Electric bikes are growing in popularity across the U.S. for good reasons. They are convenient, easy to ride, more environmentally friendly than cars, and fun!
However, these factors make it easy for people under the influence to give them a spin, so you may have wondered if you can get a DUI on an electric bike.
The acronym DUI stands for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. The law also describes it as “impaired driving,” because you can’t drive as well under those conditions.
The legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) in most states is 0.08%. If an officer catches you with a BAC of 0.08% or higher, they can charge you with DUI.
“Driving While Impaired” or DWI is similar to a DUI, but there is a difference. A DUI more often refers to alcohol, while a DWI refers to narcotics or irresponsibly consumed prescription drugs.
The Definition of a Vehicle
The first question is whether or not an electric bike is considered a vehicle. After all, if an electric bike doesn’t count as a vehicle, you can’t get a DUI on one.
At the federal level, electric bikes that ride under 20 miles per hour on a motor alone – as in, without the help of human pedaling – are considered separate from motor vehicles, mopeds, and motorcycles.
It depends on the state. In some states, electric bikes are not considered vehicles and are therefore not subject to DUI laws. In others, electric bikes are considered vehicles, so you could be charged with DUI if caught riding one while impaired.
Can You Get a DUI on an Electric Bike?
The short answer is yes, getting a DUI from riding an electric bike while under the influence is possible.
Again, state laws will play a role in whether the police will charge you with a DUI. If a state considers an electric bike a vehicle, you can be charged with DUI.
Check your state’s DUI laws to determine whether electric bikes are considered vehicles. If you don’t know, you should assume that electric bikes are in the same category as motor vehicles, and you should refrain from riding under the influence.
You should also note that, even if electric bikes aren’t considered vehicles in your state, you can still be arrested for public intoxication. All in all, it’s best to avoid electric bikes while under the influence.
Not All Electric Bikes Are the Same
Not all electric bikes are the same in terms of motor type and motor power. Both motor type and power can influence how risky it is to ride the bike under the influence.
There are three different types of motors for e-bikes.
1. Throttle Mode, aka Power-on-Demand mode: The motor does not need human pedaling power, so the rider does not have to pedal at all for it to move.
2. Assistance Mode: There is an automatic motor that may be relatively slow but requires human pedaling. The motor is there to assist the speed and power of the ride, enabling the rider to go faster or climb easier than with a standard bike.
3. Throttle and Assistance Mode: A rare number of electric bikes have a motor you can turn on and off, like in Throttle Mode, in addition to the ability to pedal alongside this controllable motor, like in Assistance Mode.
Different e-bikes have different motor powers, typically ranging from 250 watts to 750 watts. The greater the motor power, the greater the speed the bike can achieve.
The motor power can also influence how fast an electric bike feels to ride. A bike with a lower motor power may feel leisurely, while a bike with a higher motor power can make the rider feel like they’re speeding.
As you can guess, both the motor type and the motor power can make a bike more or less dangerous to drive intoxicated. If you have a 750-watt Power-on-Demand electric bike, this may feel much more similar to a moped or motorcycle than a 250-watt assistance mode bike.
DUI Differences Between E-Bikes and Traditional Bikes
There are some key differences to note between electric bikes and traditional bikes when it comes to DUIs.
As mentioned, the motor can make electric bikes feel more like vehicles than traditional bikes.
The second is that electric bikes can go much faster than traditional bikes. While the average speed of a conventional bike is around 10 to 12 miles per hour, electric bikes can go 20 to 28 miles per hour without pedaling.
The third is that electric bikes can be more difficult to control than traditional bikes. This challenge is because the motor can be mighty and can cause the bike to accelerate quickly. If you are not used to riding an electric bike, you may find it difficult to control.
For all these reasons, a DUI for an e-bike typically has a harsher penalty than a traditional bike. At the same time, e-bike DUI penalties are usually less harsh than a DUI for cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles.
Safety Tips for Riding an Electric Bike
- Besides refraining from drugs and alcohol, let’s look at a few ways to stay safe while riding an electric bike.
- Familiarize yourself with electric bike laws in your area, since they will differ from state to state and even county to county.
- Wear a bicycle helmet, even if it is not required by law.
- Wear conspicuous clothing to ensure you can always be seen, especially while riding at night.
- Always follow the rules when you are riding on the road.
- Stay focused and be aware of your surroundings.
- When you can, avoid riding in the rain. Rain can cause slippery roads and increase the chance of falling or crashing.
So there’s a lot to keep in mind when riding an electric bike. To sum up, whether you can get a DUI while riding one, the most common answer is yes, though it depends.
In some states, you might be able to avoid a DUI by riding an electric bike drunk. However, it is unsafe and unwise to ride any type of vehicle, motorized or not, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Additionally, in some states, e-bikes are considered motorized vehicles, and you can indeed get a DUI on an electric bike.
So it’s best to be safe than sorry and only ride electric bikes while sober.
Read also: Do You Need a License For an Electric Bike