Jim Porter: DUI on a bicycle?
Is a bicycle a “vehicle” subject to motor vehicle laws? Can you be charged with recklessly driving a bicycle or driving a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol?
Before we get to the topic of today’s column, I challenge all readers to try the new Legacy Trail from Glenshire into the Town of Truckee if you have not already done so.
It is definitely the coolest thing going and a real feather in the cap for Rotary, the Town, the property owners and other long-time supporters.
On April 1, 2013, Jorge Velasquez, Jr. was drinking at Dodger Stadium. As far as I’m concerned, that’s strike one.
After the game, Velasquez left on his fixed-gear bicycle which had no brakes and could be stopped only with foot pressure.
While going downhill, he hit a pedestrian who suffered broken bones in her face, loss of memory, and loss of consciousness for 10 days. Velasquez’ blood alcohol content was 2.18. That’s almost three times the legal limit.
BICYCLE VS. A VEHICLE
Velasquez was charged with recklessly driving a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.
Under Section 670 of the Vehicle Code, the definition of a vehicle excludes “a device moved exclusively by human power.” So under Section 670, bicycles are not vehicles.
However, Section 21200 of the Vehicle Code provides: “A person riding a bicycle … upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle … including driving under the influence of alcohol …”
FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE
So what we have here is a failure to communicate. No, that was “Cool Hand Luke.” What we have here is dueling code sections, one law defines “vehicle” to indirectly exclude bicycles and another section expressly makes a bicyclist subject to all the laws applicable to the driver of a vehicle.
Lawyers like to draft those kinds of ambiguities and inconsistencies as part of an ongoing lawyers’ full employment act, (although there is no evidence a lawyer drafted those laws).
SPECIFIC TRUMPS GENERAL
So did Velasquez beat the charges because a bicycle is not a vehicle?
The Court of Appeal ultimately concluded Velasquez could be charged for driving under the influence with his bicycle because Section 21300 specifically addresses bicyclists and on its face the code makes bicyclists subject to all the laws of the driver of a vehicle.
Where as Section 670 is general and does not specifically address bicyclists. And as you all know, the specific statute governs over the more general statute when there is an inconsistency.
I just love this kind of legal stuff. I really do.
CARNAGE AND SLAUGHTER
Velasquez made one final argument saying it was unfair to subject bicyclists to the same criminal penalties as motorists because “reckless or intoxicated bicyclists are generally less likely to inflict the ‘carnage and slaughter’ drivers of motor vehicles can inflict.”
The Court of Appeal threw out that argument reminding Velasquez that his bicycle struck the pedestrian with such force that they both lost consciousness, the pedestrian for 10 days.
Bottom line: Bicyclists are subject to the same criminal penalties as a reckless driver of a motor vehicle. In fact, bicyclists are subject to motor vehicle laws in general. In case you didn’t know.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.