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Bicyclists Must Submit to Breath or Blood Testing under Pennsylvania’s Implied Consent Law, Commonwealth Court Holds

JoostKorporaal [Public domain, CC0 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via PixabayPeople who operate vehicles in Pennsylvania have consented to chemical testing, simply by virtue of operating a vehicle, if they are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), according to Pennsylvania law. This applies even if a person is operating a bicycle at the time police seek to perform a chemical test, according to a recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in Bilka v. Commonwealth. The defendant appealed an 18-month license suspension ordered after he refused to submit to blood testing. He argued that the implied consent law did not apply to him because he was riding a bicycle, which does not require a license, at the time of his arrest. The trial court and Commonwealth Court disagreed and affirmed the license suspension.

A police officer stopped the defendant, who was on a bicycle, shortly before midnight on September 15, 2011. The officer alleged that he observed the defendant run a red light, and that the bicycle lacked the headlight and side reflectors required by law. He claimed that the defendant smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, and had trouble walking when he got off the bicycle. After the defendant refused to perform field sobriety testing, the officer placed him under arrest. The defendant refused to submit to blood testing, reportedly telling the officer that he could not be arrested for DUI on a bicycle.

Pennsylvania law states that anyone “who drives, operates, or is in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle” has given “implied consent” to chemical testing if a law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion of DUI. Most importantly for this case, the statute uses the word “vehicle,” not the term “motor vehicle.” The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code’s definition of “vehicle” includes any “device” capable of transporting “any person or property…upon a highway.”

If a person refuses to submit to testing during a DUI arrest, the DOT is required by law to suspend his or her driver’s license for 12 months, or 18 months if the person has a prior DUI conviction. In October 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) notified the defendant that it was suspending his driver’s license for 18 months because of his refusal to submit to blood testing. The suspension took effect November 10, 2011.

The defendant filed a statutory appeal of the license suspension. The case made its way to the Commonwealth Court, where the defendant argued, in part, that the implied consent law should not apply to a bicyclist. The court affirmed the license suspension. It held that the implied consent law requires a driver’s license suspension even if a person is operating a “vehicle” that does not require a license, such as a bicycle, at the time of their arrest. Prior to 2004, the court stated, the implied consent statute only applied to people operating motor vehicles. The Legislature revised the statute, however, to delete the word “motor” before the word “vehicle.” That change became effective on February 1, 2004.

If you have been arrested or charged with DUI, you need the help of a qualified and skilled DUI lawyer to advise you of your rights and plan the best possible defense for you. Zachary B. Cooper, Attorney at Law, P.C. has dedicated 100% of his practice to DUI defense. We are available to help you 24/7. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us online or at (215) 542-0800.

More Blog Posts:

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Considers What Constitutes “Refusal” to Submit to Chemical Testing for DUI, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, March 29, 2014

Pennsylvania Courts Experiment with Different Approaches to DUI Cases, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, March 6, 2014

Pennsylvania Driver Challenges Suspension of License for Refusal to Submit to Chemical Testing, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, January 26, 2014

Photo credit: JoostKorporaal [Public domain, CC0 1.0], via Pixabay.