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Can e-bike riders in Toronto be charged with drinking and driving?

Canadians are generally aware that drinking and driving is illegal. The blood-alcohol limit for drivers is 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. In addition to jail and fines, the consequences of being convicted of drinking and driving could include loss of driving privileges, higher insurance premiums, obstacles to employment, required treatment programs, probation and a criminal record.

What you may not know is that you don't have to be behind the wheel of a car or a truck to be charged with impaired driving. Now that electric bicycles -- or e-bikes -- are more common in Toronto, riders should be aware that, under the criminal code, e-bicycles are treated as motor vehicles. That means you could be charged with drinking and driving when you thought you were taking the safer route by not driving a car.

You don’t need insurance or a license to operate an e-bike, just as you don’t need insurance or a license to ride a bicycle. However, the motorized component of an e-bike qualifies it as a motor vehicle under the criminal code, whereas the province still regards e-bikes as bicycles. 

In any case, if a police officer suspects that an e-bike operator is impaired by drugs or alcohol, then the operator could be arrested, even if a breath test indicates a blood-alcohol level below the legal limit for drivers. Whether the criminal charge can be substantiated in the absence of an over 80 offence is a matter to be determined in court.

Something else to keep in mind is that individuals who are prohibited from driving are also not allowed to operate e-bikes.

Generally, if you’re found to be impaired while riding your non-electric bicycle, then you will not face a drinking and driving charge. Rather, you could be accused of public intoxication, though officers are not likely to use a breath test to check for a manual bike rider’s impairment.

Source: The Globe and Mail, "Can I drink and drive on an e-bike?" Jason Tchir, Aug. 5, 2014

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