California Vehicle Code 21200.5 – Cycling Under the Influence

Law enforcement across the country take all instances of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol seriously. California is no different and you will get charged for being intoxicated in public and for being under the influence while operating a motorized boat, a vehicle, or a bike.

Consuming alcohol or taking drugs, which can impair your judgment and motor skills, will affect the way you drive a car or ride a bike. Contrary to popular belief, cycling while under the influence of alcohol or illicit substances can lead to the possibility of causing serious bodily injury to others or yourself. Getting the help of a criminal defense attorney is highly recommended when facing such offenses.

When law enforcement suspects you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol while riding your bike, they will stop you and most likely charge you with violating the law. To gain a critical understanding of what it means to cycle under the influence, take a look at how California defines it.

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Defining cycling under the influence

Cycling under the influence is also referred to as CUI, which is similar to California’s driving under the influence or DUI laws. CUI is defined under Vehicle Code 21200.5, which states it is a crime to:

  • Ride a bicycle,
    • Under this statute, a bicycle is any mobile transport device that has one or more wheels and can be propelled by people using a belt, chain, or gears.
  • While on the highway, road, or street,
    • This includes any type of public road or street, which includes by-ways, bike lanes, dirt roads, hiking trails, or similar pathways.
    • This does not include California freeways because bicyclists are generally prohibited from using the freeway.
  • While you are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both.
    • Being under the influence of controlled substances means:
      • Your mental and physical abilities are impaired,
      • Making it difficult to operate, drive, or control a vehicle,
      • The same way a sober person using caution would.

This law does not include motorized transport vehicles, such as scooters, motorcycles, mopeds, or dirt bikes.

Closely Related Offenses

It’s not unheard of for multiple charges to be made in addition to cycling under the influence. Getting the right legal help could mean the difference between facing maximum penalties or having your record completely expunged.

The following are just examples of similar offenses and they carry comparable consequences to VC 21200.5, CUI.

California Vehicle Code 23152(a) – Driving under the influence (DUI);

This crime is committed when you drive a motor vehicle on a public highway while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a combination of both.

California Vehicle Code 23152(b) – Driving with BAC of 0.08% or higher;

You break this law when you drive an automobile on a public highway while under the influence of alcohol and your blood alcohol concentration is at or above 0.08 percent.

California Harbors & Navigation Code 655 – Boating under the influence (BUI);

Operating a motorized boat while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both is prohibited under this law.

California Harbors & Navigation Code 655(c) – Boating with BAC 0.08% or greater;

This crime is committed by operating a motorized boat while under the influence of alcohol and your blood alcohol concentration levels are at or above 0.08 percent.

California Penal Code 647(f) – Public Intoxication;

This law makes it a crime to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or a combination of both, while out in public. More specifically, this law prohibits an individual from public drunkenness.

California Penal Code 415 – Disturbing the peace;

You commit this crime by disturbing the peace which can happen by being belligerent, playing loud music, using offensive language, or by fighting another person while in public.

What The Prosecution Must Do

The prosecution must prove several facts of the crime to get a conviction for VC 21200.5. Also referred to as elements of the crime, these factors are:

  • The defendant was riding a bicycle, and
  • They rode that bike on a highway, street, or road, and
  • They were intoxicated with either drugs or alcohol or both.

They must prove the defendant did indeed ride a bike on a public path or road AND the level of intoxication was enough to inhibit their mental faculties and physical activity. To be considered under the influence, the amount of controlled substances consumed is enough to impact one’s decision-making process, changing their behavior in such a way that they could not behave as a sober person acting with caution would have under the circumstances.

Furthermore, the prosecution will fight hard to get a conviction if they find this to be a subsequent offense or if there were aggravating factors associated with the charges. If you or someone you know can relate to these situations, reaching out to a criminal defense attorney for help can make all the difference in the outcome of the case.

Who Can be Charged

Aside from initial observations, police officers may submit you to a field sobriety test and breathalyzer if they suspect you are under the influence. However, if you pass everything and they still suspect intoxication, they could request a blood test.

The following examples illustrate who can be charged with cycling under the influence, VC 21200.5.

