California Vehicle Code 21200.5 VC makes it a crime to cycle under the influence. This means to ride a bicycle on a public road, path or highway while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. A conviction is a misdemeanor that can be punished by a $250.00 fine but carries no actual jail time.
Note that officers will often cite this section as 21200.5 VC or 21200.5 CVC as shorthand for the California Vehicle Code.
21200.5 VC states that “it is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug.”
- biking home drunk down a sidewalk after a night out at the bars.
- riding a bicycle through neighborhood streets while high on marijuana.
- swerving a cycle through town, and missing stop signs, because you are intoxicated.
Common defenses to a CUI charge include showing that:
- you were not under the influence,
- you were not on a public highway, and/or
- there was no probable cause to stop.
Cycling under the influence is punishable by:
- a maximum fine of $250, and
- no time in county jail.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. Is it illegal to cycle under the influence?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to 21200.5 VC?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Can I get a conviction expunged?
- 5. Are there related offenses?
1. Is it illegal to cycle under the influence?
Yes. Riding a bicycle on a highway while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is a criminal offense. This offense is often referred to as “cycling under the influence,” “riding a bike drunk” or “DUI on a bicycle.”
A prosecutor must prove the following to convict you of 21200.5 VC:
- you rode a bicycle,
- you rode the bicycle down a “highway,” and
- while riding the bike, you were “under the influence” of alcohol, drugs, or both.1
Questions often arise under this statute on the meaning of:
- highway, and
- under the influence.
For purposes of these laws, a “bicycle” or “cycle” is an object that is:
- propelled by human power,
- through a belt, chain or gears, and
- has one or more wheels.2
Note that this definition does not include a “motorized bike.”3
Motorized bikes or mopeds are subject to California’s DUI laws as motor vehicles.4
Under CVC 21200.5, a “highway” refers to any public road or street.5
A highway does not include a freeway. This is because cycles are generally prohibited on freeways.
1.3. Under the influence
California law says that you are “under the inﬂuence” of alcohol or drugs if:
- your mental or physical abilities are so impaired that,
- you are no longer able to drive,
- with the caution of a sober person.6
A judge or jury determines if you are under the influence by looking at all the facts of the case.7
Example: Hunter is riding his bike through town. He just had lunch with a friend and had one beer. He is practicing his wheelies and jumps a few curbs. However, he stops at all stop signs and stop lights he encounters.
Here, Hunter is likely not guilty of CUI. True, wheelies and erratic jumping of a bike may suggest some type of impairment. But Hunter had only one beer and obeyed all traffic laws while cycling. An analysis of all the facts suggests that he was sober.
2. Are there legal defenses to 21200.5 VC?
You can challenge an accusation of cycling under the influence with a good legal defense.
Three common defenses that CUI/DUI lawyers use are:
- not under the influence,
- not on a public highway, and/or
- no probable cause to stop.
2.1. Not under the influence
You are only guilty under this statute if you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Further, this is determined by all of the facts of the case. This means it is always a defense for you to:
- use the facts of your case,
- to show that you were indeed sober.
2.2. Not on a public highway
Recall that you have to be on a “highway” to be guilty under VC 21200.5. Therefore, it is a defense for you to say that you were not riding on a public road or street. Perhaps, for example, you were on a private road or someone’s driveway.
2.3. No probable cause
Arresting officers must have probable cause before they can stop or arrest you of a crime.
If you were stopped or arrested for violating CUI:
- and there was no probable cause,
- then any evidence obtained following the improper stop could get excluded.
This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.
3. What are the penalties?
Cycling under the influence is a misdemeanor.
The crime is punishable by:
- a maximum fine of $250, and
- no jail time is imposed.8
4. Can I get a conviction expunged?
You can get a criminal record expungement if convicted of CUI provided that you pay the fine.
An expungement is favorable because it removes many of the hardships associated with a conviction.
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to cycling under the influence. These are:
- driving under the influence (DUI) – VC 23152a,
- boating under the influence (BUI) – HN 655, and
- public intoxication – PC 647f.
5.1. Driving under the influence (DUI) – VC 23152a
Vehicle Code 23152a VC is a California DUI law. The statute makes it a crime for you to operate a motor vehicle while “under the influence” of alcohol, even if your blood alcohol concentration (a.k.a. blood alcohol level) is under the legal limit (below 0.08%).
Note that “under the influence” has the same definition as it does under VC 21200.5.
Also note that under VC 23152b, California drivers can also be convicted on DUI charges for driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, even if you are not “under the influence” and are unimpaired.
Common DUI defenses include that the breathalyzer breath test returned inaccurate results, that the police did not administer the field sobriety tests correctly, or that the blood chemical test samples were contaminated.
Drunk driving carries not only criminal penalties but also administrative penalties, such as a suspension of driving privileges. The only way to avoid a driver’s license suspension in a DUI case is to win both the criminal case and the DMV hearing.
5.2. Boating under the influence (BUI) – HN 655
The statute makes it a crime for you to operate:
- any boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs/controlled substances,
- a boat with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher,
- commercial vessels with a BAC of 0.04 percent or higher, or
- a boat while under the influence, and while doing so, committing a negligent act that causes bodily injury to another person.
5.3. Public intoxication – PC 647f
Penal Code 647 f PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for you:
- to be drunk,
- while in public.
Public intoxication, under this statute, can be because of either alcohol or drug use.
For additional help…
Arrested on under the influence charges in California? We invite you to contact our DUI attorneys at Shouse Law Group for legal advice. Our defense lawyers have law offices in Los Angeles and throughout the state.
For information on similar crimes in Nevada, please see our article on: “Nevada Laws re Cycling Under the Influence (CUI).”
- California Vehicle Code section 21200.5 VC. See for example McCullough v. Commission on Judicial Performance (1989) 49 Cal. 3d 186.
- California Vehicle Code 231 VC. See also Velasquez v. Superior Court (2014) 227 Cal.App.4th 1471.
- See same.
- People v. Jordan (1977) 75 Cal. App.3d Supp. 1.
- California Vehicle Code 360 VC.
- CALCRIM No. 2110 – Driving Under the Influence. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also People v. Schoonover (1970) 5 Cal.App.3d 101; and, People v. Enriquez (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 661.
- See same.
- California Vehicle Code 21200.5 VC.