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Texas DWI on a Bicycle

You've had a fun night out at the bar with friends, but it's time to go home. You are too intoxicated to drive. You've prepared for this circumstance though, and you are ready to head home on your trusty bicycle. But can you be arrested for DWI in Houston for riding a bicycle as opposed to a car or truck? Texas law says no, but that hasn't stopped some aggressive prosecutors from trying to prosecute some for making a smarter decision to ride a bicycle than operate a motor vehicle. What's more, even if you don't face a DWI charge, you could face other criminal charges, such as public intoxication or disorderly conduct.

If you have been arrested for an alcohol-related crime while riding a bicycle in Houston, the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. is ready to help.

Texas Bicycle DWI

There is no specific Texas statute that outlaws riding a bike while intoxicated. However, some Texas prosecutors point to the general Texas DWI statute to argue that bicycles are covered. Ultimately, it comes down to the language of the statute.

Texas DWI Law

The Texas Penal Code states that a person commits the offense of driving while intoxicated if that person is intoxicated while operating a vehicle in a public place. There are quite a few words in that definition that must be defined, however. They include intoxication and operating a motor vehicle.


The Texas Penal Code is clear on how it defines intoxication. In the eyes of the law, you are intoxicated if you:

  • Do not have the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or
  • Have an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

Motor Vehicle

Texas Penal Code Section 32.34(a) defines a motor vehicle as:

a device in, on, or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a highway, except a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.

As we discussed above, this language is vague. While the name motor vehicle obviously suggests it must be motorized, the definition only says it is a device that can be transported on a highway to move people or property. While there is clearly an exception written in for trains, it isn't particularly clear if bicycles are intended to be covered by the statute. This ambiguity opens up the possibility that a prosecutor might charge you with DWI while riding a bicycle. An experienced DWI attorney may be able to work with the prosecutor to have that charge reduced or even dismissed, but time is of the essence.

Other states have settled these kinds of ambiguities in their legal system. For example, the language of Louisiana's statute is also vague in that defines a vehicle as a "motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, vessel, or other means of conveyance." However, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the statute does not cover bicycles, which has settled the issue in the state.

Other states clearly prohibit riding a bicycle while intoxicated. In Mississippi, the DWI statute targets vehicles as opposed to merely motor vehicles. This broader definition was written with vehicles like bicycles in mind.

Can You Get a DWI on a Bicycle?

From the plain reading of the Texas code, a bicycle is not considered a motor vehicle. However, because of the ambiguous language of the statute, there are Texas prosecutors who have attempted to charge a bike rider with a DWI. And while you may avoid a DWI charge while riding a bicycle, you could still face other forms of legal jeopardy. This is especially true if you cause a wreck with your bicycle that hurts someone or damages the property of another.

Public Intoxication

Even if you avoid a DWI, you could wind up being arrested for public intoxication for riding your bicycle in public while intoxicated. The Texas Penal Code defines public intoxication as being in a public place while intoxicated to a degree that they may endanger themselves or another person. A charge of public intoxication isn't a stretch for an intoxicated bike rider, given that the intoxicated operation of a bike could clearly endanger yourself or another person. A prosecutor would not need to prove that you were certain to present a threat to yourself or another, only that you were a potential risk. Arrests like this for public intoxication are not rare.

Public intoxication is a misdemeanor. It carries a maximum fine of $500. While this is relatively minor, you will also face other consequences from having a criminal conviction on your record. A public intoxication conviction could make it difficult for you to obtain employment or housing. There are other consequences as well, including an increase in insurance premiums if you injure yourself while intoxicated. If you are facing an alcohol-related charge in the Houston, Texas area, the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. is ready to fight to keep your record and your reputation clean.

Civil Liability

Even if you avoid criminal charges, you might be on the hook for any damage you cause while drunkenly pedaling. Damaging the property of another person or even injuring him or her could bring on a civil lawsuit even without being intoxicated. However, you are far more likely to face legal jeopardy if you were drunk when you caused the wreck. Bicycling while drunk gives some people a false sense of safety, especially compared to the havoc caused by drunk driving. But bikes can still cause damage and harm on their own.

The risks caused by drunken bicycling are obvious. First, you face diminished reaction time and awareness. But in many instances, an intoxicated bike rider may also simply forget to follow the necessary safety precautions. That includes wearing light-colored clothes, signaling for turns, and donning reflectors at night.

