Should We Get Tough On Bicycle DUI/OVI In Ohio?

A guy rode his bike to the ATM because he thought he was too drunk to drive (he probably needed the cash for Taco Bell or White Castle). To his surprise, a police officer arrested him for O.V.I. (D.U.I.) as he rode through a shopping center parking lot. As part of a plea agreement, the O.V.I. charge was amended, and the bicyclist pled guilty to a charge of Reckless Operation. In response, the city council of Upper Arlington, Ohio is considering toughening the city’s laws regarding riding a bicycle under the influence.

The law in Ohio regarding O.V.I. on a bicycle has developed over decades. When the Ohio Revised Code was adopted in 1953, bicycles were considered “vehicles”, but one couldn’t be charged with D.U.I. on a bicycle. That changed in 1983, when there was a major revision of Ohio D.U.I. law. Currently, Ohio traffic laws (including O.V.I.) apply to bicyclists when they operate “upon any highway or upon any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles” (R.C. 4501.01). That is Ohio law; Upper Arlington wants to make its own law so the O.V.I. prohibitions apply to bicyclists on private property open to the public (like the shopping center parking lot).

Should people be subjected to O.V.I. penalties for riding a bicycle under the influence? The relative risk of harm created by riding a bicycle drunk does not compare to the risk of harm caused by driving a car drunk. Nevertheless, a person who rides a bicycle drunk in Ohio is facing a mandatory jail sentence of three days to six months, a mandatory license suspension of six months to three years, and the possibility of having yellow license plates on his car. The license suspension really doesn’t make sense; the guy wasn’t using his driver’s license to ride the bike! It’s worse than charging someone with Boating Under The Influence (B.U.I.) for being on water skis under the influence (yes, this is also illegal).

Should the city change the law to make it easier to charge someone for O.V.I. on a bicycle? If the law is changed as proposed, the guy would be guilty for riding drunk in the parking lot, but not on the sidewalk. Does this make sense? Perhaps the city will next stiffen penalties for being under the influence on skateboards and roller blades.