by Victor Wanchena
I like a good adult beverage. On more than one occasion I have been known to have a taste of my favorite spirit, good Kentucky bourbon for those wishing to curry favor with me, after a long day in the saddle. I have even drank to excess a couple of times with a foul penalty being exacted on my head the following morning. I mention this only to establish my point of view in regards to the following topic, drinking and riding.
I was flipping through a book published by the Department of Public Safety (DPS) earlier this month entitled Crash Facts 2001. As the title suggests this is a compilation of the crash statistics for 2001, as well as references to previous years so comparisons and trends can be made. Included in this volume is a chapter on motorcycle crashes. The most disturbing fact I could draw from the statistics was that a high number of the riders killed had alcohol in their system. Of the 36 riders that died last year 31 of them were tested for alcohol. 18 riders (almost half, of the riders killed last year) had alcohol in their system and 8 were above the legal limit. The riders who were above the legal limit had made a very unwise choice but their outcome isn’t a surprise. Why anyone would try to ride intoxicated beyond the legal limit is beyond me. There may be no accounting for some people.
What worries me more are those riders that were under the limit but had been drinking none the less and decided ride. Why do so many rider feel confident that they can safely ride despite having eroded their riding skills with alcohol? I am not sure. It may be the bravado of being out with the guys or gals or it may be that some riders don’t realize how subtly alcohol affects your skills on the road. But the fact is that far too many riders don’t see how mixing alcohol and riding is a recipe for disaster. The negative effects of alcohol on your balance and reaction times are not great secrets, but how little alcohol it takes to lower your performance is not often talked about.
In the June 2001 issue of MMM (#42) Pat Hahn wrote a column about a test that was run by the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center in which several volunteers were given the standard motorcycle test at various levels of intoxication but not legally drunk. The results were amazing. Despite being sober, by law, Pat described how his level of riding competency suffered tremendously while never having a blood alcohol content above the legal limit. When his performance was reviewed he was floored by how drunk you could feel but still be legal to ride. While diminished skills may be tolerable in car, the margin for error on a motorcycle is so low that even a couple of drinks can make you a hazard to yourself.
Motorcycles and alcohol just don’t mix and it worries me to see so many riders don’t share my sentiments. Tales of riding under the influence are as common as bikes parked in front of a local bar on a warm summer’s evening. It is my hope that we continue to see decreases in the number of motorcyclists that ride drunk. But equally important I hope more riders will think twice about riding after drinking, even in lesser amounts.
So this month ride fast, take chances and save the cocktails for the end of the ride.