Driving a vehicle while impaired is dangerous and a criminal offense in Massachusetts which can have serious legal consequences. But drunk or drug-impaired biking, while a terribly reckless thing to do, is not illegal in this state and does not have OUI conviction consequences.
State law grants bicycles with all the rights and responsibilities of vehicles. However, Massachusetts OUI law makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while being under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A motor vehicle, under Massachusetts law, is not a bike but a vehicle that is constructed and designed for propulsion by non-muscular power. Its legal definition specifically excludes motorized bicycles.
Some states, such as California, specifically address impaired biking and make it illegal. Other states do not explicitly address this but have included biking in their impaired driving laws.
For example, the driving of any vehicle while impaired is a crime in Oregon. Its laws also include bicycles under the definition of vehicles.
In Massachusetts, police could take impaired bicyclists into protective custody even though police cannot make an OUI arrest even if a motor was installed on the bicycle. Bicyclists, however, may face criminal prosecution for other suspected crimes such as underage drinking or possession of illegal drugs.
Nonetheless, there are obstacles to enforcing laws about impaired biking. It may be difficult for police to establish probable cause and determining that a person was biking while impaired. For example, a bicyclist may have swerved to avoid a pothole or other obstacle. An OLI for biking may also be a slippery slope by allowing police to detain a bicyclist for any reason.
Anyone stopped for an OUI should seek legal representation to assure that the police acted appropriately and to assure that their rights are protected. An attorney can help prevent illegal evidence from being used in a prosecution.