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Intoxicated Cycling: Is it Worth the Risk?

Ah, the summer months.

The time of year you reach into your shed or the depths of your garage, the areas that have been collecting dust all winter long, and you pull out one of humankind’s greatest mobility advancements, the bicycle. Though you will have to dust its seat, clean its frame, and ensure its functional capability, there should be some caution of the dangers that may ensue in the coming months. Intoxication while cycling can be of grave threat not only to yourself but those around you.

The Danger

Everyone knows the dangers of not wearing helmets while cycling. We all know that cyclists are expected to follow provincial traffic laws. The risks of cycling while intoxicated are less known. According to recent studies, one-third of patients tested for alcohol after bicycle-related accidents were found to be intoxicated.[i] In addition, a strong correlation has been shown between cycling under the influence of alcohol and serious head injuries.[ii]

With the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use, these numbers are expected only to rise.

Not everyone reacts to being intoxicated in the same way. Whether you have one beer or joint, then ride your bike or drink seven beers and smoke four joints, you are taking a risk. Keep in mind that even though a bicycle’s pedal power is different from that of a car, you can still cause an accident if you cycle under the influence. According to one study, riding with the legal limit of alcohol in one’s system increases the risk of a fatal accident by 2,000 percent.[iii] You can also injure someone else by biking into them or causing cars to swerve out of the way to avoid hitting you.

Ontario Laws

If you are intoxicated on a bike, police can charge you under the Liquor Licence Act with being intoxicated in a public place. If you actually have an open drink and are actively drinking on a bike, you could be charged with consuming alcohol, not in a licensed establishment or residence. More so, the police have a right to detain visibly intoxicated cyclists, which may make for an unpleasant night in the drunk tank.

If your actions cause someone else to be injured or damage personal property, such as a motor vehicle, in the process of your cycling from point A to point B, you may be opening up yourself to a civil claim in addition to criminal charges. This means you could be on the hook to pay other people out of your own pocket.


If you have consumed alcohol or cannabis, you’re going to be intoxicated. As a vulnerable or perhaps the most vulnerable vehicle user on the road, you need 100 percent of your senses in the decision making on a bike. Alcohol and cannabis will affect your depth perception, your reaction time, and your control of the bike itself. You need all your skills when you’re riding the smallest vehicle on the road. You’re also partaking in physical activity, and there are material changes that will happen to you on the bike. The effects of alcohol will be doubled compared to when you’re sitting down and doing nothing.[iv]

Intoxication is associated with higher medical costs when patients are hospitalized or discharged as a result of bicycle-related injuries, [v] so you should be aware of the consequences of any actions you take on the bike this summer.


[i] Harad MY, Gangi A, Ko A, Liou DZ, Barmparas G, Li T, et al. Bicycle trauma and alcohol intoxication. Int J Surg 2015;24(Pt A):14-9.

[ii] Crocker P, Zad O, Milling T, Lawson KA. Alcohol, bicycling, and head and brain injury: a study of impaired cyclists’ riding patterns R1. Am J Emerg Med 2010;28(1):68-72.

[iii] https://torontolife.com/food/urban-decoder-law-3/

[iv] Airaksinen NK, et al. Cycling injuries and alcohol. Injury, Int. J. Care Injured 49 (2018) 945-952.

[v] Homma Yosuke, Yamauchi Sunao, Mizobe Michiko, Nakashima Yoshiyuki, Takahashi Jin, Funakoshi Hiraku, et al. Emergency department outpatient treatment of alcohol-intoxicated bicyclists increases the costs of medical care in Japan. PLoS One 2017; 12(3):e0174408. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0174408

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