Texas Bicycle DUI

In some states, the terms "driving under the influence" and "driving while intoxicated" are interchangeable. That is not the case in Texas. Each phrase is its own separate crime, and they are treated very differently. But like a DWI, it is unlikely but not impossible to be charged with a DUI.

DUI vs. DWI in Texas

As we discussed above, a DWI in Texas is when a person is intoxicated while operating a vehicle in a public place. This is the law whether you are an adult or under 21 years of age. However, Texas is a zero tolerance state, meaning that if you are under 21 and you register any blood alcohol concentration while driving you are guilty of DUI. The Texas Penal Code defines DUI as any minor operating a motor vehicle in a public place or a watercraft while having any detectable amount of alcohol in his or her system.

Typically, a DUI in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor. A Class C misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time. A DUI conviction can come with steep community service requirements, though. Upon a first conviction, a minor will serve no less than 20 hours and no more than 40 hours of community service. This goes up to a minimum of 40 hours and a maximum of 60 hours of community service if the minor has a prior conviction.

Speaking of prior convictions, the penalty for a DUI conviction increases for a minor's third or subsequent conviction. A third or subsequent DUI in Texas by a minor that is under the age of 21 but not a child is punishable by:

  • A fine of not less than $500 or more than $2,000;
  • Confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days; or
  • Both the fine and confinement.

Finally, while a minor may enter into a deferred disposition agreement and avoid a conviction for a first- or second-offense DUI, such a program is not available on a third or subsequent offense. A DUI might seem like a childish mistake, but it can haunt your criminal record for the rest of your life. If you have been arrested for DUI, your best chance at keeping your record free of a conviction is by hiring an experienced DWI defense attorney.

Can You Get a DUI on a Bicycle in Texas?

You are unlikely to be charged with a DUI while riding a bicycle for the same reason you would be for a DWI. The DUI statute specifically refers to the operation of a "motor vehicle" as a prerequisite for a DUI conviction. The definition of a motor vehicle under the DUI statute is the same for a DWI:

a device in, on, or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a highway, except a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.

While a minor might be able to avoid a DUI charge while riding a bicycle, there are still a number of other alcohol-related misdemeanors he or she could be charged with. An intoxicated minor riding a bicycle in public could be arrested for public intoxication. If that minor was also found to have alcohol in his or her possession, he or she could be arrested for the misdemeanor of possession of alcohol by a minor.

Texas DWI on a Skateboard

For the same reasons as we discussed above, it is unlikely that you would be charged with a DWI for riding a skateboard while intoxicated. Under Texas law, it is unlikely that a skateboard would qualify as a "motor vehicle." That doesn't make skateboarding while intoxicated a good idea; the potential for injury or property damage is high. You might also be at risk of facing other alcohol-related charges like public intoxication.

Risks of Skateboarding While Intoxicated

Regardless of legal jeopardy, you face a serious risk of injury or even death by skateboarding while intoxicated. Skateboarding is already inherently dangerous; skateboarding is responsible for around 70,000 emergency room visits each year. Most troubling is the heightened risk of head injuries compared to similar activities like roller skating or rollerblading. Other common injuries from skateboarding include:

  • Arm fractures
  • Leg fractures
  • Wrist fractures
  • Cuts and bruises
  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Head and neck injuries
  • Broken jaws and cracked teeth
  • Concussions

Mixing alcohol into the equation can only heighten the potential of receiving these injuries. Alcohol slows your reaction times, making it much more likely that you will take a tumble while riding a skateboard. It can also affect your ability to make decisions, causing you to take on additional risks you normally would avoid. Finally, it can affect your attentiveness, which could cause you not to notice external threats like uneven pavement or oncoming traffic.

Contact Our Houston Bicycle DWI Lawyers

Have you been charged with a DWI in Houston? If so, DWI defense attorney Doug Murphy is ready to help you defend yourself. Doug Murphy knows the stress and worries that a DWI charge can bring. He is ready to discuss your case with you, discuss your legal options, and walk you through the process.

Many DWI defense attorneys will look for any excuse to talk their clients into accepting a plea agreement. While it may not be what's best for the client, some attorneys will happily resolve a case quickly and with less effort. Doug Murphy is not one of those attorneys. A trial attorney by every sense of the word, Doug is a fighter who approaches every case fully prepared to take it to trial. That approach has led Doug Murphy to become one of Houston's top criminal defense attorneys. He is one of only two attorneys in the State of Texas who is Board Certified in both DWI defense law and criminal defense law. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today at 713-229-8333 to discuss your case.

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