If you're wondering if it's against the law to operate a bicycle while drunk in Wisconsin, the short answer is: No.
Since there is no legal basis for a cycling or biking while intoxicated charge, any citation you’d receive from police would almost certainly be dropped or dismissed by a prosecutor.
However, bikes have evolved from the old Schwinn your grandparents had in their garage. Many are motorized. Operating a motorized bike is a different story under Wisconsin law.
This article will provide a concise, but thorough exploration of drinking while operating these different bicycles in Wisconsin and what you might expect if you injure someone while drunk biking.
Why Aren’t Bicycles Subject to OWI Laws in Wisconsin?
Whether or not the type of cycle you're operating is subject to Wisconsin drunk driving laws basically boils down to how our laws are worded.
According to Wisconsin Statute §346.63, no person may drive or operate a motor vehicle while under the influence or with a prohibited alcohol concentration. “Motor vehicle” is obviously the term that sets different bikes apart.
In order to get an OWI conviction here in Wisconsin, the prosecution must prove one of two things:
That the person was operating a motor vehicle in an unsafe manner as a result of alcohol or an illegal controlled substance, or
That the person was at or above .08 BAC at the time they were operating that vehicle
So, What Exactly is a Motor Vehicle According to Wisconsin Law?
The legal definition of a motor vehicle in Wisconsin can be found in Wisconsin Statue §340.01 as a “self-propelled vehicle” unless operated exclusively on a rail (such as a train or subway car). While “self-propelled” isn’t defined any further, there is a legal definition of a bicycle:
“Every vehicle propelled by the feet acting upon pedals and having wheels any 2 of which are not less than 14 inches in diameter.”
While it’s not explicitly stated in state statutes, the common meaning of self-propelled vehicle is one that can move by itself without the help of human power.
What About Bicycles with Motors?
That’s a different story. According to §340.01, a “motor bicycle” is defined as a bike that’s had a power unit or electric motor attached to it.
Operating a motorized bike or moped under the influence can result in criminal charges, as they may be deemed legitimate motor vehicles and as such, will be subject to Wisconsin's OWI laws.
What if I Injure Someone While Biking Under the Influence in Wisconsin?
When it comes to injuring others, §940.25 does not specify the vehicle needs to be a “motor vehicle” for it to fall under the law.
In other words, if you cause great bodily harm to someone while riding your bike under the influence, you could be looking at a class F felony charge of a maximum of 12.5 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
But Aren't “Vehicles” Self-Propelled by Definition?
Yes, like I said before, “vehicles” are legally defined as “self-propelled,” which a motor-less bike is not. However, since this statute states “vehicle” rather than “motor vehicle,” the chance of being charged is higher.
On top of this, §346.02 states that bicyclists are subject to the rules of the road except for rules that apply only to motor vehicles specifically.
If you’ve been charged with an OWI-related offense in Wisconsin, it’s crucially important to contact an experienced Madison OWI attorney as soon as possible to assess your situation and help determine the best path forward.
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Madison OWI Lawyer Pat Stangl is a nationally-recognized OWI and criminal defense lawyer serving clients across Wisconsin. In practice since 1991, Attorney Stangl has built a solid reputation for his aggressive drunk driving defense.
If you're facing criminal charges related to operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, request a FREE consultation with Attorney Stangl to discuss your situation and explore your options. This 15 minute consultation is offered at no further obligation. Click the link below to request your consultation.