- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

Motorcyclists are still more likely to ride drunk or at least more likely to suffer the fatal consequences for their inebriation than their car-driving counterparts, according to a series of studies released this month.
Three out of 10 motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents in 1999 were drunk, according to a study written by Joey W. Syner and Marie E. Vegega of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at the conference.
That makes a motorcyclist involved in a fatal accident 50 percent more likely to be drunk than a car driver involved in a fatal accident, according to the study, which was presented at the International Motorcycle Safety Foundation (IMSF) conference in Orlando, Fla.
That lethal combination is one that has plagued motorcycling for years, and is one of the key issues addressed in the "National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety" released in December by NHTSA and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).
While that agenda also focuses on equipment, rider education, and crash-avoidance skills, alcohol must be addressed "if we are going to reduce the number of people killed on motorcycles," said Rae Tyson, spokesman for NHTSA.
That agenda suggests encouraging alcohol manufacturers to specifically promote responsible drinking for motorcyclists, working with law enforcement to enforce current laws and better recognize drunk motorcyclists, and increasing motorcycle-group involvement in alcohol- and substance-abuse groups.
But first, NHTSA and MSF suggest better and more in-depth studies to understand the befuddling decision to drink and ride.
Mr. Tyson said the convergence of alcohol and motorcycles appears to be a twofold problem.
First, riding a motorcycle requires more mental acuity and greater physical skills than a car. That means alcohol, even low levels of alcohol, can be riskier for a motorcyclist.
Just as a matter of physics, it is more dangerous to be in an accident on a motorcycle than in a car.
Want proof?
Although motorcycles account for only 0.4 percent of all vehicle miles traveled, an estimated 2,537 motorcyclists lost their lives in 1999, according to NHTSA.
Per vehicle-mile traveled, motorcyclists were about 16 times more likely as a passenger-car occupant to die and three times more likely to be injured, NHTSA reports.
Second, Mr. Tyson said, for some parts of the motorcycling world riding and drinking just go together.
A focus group participant in the NHTSA study put it this way: "One of the major problems is that bikes in general are used for recreational purposes, and alcohol automatically coincides with recreation."
Given that attitude, the statistical picture of the typical dead-drunk motorcyclist is not surprising.
The motorcyclist most likely to die while drinking and riding is a man in his early 20s, who has more than a fair chance of not even having a motorcycle license, according to a study done by Patricia Turner, of the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research.
The motorcyclist is most likely to have caused the accident himself, typically by running into a fixed object sometime between midnight and 3 a.m. Saturday night.
But if you ask motorcycle riders, at least those in the NHTSA focus group, they believed that alcohol had little importance in causing crashes.
The group, picked for having admitted to riding after drinking, said some people rode better, more cautiously, or more relaxed after they had had a beer or two. And some even thought if a person could get on the motorcycle, start it and get it moving without falling over, then that person was sober enough to ride.
"If you don't fall down in the first few feet, you're going to be OK," one focus group participant was quoted as saying.


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