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Drunk biking safer than driving?

By in Opinions


A recent Globe and Mail article completely changed my view on something. It was titled, “Should you bike if you’ve been drinking?”

Published only a few days after bicyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard died in an accident with former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant, the incident seems to be the inspiration for the article. Sheppard was drunk when the accident occurred. However, it is debatable whether alcohol was the leading cause in his death.

Before this article, it never occurred to me that bicycling while drunk was dangerous. Don’t get me started on biking without a helmet, but doing it while you’re drunk, who cares?

Dunk biking

In my opinion, the danger of driving vehicles while drunk has always been about putting other people’s lives at stake. When I’m out on the streets, whether driving, walking or biking, I don’t expect to be suddenly ploughed down by a drunk driver whose impaired judgment kept him or her from seeing me.

How much damage could a bike possibly do? Especially if the drunk cyclist is wearing a helmet, the accident could only result in a few scratches and a bent-up bike.

The Globe article changed my mind.

The article cites Robert Mann, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario, saying cycling requires coordination, balance and quick reaction times, and that “past research on cyclists who have been injured or killed show a large proportion of them had been drinking at the time of their crash.” The article also suggests people who are planning to ride their bikes home will drink more than they would have if they were driving, believing they’re safer.

While an accident with a bike is probably going to do less damage, that biker is putting their own life at risk more than others. And their bad judgment could mean swerving into traffic and causing another accident.

University students are notorious for being broke and relying on public transit and bikes to get around. Working near a bar, I often see tipsy, young partiers hop on their bikes to head home. Some friends have talked about “bar biking,” akin to a pub crawl.

I like to think university students are smarter than high school students, too. We realize the danger of driving drunk and because we’re more mature and more experienced, we arrange rides or take cabs, like the responsible, mostly-adult people we are.

But maybe it’s time we re-examine the idea of biking drunk.

I try to be a responsible drinker and a responsible host. My parties always have fresh sheets and blankets set aside for anyone who wants to stay over. If I’m the designated driver, I always ask if anyone needs a ride. If I’m wasted, I encourage others to find a safe ride. I will lend money for a cab in a second.

Yet there have been many nights where I waved a cheery goodbye to drunken friends as they sped off on their bicycles, completely satisfied that I was a good host and a good friend because they were not speeding off in a car. I don’t feel so comfortable with myself any more.

That said, I’m not perfect. Even when I’m the designated driver, sometimes I still have a drink with some time to sober up before getting back behind the wheel. I may be wrong, but I don’t feel like this impairs my driving. I would apply the same to bicycling.

If you’re still steady on your feet and not seeing double, you’re probably okay to bike home, especially a short distance. But you had better think twice if you’re fumbling with your lock and falling over into other bikes.

Despite evidence to the contrary, I still feel like it’s safer to bike home than to drive.


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