Kansas Supreme Court considers whether DWI laws apply to bicyclists

Police officers in some Kansas cities have been citing bicyclists for drunk driving. Now a case is before the Kansas Supreme Court that will decide whether the Kansas DWI laws apply equally to bicyclists.

Such cases can have serious ramifications for right of bicyclists to ride on the roadways. All states, including Kansas, either consider bicycles as vehicles or give them all the rights and duties of vehicles, except those rights and duties which, by their very nature, do not apply to bicycles. Taken at face value, most on-road cyclists hold that ordinary traffic laws such as driving while intoxicated would apply equally to motorists and bicyclists unless the language of the DWI law clearly specifies otherwise.

Court ruling in such cases, however, have been decidedly mixed. Such rulings can seriously confuse the issue of which traffic laws apply to cyclists.

Research shows that riding a bicycle while intoxicated is a very dangerous business, because the bicyclist's most important bit of safety equipment is his or her skill and good judgment. One study in the Washington, D.C., area concluded that in fully one-third of bicycle fatalities, the bicyclist had elevated blood-alcohol levels. Riding with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 increased the rider's risk of serious or fatal injury by 2000%.

According to a story in the Topeka Capital-Journal, here are the details of the incident that sparked the Supreme Court case:
Hackett knew he would be drinking on the night of March 3, 2000, so he took his bicycle instead of his car, Owens said.

The report of a bicycle-car accident brought a Wichita police officer to the scene that night. No car was involved -- only Hackett, who had been riding on the sidewalk. He flipped his bike after crossing an intersection and coming up to a sidewalk.

Hackett was arrested on a DUI charge after his blood-alcohol content registered at 0.204 percent, more than twice the legal limit for driving, 0.08 percent.

Hackett was charged under the municipal DUI ordinance. The state DUI statute applies specifically to motor vehicles, but Wichita's municipal DUI ordinance has different wording.

Police indicate that DUI charges have been brought against very, very few bicyclists in Wichita.

Share this: