Motorcycle Safety Impaired By Alcohol Consumption

motorcycle safety and alcohol consumptionIt doesn’t matter how experienced a motorcyclist you are or how great your level of skill, mixing alcohol and drugs with riding is a dangerous combination.

Because alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, effects begin to appear almost immediately in the form of errors in judgment, impaired vision, slow reactions, reduced coordination and divided attention which results in distracted driving. When you drink, your riding skills degrade but you think you are doing fine and you take greater risks.

Recent studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NFTSA) indicate:

• Having any alcohol in one’s body increases the chance of crashing by five times.

• Having a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) greater than 0.05% increases the risk of crashing by forty-fold.

• Forty-six percent of all motorcyclists killed in crashes were using alcohol as were 30% of those injured.

• Twenty-five percent of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve motorcyclists running off the road, overturning or falling from the motorcycle.

What’s Happening at Various Blood Alcohol Levels

Surprisingly, even one drink affects most people and impairment begins immediately.

According to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), a BAC of 0.01 to 0.04% begins to lessen judgment and makes the drinker less critical of his own actions. Reaction time is slow and there may be indications of mental relaxation.

At the next level, a BAC of 0.05 to 0.07%, thinking and reasoning powers are not clear and the ability to perform complex skills is lessened.

At a BAC of 0.08% or above, one is legally intoxicated, judgment and reasoning powers are severely hampered and the individual cannot complete common simple tasks without error.

According to Motorcycle Ohio Rider Enhancement Rider’s Guide, many factors are considered when determining BAC including physical size, gender, the amount of alcohol consumed and the number of hours spent drinking. Breath blood and/or urine tests confirm BAC.

The legal limit for those under 21 years of age is 0.02%. A 12-ounce glass of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor have about an equal amount of alcohol, according to the Basic Rider Course (BRC) Handbook.

Safety Strategies Impaired by Alcohol Consumption

There are two safe-riding strategies which motorcyclists use that become severely affected when a rider uses alcohol or drugs.

Motorcycle Ohio uses the SIPDE process which is an acronym for SCAN, IDENTIFY, PREDICT, DECIDE and EXECUTE. The SMART RIDING manual defines the SEE strategy.


With impaired Scanning the rider’s ability to divide attention between scanning the roadway and operating the motorcycle is affected. The ability to detect moving objects and to see clearly at night is inhibited. Critical information may be missed.

  • With impaired ability to Identify, the motorcyclist has more attention diverted to operating the controls. Key visual clues are missed and hazards are not identified.
  • With impaired ability to Predict, judgment and the ability to process information are impaired as is short-term memory.
  • With impaired ability to Decide, the rider’s decision-making is flawed although he can divide attention and analyze risks.
  • With impaired ability to Execute, reacting properly and precisely is affected. Reaction time, coordination and balance are compromised.


This riding strategy reminds motorcyclists to:

    • Search for hazards that might lead to trouble.
    • Evaluate how the hazards might interact to create risk and prioritize multiple hazards.
    • Execute an action to maintain a margin of safety.

According to the SMART RIDING manual published by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), SEEing is having 360-degree awareness by scanning the road side-to-side and near-to-far keeping your eyes moving and using your mirrors frequently. It advises Scanning or Searching the area about 12 seconds in front of you concentrating on cars, trucks and pedestrians, looking for problem spots: shaded, wet or icy spots on the pavement, debris, potholes, or gravel. Part of SEEing is also glancing over your shoulder to check your blind spot before changing lanes, being in control when entering and taking curves and being extra alert at intersections, on side streets, near driveways and in parking lots.

Motorcycle Ohio urges motorcyclists to take the effect of impairments very seriously and if using drugs or alcohol not to ride at all. They urge riders to have an alternate plan to get home if you decide to drink or to stay where you are. This might mean waiting overnight. Setting a limit on the amount of drinks you will have or deciding that you will “pace” yourself are poor alternatives. Do not ride to a place where you know you will be drinking unless you have arranged another way to get home, Motorcycle Ohio advises.

Motorcycle Ohio also urged those who know fellow riders who are impaired to convince them to wait before getting on their motorcycles. Many times the rider is very concerned about his bike so try to convince the impaired rider that his or her bike is secure and all he has to worry about is getting sober.

If you are having a particularly difficult time getting someone not to ride, ask for help. The more support you have, the better your chances of success. If all else fails, hide the impaired rider’s keys. In any event, don’t offer to ride with them. Riding with an impaired rider is a risky business even if you are in total control.

Besides possible death or injury, there are some economic repercussions if you are caught riding a motorcycle while intoxicated. Your bike will be impounded and you must pay to retrieve it. Your driver’s license will be suspended. You could face severe fines and high legal fees and may be ordered to perform community service or even to serve jail time if you have repeat offenses.

Motorcycle Safety Impaired By Alcohol Consumption
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Motorcycle Safety Impaired By Alcohol Consumption
Safely operating a motorcycle is impaired by alcohol consumption. Learn about the motorcycle safety practices affected by using alcohol and drugs.
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Slater & Zurz
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