Saturday, April 11, 2009

Honk! Polish cyclists can't drink and drive

- From our vigilant Eyes on the Street reporter Marek Utkin in Warsaw.
Under a law passed in 2000 in Poland, anyone riding a bike under the influence of alcohol faces a fine or up to two years in prison, depending on the level of their intoxication.

This law was engineered (for not to say doctored) before Poland's access to the EU: one of the requirements, imposed by the EU on its candidate members was to increase the detectability of the crimes. The cyclists became scapegoats...

This law, which places the cyclist after two beers on the same footing with a drunk driver of 20 ton truck or bus full of people, received a wholehearted welcome by police officers, especially in the countryside.

It turns out it is a way easier (and safer) to arrest a local farmer John, returning home by bike after closing of bar, than to stop a speeding car, which might be full of the thugs in track suits or -- even worse -- its driver could be a distinguished Member of Parliament (which is quite often phenomenon and means troubles for every policeman).

This law proceeded to the Constitutional Court, as absurd and draconian and which can drag whole families into poverty -- and currently two thousand Poles (mainly fathers of the families) are in prison for riding a bicycle whilst under the influence of alcohol. In spite of this, Poland's Constitutional Court has upheld a ruling that drunken cyclists should be tried as criminals, treated like drunken motorists and face prison if caught.

The average sentence for riding a bike after booze is 11.5 months imprisonment.

There was a proposal that intoxicated cyclists should be treated like drunken pedestrians, who face a fine rather than jail, as both use their own muscles to achieve motion. The Constitutional Court (lead by the chairwoman, a typical car-bound person), ruled that cyclists use public roads and are considerably more dangerous because of the speeds they can travel.

Drunken pedestrians use the public roads too and I would be careful not to exaggerate the speed of a drunken cyclist. Taking into account that the energy (hence the possible damage) equals mass time velocity [M x V], the mass of the cyclist plus bike rarely exceeds 100 kilograms while the speed decreases with the level of alcohol in blood.

The whole affair unveils the attitude of Polish authorities to the cycling in general. Both the cyclist, as the motorist in Poland could have 0,2 promille of alcohol in blood. In Germany the cyclist could have 1,6 promille of alcohol (and the car driver -- 0,5 promille).

In Poland in road accidents with alcohol in background, ca. 86% of them caused drunken car drivers and only in 14% of them have been involved drunken cyclists. In majority of the accidents with drunken drivers casualties or heavy injuries occurred. In accidents with the drunken cyclists the number of injuries and casualties was much more lower, and the victims have been often the cyclists alone.

In Polish prisons ca. 1931 people have been jailed after being caught in flagrante delicto for cycling after boozing (more wait in the custody). Cost of keeping all these sinful cyclists in prisons equals about EUR 10 to 12 million per year. For that much money Poland could build about 250 kilometers of cycle paths along the most busy national roads.

- As to the photo we have been unable to ascertain if the cyclist pictured is drunk. Or for that matter Polish. Our investigations continue (See Comments below for results). The editor.

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