A Pennsylvania Court recently decided the case of Commonwealth of PA v. James D. Bilka, which confirmed two important aspects of Pennsylvania’s DUI laws: (1) these laws extend to bicycles and require those bicyclists riding under the influence to be arrested and convicted of a DUI offense, no different than if they were driving a car; and (2) bicyclists who refuse to submit to chemical testing following their DUI arrest are subject to Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law and penalties.

Commonwealth of PA v. James D. Bilka

On September 15, 2011, Police stopped James Bilka while on his bicycle after riding through a red light. Bilka refused field sobriety tests at the time of the stop, but was still arrested for DUI because he smelled of alcohol, his speech was slurred, and he was unsteadily walking. After being arrested, Bilka refused to submit to a chemical blood test.

While Bilka eventually accepted a plea agreement and had his DUI offense dismissed, under Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) was authorized to suspend his driving privileges for 18 months for his refusal to submit to the blood test. Bilka appealed his suspension based on the premise that that bicyclists do not have to be licensed to ride a bike, but was struck down based on a careful reading of the current Implied Consent Law.

Pennsylvania DUI Laws 

While Pennsylvania’s DUI laws vary in wording based on an offender’s blood alcohol content (BAC), generally speaking, an individual may not drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle after imbibing in alcohol. As evidenced in Bilka, the term “vehicle” doesn’t just mean cars or motorcycles, but includes bicycles, as well.  In fact, a distinct change in the law was made by the legislature in 2004 that changed “motor vehicle” simply to “vehicle”.  This was done with the clear intent to extend to those driving any vehicle, bicycles included.

Implied Consent Law in Pennsylvania

When driving in Pennsylvania, you implicitly agree to Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law. Simply stated, the Implied Consent Law states that if you are ever asked by a police officer to submit to chemical testing (typically blood, urine, or breath tests) following a DUI arrest, you implicitly agree to submit.

Chemical Test Refusals

Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law requires you to submit to chemical testing following an arrest for DUI. However, what if you refuse? What constitutes a “refusal”? These are all important questions that you must consider when faced with a chemical test request.

Refusals can be expressly or implicitly made, depending on exactly how you respond when requested to submit. An express refusal occurs when you simply tell an officer “no” when requested to submit to chemical testing, while an implied refusal can take many forms due to circumstances where you didn’t clearly say “no”, but the police decide that you refused anyway. This can be anything from you being so drunk that you physically cannot take the test to having a physical disability or medical condition that prevents you from actually completing the requested test.

Police are under no obligation to offer alternative tests under these circumstances and may simply record it as a “refusal.” It is possible to appeal such an implied refusal determination directly to PennDOT, however, the burden rests on you to prove that you have such a medical condition or disability that at that time that would prevent you from completing the test.

If it is determined that you refused to submit to chemical tests, implicitly or explicitly, you will be subject to either a 12 or 18 month mandatory suspension of your Pennsylvania driving privileges, depending on whether it was your first DUI or your first time refusing.

Should you Submit or Refuse?

While you technically have the choice of whether or not to submit to chemical testing following your DUI arrest, PA DUI lawyers typically recommend submitting for a few different reasons.

As described above, the simple act of refusing to submit leads to a mandatory 12 or 18 month license suspension period, regardless of what happens with your DUI charge. While you may think that the police will have a harder time convicting you of DUI without chemical test results, this is not always the case and you may end up with a year-long license suspension on top of the penalties you face for driving under the influence.

Furthermore, submitting to chemical testing allows your attorney to later challenge the test procedures, practices, and results of such testing without subjecting you to the mandatory, license suspension periods.  If it can be shown that the tests were not properly conducted or the equipment used was not accurate or calibrated, any results may be suppressed and unusable by the prosecution.

Whether you are driving a car, motorcycle, truck, or your bicycle, Pennsylvania’s DUI laws apply. By driving or riding under the influence, you not only open yourself up to severe DUI penalties, but Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law requires that you submit to requested chemical testing, as well. The Bilka case evidenced these facts and made it quite clear that if you are on the road in Pennsylvania, you better not be under the influence.

Photo Credit: Dusty J