Example 1:

Carolyn went to a backyard bonfire and got drunk. She knew she was not fit to drive her jeep home, but did not want to spend the night on her friend’s couch. She remembered she had her bike attached to the back of her rig and decided to ride her bike home.

On her ride home, she was under the impression her cycling skills were unaffected by the alcohol. She failed to realize she was not following basic traffic safety. Carolyn was cycling through stop signs, biking across people’s lawns, and passing every intersection without the proper crosswalk signal. She caught the attention of a squad car when she crashed into a mailbox.

She did not think she had broken any laws and admitted to police officers she was drunk. She did not want to drive and assumed biking home was safer. Carolyn is guilty of cycling under the influence of alcohol under VC 21200.5.

Example 2:

Shawn and Ren went to the skate park with a group of friends. They brought beer in their backpacks and would drink every time someone would fail a technique. After a couple of hours they were all publicly intoxicated. They found it was challenging to ride their skateboards home and asked a couple of friends to borrow some bikes. After swapping boards for bikes, they headed home. Less than a block from the park, Shawn began laughing and fell over. Ren moved to avoid his friend and ended up crashing into a parked car. Passersby noticed their behavior and reported them and their friends.

Everyone at the skate park who participated in the drinking game could be charged with public intoxication under PC 647(f). Shawn and Ren, however, will face both PC 647(f) and charges for CUI, riding bikes while under the influence of alcohol. Ren could also face further financial repercussions to cover any damages he caused to the parked car when he crashed into it.

Example 3:

Jackie rode her bike downtown to go clubbing with her friends. She drank kamikazes all night. While on the dance floor, she took some molly. By closing time, she assumed she had danced off a lot of the alcohol and decided to ride her bike back home. Although she managed to stay upright, she visibly lacked coordination and steadiness while cycling. Her grin and jarring movements were enough to catch the eye of a patrol car. They suspected she had been drinking and stopped her.

Jackie’s BAC level was 0.04 percent and her pupils were dilated. When the music would carry over from a car driving by, she would begin dancing. They suspected she had taken some type of MDMA or ecstasy and asked her. Jackie, still unaware of the seriousness of her situation, simply laughed and admitted to taking a molly while on the dance floor.

She could face charges for VC 21200.5 because she was cycling under the combined influence of alcohol and illicit drugs.

Example 4:

Patrick rode his bike down to the nearest 7/11 and bought a bottle of whiskey. He drank half of it right after exiting the convenience store and walked his bike down the street to McDonald’s. His level of intoxication was evident when he struggled to make his order. He became belligerent, yelling at the staff and other patrons. One patron called the police so he screamed and cursed at them before going back to his bike. He continued his behavior as he rode down the street, yelling racial epithets and flipping his middle finger at the passing cars.

Law enforcement stopped him a couple of blocks away from the restaurant. Patrick was slurring his speech when attempting to answer their questions. They charged him with VC 21200.5, cycling under the influence. He was also charged with disturbing the peace under PC 415 because of his erratic verbal attacks and offensive speech.

Legal Defense

This offense will end up on your permanent record. It could impact future employment, especially job opportunities that involve driving or operating heavy machinery. The right CUI defense lawyer will be able to help get the charges reduced, or possibly dismissed. Fortunately, there are some legal defenses used to fight charges for CUI, VC 21200.5.

Were you riding a bike?

This law covers cycles with one or more wheels that can be propelled by a person using a belt, chain, or gears. If you were not riding the bike while intoxicated, you should not be guilty.

You also cannot be charged with a CUI for riding a regular scooter, skateboard, rollerblades, long-boards, skates, a similar device that is not considered a cycle or bike.

Michelle rode her bike to the bar to have some drinks with her friends. After, she felt too drunk to sit on her bike and ride it. She chose to walk home with her bike by her side. Feeling sick, she ran to the nearest bush and vomited. When she finished, she continued walking. By then, a police car had seen her vomit, suspected she was drunk, and stopped her. She was able to communicate clearly and told them she just wanted to walk home and go to sleep. They charged her with a CUI anyway because they assumed she had been riding the bike before stopping by the bush to vomit.

The fact that Michelle chose caution when she decided to walk instead of ride her bike would help her case. Also, witnesses (Michelle’s friends) were able to corroborate that she had started walking instead of biking and her CUI defense lawyer was able to get the charges dropped.

