A recent newspaper article discussed an increasing tendency among young, urban Minnesotans to use bicycles as a preferred mode of transport. This article also helped spark a lot of lively debate on the Minneapolis Star Tribune blog on the subject.
A survey commissioned by state transportation officials found that four percent of Minneapolis commuters now get to work using a bicycle. This trend means that as people leave their cars at home and bike to work and run errands, some are also using the bikes to head to bars.
The story profiled a group of friends who recently had a bicycle pub crawl for a bachelor party, biking between breweries in Minneapolis. The trend has caught on to such an extent that bars are actively courting bicyclists, with many installing bike racks and a few even selling their own branded bike jerseys to truly devoted customers.
The reason for the increase is partially due to the rise in the number of Minnesotans using a bicycle to get around town. Another reason is that others are realizing that in Minnesota it is not illegal to bike around town under the influence. Several tour operators in the Twin Cities now offer biking and brews packages with guides who take participants around to several bars. The tours say they limit the amount of alcohol consumed at each stop and also require that the cyclists wear safety helmets to minimize the chance of a serious injury.
The law in Minnesota is clear that drunk driving regulations extend only to motorized vehicles. One officer in Minneapolis interviewed in the article said that after 20 years on the police force he had never once stopped someone for biking while intoxicated. However, police officers with the University of Minnesota say they occasionally target cyclists, especially at the beginning of the school year, to send a message that traffic laws must still be obeyed. Though bikers will not be charged with DWI, the fact is bikes are subject to standard traffic control laws and can be cited for weaving, blocking traffic or running a stop sign.
Minnesota is also not representative of the laws in every state. California and Oregon have specific laws already in place that criminalize drunken biking while bicyclists in Idaho, Utah and Indiana can also be arrested for impaired biking.
Despite the legal ability to bike drunk, the fact is researchers say it remains a very risky decision. A study conducted by Minneapolis government found that impaired bicyclists made up six percent of the nearly 3,000 bicycle-vehicle accidents that occurred between 2000 and 2010. Another survey, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 23 percent of the nearly 700 cyclists killed on the roadways in 2011 would have been considered drunk had they been in a vehicle, with BAC levels exceeding 0.08 percent. Researchers with Johns Hopkins University say that at such high levels, a bicyclist increases his or her chance of a serious injury by a shocking 2,000 percent.
Source: “Biking Buzzed? It’s Not Against The Law But Has Its Risks,” by Matt McKinney, published at Vita.MN.