits operating while intoxicated:

No person may drive or operate a motor vehicle while:

Under the influence of an intoxicant, a controlled substance, a controlled substance analog or any combination of an intoxicant, a controlled substance and a controlled substance analog, under the influence of any other drug to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving, or under the combined influence of an intoxicant and any other drug to a degree which renders him or her incapable of safely driving…

Sure – intoxication could make you “incapable of safely driving.”  But is a bicycle a motor vehicle?

Wisconsin Statute section 340.01(35) defines motor vehicle.  It means:

‘Motor vehicle’ means a vehicle, including a combination of 2 or more vehicles or an articulated vehicle, which is self-propelled, except a vehicle operated exclusively on a rail. ‘Motor vehicle’ includes, without limitation, a commercial motor vehicle or a vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires but not operated on rails. A snowmobile, an all-terrain vehicle, a utility terrain vehicle, an electric scooter, and an electric personal assistive mobility device shall be considered motor vehicles only for purposes made specifically applicable by statute. ‘Motor vehicle’ does not include an electric bicycle.

What do the statutes mean?

The OWI statute focuses on operating a motor vehicle.  That is our first stop.  Certainly a bicycle isn’t a motor vehicle, but section 340.01(35) provides the definition we need to work with.  Bicycles are not self-propelled.  A bicycle operates by the propulsion provided by the operator’s legs.  Therefore, without even moving forward, we’ve discovered our answer: a bicycle is not a motor vehicle, and therefore is not regulated by the OWI statute.  Therefore, law enforcement cannot cite you for operating while intoxicated on a bicycle.

A man drunkenly rides his bicycle. OWI on a bike.
Riding your bicycle while intoxicated will not lead to an OWI charge. But could it lead to other criminal liability? Contact Van Severen Law Office at (414) 270-0202 for help.

Is it some sort of other crime to ride a bicycle while intoxicated?

Certainly.  Riding a bicycle while intoxicated doesn’t meet the requirements for an OWI charge.  But does it fit requirements for other crimes?  Yes, so long as some other behaviors accompany riding your bicycle.

These crimes range between relatively low-level offenses like disorderly conduct, up to potentially serious offenses like recklessly endangering safety.

Disorderly conduct vs. OWI on a bike

Certainly the easiest criminal charge to face while drunkenly riding a bicycle is disorderly conduct.   It isn’t a crime to get drunk and ride your bike.  But it could be a crime if you add a few other problematic behaviors to the situation.

Disorderly conduct requires two things:

  •  Firstly, your conduct must be:
    • Violent
    • Abusive
    • Indecent
    • Profane
    • Boisterous
    • Unreasonably loud; or
    • Otherwise disorderly
  • Secondly, the conduct must tend to cause or provoke a disturbance.

If the government can satisfy these two prongs, you’re on the hook for a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail, $1,000.00 in fines, or both.

Obviously riding your bicycle down the street, alone, does not satisfy the first prong of this test.  But if you’re on the bicycle and swerving through automobile and pedestrian traffic, you’re arguably acting “otherwise disorderly” or “indecent.”  The question becomes whether that conduct tended to cause or provoke a disturbance.  This is certainly a discretionary call by the responding police officer and the prosecutor responsible for the case.  How bad was your behavior?  How may people called the police?  Did you endanger anyone else? All of these questions are important to the second prong.  These answers could determine whether you face charges.

Recklessly endangering safety on a bicycle?

Second degree recklessly endangering safety is a criminal charge frequently related to shootings.  An individual shoots a firearm into a crowd, house, at someone, or in some other dangerous context.  The defendant does not shoot anyone.  The defendant’s conduct subjects everyone to potential harm.  The law requires two showings:

  • Firstly, that the defendant endangered the safety of another; and
  • Secondly, that the defendant did so by criminally reckless conduct.

Criminally reckless conduct means the conduct created a risk of death or great bodily harm to another person, the risk was unreasonable and substantial, and the defendant was aware the conduct created the risk.

Certainly a shooting is a lot different than riding a bicycle while drunk.  But what if you’re on a high-end road bike shooting down a crowded street at 30 miles an hour?

Contact Van Severen Law Office regarding issues involving OWI on a bike

Although we’ve made it pretty clear that you cannot be charged with an OWI on a bike, it’s certainly still the case that you can be charged with other criminal offenses.  If you’re charged with disorderly conduct, recklessly causing injury, recklessly endangering safety, or any other crime, contact our criminal defense attorneys immediately.

The criminal defense attorneys at Van Severen Law Office are available 24/7 at (414) 270-0202.  If you face a criminal charge, don’t hesitate to contact us.


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