Life Science Blog

The dangers of drunk biking

Think twice before mounting the tipsy tricycle

December 29, 2010

That water bottle holder on your bike is just right for an ice-cold beer. But how dangerous is it to drink and pedal?

The short answer: it’s dangerous. You’re more likely to crash (duh) and more likely to take unnecessary risks, experience brain injury, or, if you’re lucky, just get into trouble with the cops.

A recent study found that if you drink, you’re less likely to wear a helmet.  If you don’t wear a helmet, you’re more likely to suffer brain injury in a crash. It’s not clear how this link works: maybe those who normally wear helmets forgo them when they’re drunk, or maybe those who drink and bike never wear helmets in the first place. But either way, things are not good for the helmetless drunken bikers.

Another study looked at deaths from bike accidents that happened between 1987 and 1991. Of the 1,711 victims who were also tested for alcohol, 32% had been drinking.

Not only are drunk cyclists less likely to protect their craniums, they’re also generally less experienced, will ride in all kinds of adverse conditions and are less likely to have health insurance. And most are on the road at night, when they’re harder for drivers to see.

That’s partially because it may be harder to bike while drunk than it is to do a lot of other things. Some studies suggest that it’s actually more difficult to bike drunk than it is to drive a car drunk (not that you should do that either). As soon as your blood alcohol level reaches 0.08, you’ve lost 80% of your biking ability.

If you’re a drunk cyclist lucky enough to end up in a gutter rather than under a bus, many states will now book you for a DUI, including the District of Columbia, Oregon and Texas. California it has its own special citation: a CUI, cycling under the influence (cute, right?). Whether you can get a DUI while biking depends on how your state defines a vehicle, but even if you can’t get a DUI, you can still be booked for public drunkenness or reckless driving.

So before you bike to your next fiesta, remember to arrange a ride home that isn’t two wheeled.

About the Author

Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a B.S. in ecology and a minor in writing. She spent the last four years there poking around in labs, studying krill, climbing trees, riding bikes and perfecting her fish doodles. A sucker for being lost in strange places, she recently wandered her way through Costa Rica, Portugal, Tokyo and Bonaire and is excited to take her wandering to the epicenter of strange places, New York City.



Could we get a better reference than just “some studies suggest” on that 80% skill loss when biking?

Rose Eveleth says:


Those studies are all in German, so I didn’t link to them here. But this study explains some of them:

Hope that helps!


Mary Maroon says:

Also interested in references for drunk cycling correlating to less cycling experience

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