Sussex Police have confirmed that they have arrested just one cyclist for riding a bike while drunk during the past three years. The news illustrates a big difference in approach between the law in the UK, and that on the continent, with Poland even jailing cyclists who ride their bike while intoxicated.
The Argos reports that Sussex Police made its admission after a member of its Roads Police Central unit tweeted last week about stopping a drunk cyclist in Brighton and let him go on his way after passing on safety advice.
“We’ve just come across a rather inebriated cyclist in Brighton,” said the tweet. “Having issued some polite advice, he’s off the bike and en route home.”
When a colleague in a separate tweet mentioned they were jealous of crowds enjoying a beer in the sunshine at the East Slope Bar, they replied: “I think our wobbly cyclist has just come from that very location. He seemed to have enjoyed himself.”
Given VecchioJo’s post at the weekend on how much he enjoyed himself at the Spin Up in a Brewery festival on 24 Mayl, that did get us wondering in the road.cc office, but it turns out the tweets from Sussex Police were made a week later.
A Sussex Police spokesman told the Argus: “Being drunk in charge of a pedal cycle is an offence under Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
“Any such offences would be dealt with locally.
“No collisions have been recorded that have been as a result of a drunk cyclist however they can be a potential danger to other road users.
“The law does not allow for the drink-driving test equipment used for motorists to be used for pedal cyclists, and fixed penalty notices do not apply to this offence either.
“Officers would rely on their assessment of the rider’s condition in order to decide what action to take, ranging from words of advice to prosecution, depending on the individual circumstances.
“The most recent record of an arrest for such an offence was in 2010, but information about incidents resulting in other action would only be held locally.”
According to Bike Hub’s page on Cycling and the Law, cyclists caught riding while intoxicated can be fined up to £2,500.
It says that unlike in some jurisdictions, cyclists found guilty of such an offence do not have their licences endorsed, although it also points out that under the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, “the courts have the power to disqualify a cyclist from driving a car for any offence.”
That legislation states:
The court by or before which a person is convicted of an offence committed after 31st December 1997 may, instead of or in addition to dealing with him in any other way, order him to be disqualified, for such period as it thinks fit, for holding or obtaining a driving licence.
In some fellow European Union member states, cycling while drunk is viewed as being just as serious as driving a motor vehicle while drunk, and penalties can be harsh.
In 2009, we reported how a German student was fined €500 and banned from using a bicycle, skateboard or any other licence-free vehicle on the public roads, for 15 years after a breathalyser test found him to be three time the drink-driving limit.
The student involved in that case did not hold a driving licence but the same principle applied – cyclists in Germany are subject to the same laws as motorists when it comes to drink driving.
In Poland, the BBC reported in 2009 that 2,000 cyclists annually are arrested for cycling while drunk.
In that year, Poland’s constitutional court ruled that cyclists convicted of riding while drunk should be treated as criminals, the same as intoxicated drivers, and they should be fined or imprisoned.
According to the BBC, the latter is the most common course, with cyclists found guilty of riding while drunk receiving on average an 11 and a half month jail sentence.
It added that some see the punishment as draconian and say cyclists, since they are not using a motor powered vehicle, should be subject to the same rules as pedestrians.
The constitutional court, however, ruled that they should be treated the same as motorists because they use the public roads and the speed they can travel at may present a danger.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.