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Oddity of Finnish law – both illegal and legal to ride a bike drunk

According to the law, riding a bicycle while drunk is a serious traffic offense. However, there is no legal penalty because the law does not specify a legal limit to blood alcohol content for cyclists, or for that matter, someone riding a horse.

Polkupyörä Hämeenlinnan Viipurintiellä
Trying to keep it steady. Image: Markku Karvonen / Yle

Communications Director Jussi Pohjonen of Finland's Traffic Police is well aware of the illogicality of the law.

"There is no legal alcohol limit. The stand of the police, however, to quote an old saying is that you are not allowed to drive anything drunk except a hard bargain. And even then, carefully."

Finnish law classifies a bicycle as a vehicle. Riding a bicycle while drunk is a traffic violation - "operating a motorless vehicle while intoxicated".

"It is forbidden [in theory], but in practice it is not. For a horse drawn vehicle, a wagon or a sleigh, it is the same thing. The same point of law is applied, if it is determined that the vehicle is not under the control of the operator," Pohjonen explains.

A good talking to

The only tool police have to deal with this kind of situation is to give the culprit a good talking to. If found weaving drunkenly down the road on a bicycle, the rider is subject to sanctions - an order to get off and walk. The order, though has no specific time or distance stipulation, so once the police are out of sight, the rider can simply remount and go on his intoxicated way. If caught again, the same order is reissued.

Germany has a 1.6 parts-per-thousand blood alcohol limit for cyclists and the process is underway to lower that to 1.1.

"Since we don't have a legal limit in Finland, unlike motorists, cyclists are not required to take breathalyzer tests. The German limit of 1.6  is outrageous. Maybe we should have a discussion on whether we want to regulate cycling more," points out Jussi Pohjonen.

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