What are the rules for cycling if you’ve been drinking? I was specifically wondering about e-bikes. You don’t need a licence to ride an e-bike, right? So is it against the law to ride one after you’ve been drinking? – Aaron, Toronto
If you’re drunk, that ‘e’ in e-bike can earn you a few more letters – a D, U and an I.
“If you’re on an e-bike, we could charge you with impaired driving under the Criminal Code of Canada,” says Toronto Police Traffic Services Const. Hugh Smith. “The criminal code defines it as a motor vehicle, whereas the province defines it as a bicycle.”
Under the criminal code, it’s an offence to operate a motor vehicle, including an e-bike, while impaired by alcohol or drugs, even if your blood alcohol level is below .08.
If you’re banned from driving because of a DUI, you’re not allowed to ride an e-bike, even though you don’t need a licence to ride one, Smith says.
Otherwise, e-bikes are the same as regular bikes under the Highway Traffic Act. You can be charged with every HTA traffic violation, but you won’t get demerits on your licence (except in Quebec).
Impaired driving isn’t a charge you’d face on a regular bicycle.
“There’s no charge under the criminal code for impairment on a bicycle – it has to be a boat or a motorized vehicle,” Smith says.
Biking with booze
If you’re slurring on your Schwinn, police can charge you with public intoxication and fine you $50, plus surcharges.
“We don’t use a breathalyzer or anything,” Smith says. “Officers are trained to recognize the signs of intoxication.”
And, if you’re actually drinking a beer or carrying booze on a bike, police can also charge you with having open liquor and drinking at a place other than your residence. That’s a $100 fine, plus surcharges, Smith says.
“If someone’s taken three beers out of a six-pack and the plastic rings are still hanging off it, it’s technically open liquor and you can’t be carrying it,” says Smith. “It has to be put away, like in a backpack.”
Find another way home
Impaired cyclists are a danger to themselves, Smith says.
“We take for granted that riding bike is very easy, but it’s actually a very difficult task,” he says. “If you add alcohol it’s just like a bad game show.”
MADD Canada says cycling and driving isn’t a huge issue because relatively few people do it.
“We don't use bikes as a method of getting around after drinking too much – but it’s not too smart because you require balance to ride a bike,” says MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie. “The big issue impaired pedestrians – lots of drunk people are killed walking home from a night of drinking.”
If you’re going to be drinking, walk your bike home or, better yet, leave it locked up somewhere, Smith says.
“Write down where you locked your bike,” he says. “Because when you’re sober, you might not remember where you left it.”
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