Contrary to popular belief, a person may not be convicted of operating a bicycle while under the influence of an intoxicating liquor pursuant to New Jersey’s DWI statute, N.J.S. 39:4-50.
The New Jersey drunken driving legislation expressly excludes muscular powered bicycles from its proscriptions. The rationale for this is in the text of the law itself. The term “motor vehicle” as used in the drunken driving legislation is clearly and precisely defined in N.J.S. 39:1-1
Motor vehicle includes all vehicles propelled otherwise than by muscular power, excepting such vehicles as run upon rails or tracks and motorized bicycles.
This question was brought up in State of New Jersey v. Johnson, 203 N.J.Super. 436 (1985). The prosecution in Johnson argued that pursuant to N.J.S. 39:4-14.1: “Every person riding a bicycle… shall be subject to all the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle… except to those provisions thereof which by their nature can have no application.”
The court was not swayed however. It reasoned that “when there is a conflict between a general and specific act on the same subject, the latter shall prevail.” Johnson at 442.
In sum, riding a bicycle drunk does not constitute a DWI under New Jersey law. It is, however, dangerous and potentially otherwise illegal.
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