Alcohol & Motorcycles: A Deadly Combination

It’s no secret that drinking alcohol and driving a motor vehicle is a decidedly dangerous activity. But as the American Automobile Association (AAA), the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), and a host of other safety-based organizations are quick to point out, drivers of cars, trucks, and SUVs aren’t the only ones who need to remain sober before hitting the road.

A December 2004 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that, though fatality rates had fallen in the two decades between 1983 and 2003, there was an uptick in the first years of the 21st century, and a dramatic increase among older riders:

  • Among motorcycle riders aged 20 to 24, the mortality rate declined from 5.0 in 1983 to 3.0 in 1993 and 2.4 in 2003. But among drivers aged 40 to 44 years, the mortality rate declined from 1.2 in 1983 to 1.0 in 1993, and then increased to 1.9 in 2003.
  • Among alcohol-impaired motorcycle drivers, the mortality rate in 1983 was highest among persons aged 20 to 24; in 2003, the rate was highest among individuals aged 40 to 44.
  • In 1983, 8.2 percent of alcohol-impaired, fatally injured motorcycle drivers were 40 years old or older; by 2003, 48.2 percent of such drivers were in this age group.

According to the MSF, there is no “safe” amount of alcohol that an individual can drink and not be at risk when riding a motorcycle:

  • Having any alcohol in one’s body increases the chance of crashing by five times.
  • Having a [Blood Alcohol Concentration] BAC greater than 0.05% increases the risk of crashing about forty-fold.
  • 46 percent of all motorcyclists killed in crashes were using alcohol.
  • One fourth of all fatal alcohol-related motorcycle crashes involve motorcyclists running off the road, overturning, or falling from the motorcycle rather than striking another object.

“Riders should never mix alcohol with riding,” reads an MSF release. “Even low, legal limits of BAC increase your risk while riding a motorcycle.”

A Sept. 3, 2008, article in the Virginia newspaper The News Leader indicates that the MSF’s “zero tolerance” message isn’t getting through to everyone. The paper reported that 2007 saw a 7.5 percent national increase in alcohol-involved motorcycle fatalities, with the total rising from 1,508 in 2006 to 1,621 the following year. Virginia had the largest percentage increase of any state over that period, a 160-percent rise from 15 deaths to 39.

To combat this continuing problem, the CDC and other groups have called for measures including more stringent enforcement of DUI laws, an increased number of sobriety checkpoints, and an enhanced effort to raise awareness, educate bar/restaurant personnel, and convince motorcycle riders of the dangers that await them if they choose to drink and drive.