Is Cycling Drunk as Bad as Drunk Driving?

Cycling Drunk: Lesser of Two Evils, or Completely Irresponsible?
As a recent import to the US, I am often amazed at how relaxed people are about drinking and driving here. Yet thinking back, I must admit I was more relaxed about other forms of transportation back home - often riding my bike to an evening in the pub, and taking a somewhat more wobbly route back home. But is that any better? Unless you are a passenger on the Minnesota-based Pedal Pub or the Fietscafe bike bar in Amsterdam (and you have a sober navigator!), can you really justify taking to the roads under the influence, even if you are not in a motor vehicle? Just how dangerous is cycling drunk anyway?

The increasingly thought-provoking cycling blog over at The Guardian has been trying to uncover some statistics about cycling injuries and alcohol, and they have been facing an uphill struggle. The problem is that while cycling under the influence is illegal in the UK, the police have no powers to force a breath test as they do with motorists, unless a cyclist is injured - and even then they seem to do so rarely. According to the article, we do know that 89,223 motorists were convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and that 14,480 people were killed or injured, including 460 deaths, in alcohol related car accidents.

For cyclists, it's much harder to get a clear picture, although we know that 13% of cyclists killed on the roads were above the legal limit for alcohol - whether or not alcohol was a factor in their deaths. Of course, the number of cyclists was fairly small (11), but then the number of cyclists on the road is way smaller than motorists.

I do know from personal experience that I was a less safe cyclist when I had been drinking - a couple of times I woke up thinking "that was stupid", having ridden down a busy road with no lights, or some other such nonsense. Of course many thirsty cyclists would argue that comparing drink driving to drunk cycling is hardly a fair discussion - after all, one is a huge hunk of metal traveling at high speed, the other is barely heavier than your average person, and traveling much slower (especially with a belly full of beer!). But the argument that a cyclist is less likely to kill someone else is only valid up to a point - after all, unpredictable road users are a danger to everyone - and when I'm driving I would much rather know that the cyclist in front of me is sober and is unlikely to wobble into my path. (I also don't really want to live the rest of my life knowing I killed someone, even if it was their fault!)

I can't help but conclude that biking drunk was not the smartest move I ever made, and on a personal level I plan on being more careful about how much I consume before I get on the saddle. Whether I would advocate a crack down is hard to say - after all, I'd hate to encourage anything that discourages folks from leaving the car at home, especially if they plan on having a drink. Maybe we should have tiered blood alcohol limits depending on the mode of transportation?

I have lived in countries with much better cycling infrastructure - with bikes and motorists kept separate wherever possible. I still would argue that cycling "drunk" would be a bad idea here too, but I'd probably be slightly more liberal about what actually constitutes that drunkenness. After all, a low speed tumble on a bike path late at night is much less hazardous than a hiccup on a main road or a missed stoplight.

So where do our readers stand? Is it OK to have a few more beers if you are traveling by bike, or should the same rules apply to everyone?