Motorcycling Under the Influence

Motorcycling Under the InfluenceDriving Under the Influence (DUI) / Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) cases involving motorcyclists are treated in much the same way as drunk driving cases involving other vehicles. A motorcyclist arrested for DUI / DWI will face two separate cases – in criminal court and at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A California attorney experienced in drunk driving defense can build an aggressive defense to both cases.

The most pressing concern for a motorcyclist arrested for DUI / DWI is the DMV case. Unless the motorcyclist requests a DMV administrative per se (APS) hearing within 10 days of arrest, the DMV will begin the process of automatically suspending the motorcyclist’s license.

During the APS hearing, the Department of Motor Vehicles need only establish by a preponderance of the evidence “the lowest standard in law” that police had a reason to believe the motorcyclist was intoxicated, that the arrest was lawful, and that the motorcyclist had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 percent or greater. If those facts are proven, the motorcyclist’s license will be suspended.

In court, motorcyclists face the same punishment meted out to other drunk drivers – jail time, fines, alcohol education classes, probation, etc. A prosecutor will introduce evidence that includes the motorcyclist’s chemical test results, field sobriety tests, and driving patterns before the arrest was made.

Law enforcement officers are trained to identify specific driving patterns that indicate a motorcyclist is probably intoxicated. When these patterns are observed, there is a 50 percent chance or greater that the motorcyclist is impaired. However, as any good DUI / DWI defense attorney will attest, that means there is a 50 percent chance that the motorcyclist is not impaired, and there are many explanations other than intoxication for each of the so-called signs of impairment. The attorney will use this information to rebut the testimony of the arresting officer in court.

The most prominent sign that a motorcyclist is impaired is drifting between lanes or during a turn or curve. However, drifting is not uncommon if the rider is distracted or unfamiliar with the landscape.

Trouble dismounting the motorcycle is considered an indication of intoxication because it reflects impaired coordination. However, there are many reasons other than alcohol intoxication that would give a rider trouble dismounting, including injury, illness, uneven terrain, or even nervousness.

Police also look for trouble balancing once the motorcycle comes to a stop. Specifically, officers look for shifting from side to side or rocking in an effort to maintain balance at a stop. However, there may be several reasons a rider cannot maintain balance, such as unfamiliarity with that particular motorcycle, uneven terrain, etc.

Unsteady turns that cause a motorcycle’s wheels to wobble are also considered a sign of intoxication. However, when the motorcycle is undergoing a turn or curve, it must slow down, which makes it less stable in an upright position. At higher speeds the gyroscopic effects of a motorcycle’s wheels tend to keep the motorcycle on track so long as the speed is maintained. At slower speeds, the motorcycle is unsteady, so there is a higher probability of wobbling while turning.

Police also look for the application of break lights during a turn as opposed to prior to the turn as a sign of intoxication. Late braking is considered a sign of delayed reflexes that may indicate alcohol impairment. However, there are many reasons a rider would break during a turn, such as unfamiliarity with the road or relative inexperience riding a motorcycle.

Many types of behavior, from failing to accelerate at a green light to not noticing an officer’s flashing lights, can be interpreted as signs of intoxication if that’s what police are looking for. A lawyer experienced in defending DUI / DWI cases for motorcyclists can establish that there are many explanations for the “signs” of an intoxicated rider.

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