Sheets to the wind: drunk cycling

A close shave with a drunk cyclist prompts a reflection on that old question: how much is too much when it comes to booze and cycling?

shutterstock 403680 photoChances are you know the risks of getting blottoed and hopping in the saddle – you know it’s all about moderation –  but then again the blurry lines around drinking and cycling leave plenty of room for errors and accidents. A recent ride reminded just how far that goes.

At a set of traffic lights just outside Clapham a cyclist weaved his way to the front of a traffic light queue I was waiting in on my ride home from work. “Classic”, I thought; another instance of that annoying habit you see hundreds of times a day. As the lights turned green, he swerved left nearly ploughing into the stream of the cyclists, me included.

The road ahead bent round to the right with parked cars on the left-hand side. By the time we reached these cars most of us had passed him.

All of a sudden there was a loud bang from behind and the guy was face down in the middle of the road – unconscious and bleeding from his head. Cyclists, motorists and pedestrians all stopped to help and as we wondered how it happened we realised he had clipped a wing-mirror of a parked car. As he came to, onlookers saw the reason why: he was drunk.

He was obviously worse for wear and didn’t want the police called. An ambulance had been called, however, and luckily he seemed to be recovering by the time that arrived. But it could easily have been a lot worse.

While many, like me until recently, thought that being ‘drunk in charge of a bicycle’ was some kind of urban legend, you can be convicted for such an offence. Cautionary tales are all well and good, but it’s that kind of reminder of what a couple of extra jars can do that makes you wonder if we take drink-cycling seriously enough.

Cycling and beer fit together nicely and while you’re perhaps not likely to have several pints before launching off on a 50 mile jaunt, if there’s a pub a few streets down, it’s easy to feel more relaxed.

At least a few of us will have ridden home after one too many, usually in a state you would never dream of driving a car in, but you think ‘I’ll be alright on my bike’ and while most of the time it is, it only takes a slight clip of a wing-mirror and lives are changed forever.

According to the Avon and Somerset police website, ‘Riding a pedal cycle while unfit to ride because of alcohol or drugs is an offence contrary to S30 Road traffic Act 1988, if the rider is incapable of controlling the cycle. Section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872 has an offence of being drunk in charge of a bicycle with a maximum fine of £200, or one month’s imprisonment’. Being drunk in charge of a bike is, according to this, a real offence rather than just an urban legend.

Being over-the-limit and riding is an issue that has been somewhat ignored, but it needs to be spoken about because the lives of cyclists, pedestrians and drivers are put at risk.

For me this whole experience was an eye-opener and will make me think twice before getting a round in before my ride home.

Tim Burt

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