What was your BAC level?

If you were sober or lacked an adequate BAC level, you should not be guilty of VC 21200.5.

Sam, for example, had one shot of vodka at the bar before his hour-long bike ride home. He forgot his ID on the countertop and dropped his wallet on the way out the door. This left the bartender thinking Sam was drunk. They reported him for biking under the influence and told police Sam’s address from the ID he left behind.

Sam arrived at his apartment complex without issue only to be met by law enforcement carrying his ID and wallet. They conducted their investigation and discover Sam’s BAC was less than <0.01 percent, but they still charged him with a CUI.

The law specifically states one must be under the influence of a controlled substance, to the extent they cannot operate a bike like a sober person using caution would have. In this case, Sam obeyed every traffic law and safely rode his bike home. This is not typically indicative of someone who is under the influence of a controlled substance and he should not be guilty of violating California’s CUI laws.

Were you on a public highway?

Under the definition of cycling under the influence, one must be on a public street, byway, highway, or road to be charged with VC 21200.5. If you were in your driveway or on private property while riding your bike, you should not be guilty of CUI.

For instance, Nancy drank half a bottle of red wine and decided to ride her bike down her dirt driveway. She crashed into her mailbox and her bike landed in the street. A passing patrol car had to swerve to avoid it. The police officers noticed her discolored lips and charged her with CUI. However, in this case, Nancy did not ride her bike on a public street, only in her driveway. She would not guilty of VC 21200.5 because she was in her private driveway.

If you can relate to any of these examples, get the help of an effective criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. Acting quickly to defend yourself can make a difference in the results of your case.

Penalties for VC 21200.5

If convicted of cycling under the influence, you face misdemeanor punishments.


A fine of two-hundred-fifty dollars.

You will not have to serve any jail time.

Enhanced Penalties

The penalties can be enhanced depending on your criminal background history or if this was a subsequent offense. If an individual was injured as a result of the CUI or if aggravating factors played a role, you could face harsher penalties.

The defendant would also be liable for any financial consequences in cases where another person’s property was damaged. For example:

  • Cycling under the influence and crashing through the window of a business.
  • Riding your bike while intoxicated and crashing into a vehicle, causing paint or body damage.
  • Hurting or injuring a person by colliding into them when biking while drunk.

Penalties for Closely Related Offenses

California Vehicle Code 23152(a) – Driving under the influence (DUI);


Misdemeanor (summary) probation,

A possible one year sentence in county jail,

Up to three-hundred-ninety dollars or more in fines,

Enrollment in a California court-approved DUI school,

Traveling restrictions to Canada, and

Your driver’s license could be suspended for as long as six months.

California Vehicle Code 23152(b) – Driving with BAC of 0.08% or higher;


Summary (informal) probation,

A potential one-year sentence in county jail,

As much as three-hundred-ninety dollars in fines,

Enrollment and successful completion of DUI school, and

Your driver’s license can be suspended for up to three years.


A possible three-year state prison sentence,

Formal (felony) probation,

Driver’s license revocation for as long as two years, and

You could be labeled as an HTO (habitual traffic offender).

California Harbors & Navigation Code 655 – Boating under the influence (BUI);


Summary probation,

As long as six months in county jail, and/or

Fines of up one thousand dollars.

California Harbors & Navigation Code 655(c) – Boating with BAC 0.08% or greater;


Informal probation,

Up to six months in county jail, and/or

Potential fines of up to one thousand dollars, and

Possible enrollment in a state-approved DUI school.

California Penal Code 647(f) – Public Intoxication;


As long as six months in county jail, and/or

As much as one thousand dollars in fines.

California Penal Code 415 – Disturbing the peace;


Fines of up to four-hundred dollars.


As long as ninety days in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to four-hundred dollars.

We Can Help

Don’t let a leisurely outing result in a misdemeanor on your criminal record. Finding an experienced criminal defense attorney does not have to be difficult. If you are located in the greater San Diego area, Orange County, or Los Angeles and need legal advice, contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum.

If you or someone you care about is being charged with VC 21200.5, CUI, or any of the related offenses, Attorney Yum can help fight on your behalf. Schedule a no-obligation, free consultation by calling us at 619-233-4433, or use our online contact form.