Can a Cyclist Biking Under the Influence Be Liable for a Crash?

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on August 14, 2023 in Car Accidents
Updated on January 5, 2024

stock img - cyclist riding beside mini van on wet city streetIn Wisconsin, bicycles are considered vehicles. As such, cyclists are subject to many of the same rules as drivers of motor vehicles. This includes obeying traffic laws, such as stopping at signals and yielding the right of way. However, there is often confusion about biking while under the influence in Wisconsin as the laws are less clear-cut than for motor vehicles.

In this article, PKSD discusses operating while intoxicated (OWI) in Wisconsin and how that applies to cyclists. We also discuss when a drunk cyclist could be liable for damages resulting from a car crash.

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Do Wisconsin OWI Laws Apply to Bicycles and Their Riders?

Wisconsin OWI laws primarily apply to motor vehicles and they do not specifically mention bicycles. That said, there is some ambiguity regarding whether biking under the influence could have any legal consequences. Currently, the state’s OWI laws do not specifically address intoxication while cycling.

This means that technically, it is not illegal to cycle and drink. It is not, however, a good idea to do so. If a drunk cyclist causes a crash with a motor vehicle, the injuries are more likely to be severe or catastrophic. Despite being injured, a cyclist in this situation may also be at least partially liable for damages resulting from that crash.

Can a Cyclist Be Charged With an OWI if it Leads to a Crash?

If the cyclist was biking while under the influence, Wisconsin does not assess OWI charges. However, this law does not relieve cyclists of other types of negligence. Therefore, it could still have an impact on the degree of liability assessed against that individual.

What Is the Crash Risk for Cyclists in the U.S. Today?

Cycling carries a high-crash risk in the U.S. According to the National Safety Council, the number of preventable bicycle crash deaths has increased by 44 percent over the last 10 years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says statistics show male riders biking through urban areas between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to be the most vulnerable to being hit by a car.

Drivers Are Often At Fault for a Car vs Bicycle Crash

Typically drivers in passenger cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and other motor vehicles are deemed the liable party in a crash involving a cyclist. Crashes involving motor vehicles and cyclists are often down to these types of common driver negligence:

  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving
  • Driving while impaired by alcohol or other substances
  • Failing to properly share the road with cyclists
  • Not checking blind spots while changing lanes or turning
  • Failing to signal before merging, changing lanes or turning
  • Opening car doors after parking before checking for approaching cyclists

When Could a Cyclist Be Liable for a Wisconsin Car Crash?

Legally, negligent cyclists can be held at least partially liable for a crash they cause in Wisconsin. Vehicles provide drivers with greater protection if a collision occurs, so their injuries may be more minor. However, that fact does not relieve bicyclists of liability. Cyclists still owe a legal duty of care to prevent causing others harm.

Common types of negligence among bicyclists include:

  • Not riding with the flow of traffic
  • Neglecting to use hand signals when turning
  • Failing to stop at red light signals or stop signs
  • Cutting off vehicles to turn
  • Riding on roadways, such as highways or expressways, that are prohibited to cyclists
  • Biking while under the influence of alcohol
  • Failing to increase visibility by using reflectors, headlights or wearing reflective clothing

What Insurance Applies if a Cyclist is Found Liable for a Crash?

If the cyclist is deemed liable for a crash involving a motor vehicle, there may be some insurance available to file a claim against. Some cyclists carry personal liability insurance, while others may be covered under a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy.

What If I Am Partially to Blame for Causing a Crash?

Whether you are a cyclist or a driver, Wisconsin follows a comparative negligence system. This means, you may still be eligible to recover your damages, even if you believe you are partly to blame for a crash.

That said, do not admit to any degree of fault. Let the crash investigators do their job. You should also consider hiring an attorney well-versed in motor vehicle vs cycling crashes as soon as possible. He or she will dispute any liability assessed against you that is unfair.

If you are the injured victim and assessed with some degree of fault, you can still recover damages as long as you are not 51 percent or more liable for the crash. However, your total awarded compensation will be reduced by the percentage of fault against you.

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