Can a Person Riding a Bicycle Be Charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania? Unique DUI Fact Patterns and a Defendant's Potental Liability

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Aug 07, 2017 | 0 Comments

Although it may seem so basic that it does not need to be addressed, there are some DUI cases that will be decided on whether or not the defendant is deemed to be driving a “vehicle” as defined by Pennsylvania law.  More specifically, for a person to be liable for driving under the influence in Pennsylvania, a person has to be driving a “vehicle.”

Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Code (known as “Title 75”) defines “vehicle” as “every device, in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices used exclusively upon rails or tracks. “

What does the definition of “vehicle” mean for DUI defendants in Pennsylvania?

Although it is arguably more responsible than drinking and driving, a person can unfortunately cause themselves enough trouble if they drink too much and walk home from a bar or other establishment.  Many people, regardless of physical condition, will need to occasionally blow off steam, and sometimes a person in a wheelchair, for example, will find that they had too much to drink. 

Random Question of the Day: Can a person in a wheelchair be charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania?

As uncommon as such a situation may be, wheelchair-bound people may be relieved to hear that Title 75 “does not include a self-propelled wheel chair or electrical mobility device operated and by and designed for the exclusive use of a person with a mobility-related disability.”

If, however, a person found themselves in a wheelchair or a mobility scooter and if the wheelchair or scooter was not their own, that person could be properly found guilty of “driving” under the influence.  Why someone would be operating someone else's wheelchair, I do not know, but unusual DUI fact patterns do arise.

How can I be charged with a DUI for riding a bike?  An ATV? 

Other DUI fact patterns reflect what takes place more and more on Pennsylvania streets, and Philadelphia streets in particular.  It is not just millennials that are riding bicycles to and from work, school, and everywhere in between.  Philadelphia partnered with Independence Blue Cross to introduce a bike share program that was launched in 2015.  Hailed as Philadelphia's “newest form of public transportation,” the Indego Bike Share program offers hundreds of self-service bicycles at more than 100 stations throughout the city.  With Philadelphia's bike share promoting bicycle ridership to people that may not have access to a bike, immediate or otherwise, there have been occasional instances where bike riders make the unfortunate decision to rent a bike after having too much to drink at a bar or club, and thereafter find themselves faced with DUI charges.

Although no Pennsylvania case law exists addressing the scope of the term “vehicle” under Section 3731 of Title 75 ("Driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance" – Repealed in 2003), the court cases addressing the meaning of the term for the purposes of other sections of Pennsylvania's Vehicle Code indicate that the scope of the term “vehicle” is broad.

Pennsylvania court decisions have demonstrated, for example, that a bicycle is a “vehicle,” as is a three-wheeled all-terrain vehicle, a snowmobile, or a dune buggy.  By extension of logic, a person riding a four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle, also known as a "quad," or an "ATV," while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance can properly be charged with a DUI in Pennsylvania.  Ultimately, a person riding a bike in Pennsylvania can properly be found guilty of "driving" (or more accurately, "riding") under the influence if the prosecution can prove all necessary elements of its case against the bike operator (including the fact that the person was actually operating the bicycle).

What is considered a "commercial vehicle" in a Pennsylvania DUI case?

Commercial truck drivers, and CDL holders in general, have additional concerns yet when faced with a DUI charge in Pennsylvania.  Whether a person drives a semi-truck, a SEPTA bus, or a school bus, for example, not only will the person charged face potential standard DUI penalties, the person's work will be directly jeopardized (and not just in the sense that a regular driver's license holder may not be able to drive to and from work if his or her driver's license is suspended).  This will be the case whether the CDL holder is driving his or her personal vehicle at the time of the arrest, or whether the CDL holder is driving a work vehicle. 

Although Pennsylvania's Vehicle Code specifies what will be considered a "commercial vehicle" (a tractor trailer for example), a person's commercial driving privileges can be revoked even if driving his or her personal vehicle at the time of the arrest.  In addition, a CDL holder in Pennsylvania will often have additional concerns above and beyond the average person who is charged with a DUI.  Even a CDL holder who is a first-time offender will face major additional consequences related to his or her commercial driving privileges if he or she can otherwise resolve his or her case through Pennsylvania's "ARD" program (a "diversion" program for people with no prior criminal record; "ARD" stands for "Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition").  It should also be understood that the potential consequences can be more severe yet if a CDL holder is charged with driving under the influence while driving a work vehicle (a passenger bus for example).

Attorney for Philadelphia DUI Charges | Pennsylvania Lawyer for DUI Case

Law enforcement throughout Pennsylvania aggressively pursues drivers who are under the influence; this is the stark reality whether an arrest is made by the Philadelphia Police Department or the Pennsylvania State Police for example.  Although most DUI cases in Pennsylvania will involve a "vehicle" as it is traditionally understood; a car, SUV, or truck for example, there are occasional cases that will raise an eyebrow.  Every year in Pennsylvania, people are arrested and charged with driving under the influence for riding on a bicycle or ATV for example.

A related consideration is that there are also many tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles on Pennsylvania roads, and as much as other drivers would like to believe that drivers of such vehicles are not under the influence, unfortunately, this is not always the case.  Even if a CDL holder unknowingly took prescription medication that affected his or her ability to safely operate a vehicle, not only may be the CDL holder's life and driving privileges be at risk, but other drivers' lives may also be in danger. 

Whether a person is driving a bike, semi-truck, or most anything in between, if the prosecution can prove the other elements of the case, and as unconventional as such a DUI charge may be, a person can be found guilty for driving under the influence even if the "vehicle" that he or she was driving does not meet the "traditional" definition of a what most people regard as a "vehicle."  Ultimately, whether a person is a first-time DUI offender, or a person is facing their second or third DUI charge, it remains critical to do everything possible to try to get the best possible outcome if charged. 

The stakes will always be high in a case involving driving under the influence regardless of the kind of "vehicle" involved.  If facing a DUI charge in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, or Northampton County, contact LLF Law Firm today to learn what steps must be taken to minimize the potential consequences.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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