In a country with zero tolerance for driving under the influence, a Hungarian government decree that allows cyclists to drink and ride on major roads came as a surprise over the weekend.
Hungary, which fines drunk drivers heavily, takes away licenses, bans them from driving and locks them up in jail if they’ve caused an accident, since Saturday allows cycling regardless of the level of intoxication provided that cyclists are capable of steering.
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Before Saturday, if riders were caught on main roads with blood alcohol level higher than 0.5 grams per liter, they were to pay a fine of 30,000 forints, or $131. Lawmakers say riders can only hurt themselves and not others, unlike drivers of motor vehicles.
The decision raised some eyebrows.Meanwhile, it remains illegal to bike under the influence in California. California Vehicle Code section 21200.5 states:
Notwithstanding Section 21200, it is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug. Any person arrested for a violation of this section may request to have a chemical test made of the person's blood, breath, or urine for the purpose of determining the alcoholic or drug content of that person's blood pursuant to Section 23612, and, if so requested, the arresting officer shall have the test performed. A conviction of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250). Violations of this section are subject to Section 13202.5.I think that this law is sensible. California's drunk cycling punishment is less than the punishment for drunk driving, but losing $250 is still less than desirable. Proponents of the Hungary reform claim that bike riders only hurt themselves and not others, but I don't think this is correct. Bikes can crash into pedestrians and cause serious injuries, and cars swerving to avoid drunken cyclists can cause all sorts of damage.
While the thought of pulling over and fining drunken bicyclists may seem comical, laws against cycling under the influence make sense. While these laws probably should not be as strict as Slovakia's and the Czech Republic's laws (which call for fines of up to $2,000, according to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog), it is good to have at least some law against bicycling while intoxicated.