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The infamous staged photo of a supposedly
drunken member of the Boozefighter Motorcycle
Club at the Hollister, Calif., rally, 1947
This is probably the quickest way to make myself unpopular with the motorcycling fraternity – but please, persevere and read on. Even if you have never had a beer, someone you know may become a statistic in this category in the very near future.
I am not a safety expert of any sort – but I do try to be a conscientious and safety-aware rider. My involvement as an instructor with the Canada Safety Council Gearing-Up program (equivalent to the MSC Basic Rider Course) has had the added benefit of keeping me on my best behaviour and reinforcing safe motorcycling habits. I do believe that responsible and defensive riding attitudes and skills can reduce the likelihood of motorcycle-involved crashes. But collectively we, the motorcycling culture, are sabotaging our own safety and shooting ourselves far too often. All of our safety training, skills practice and defensive riding strategies go out the window if we take so much as one drink!
And drink we do – and ride.
The most preventable crashes are those designated as ‘single-vehicle’ incidents wherein the motorcycle fails to negotiate a curve, corner or simply goes out of control. These crashes are not the fault of the other guy. Only the rider can prevent this type of calamity. The grim statistics show that alcohol was a factor in 35 % to 60% of fatalities in single-vehicle motorcycle crashes. Statistics vary from region to region and year to year, but the sad truth is that the numbers are always much higher than for any other segment of the driving public. Is there a collective death wish at work here? Do we really think that because we ride a motorcycle we can exist in some other physical dimension? Why do we do this to ourselves?
Over and over, it has been shown that alcohol and riding do not mix. Lab tests, professional rider tests, accident statistics, medical analysis – however you wish to look at it, the results are always the same. We loose if we mix booze and bikes. Everybody looses. And apparently we aren’t getting any smarter!
We ride two-wheeled vehicles that fall over. We are not protected with roll bars and air-bags (some exceptions apply) and crumple zones and seat belts. We are protected only by our attitudes and our skills and our gear. Personal armoured gear is the fall-back should the other two levels of protection fail.
Thankfully, protective riding equipment is not affected by alcohol consumption, but there is a very real likelihood that none (or little) protective gear will be worn on occasions when alcohol is mixed with motorcycle fuel. There is no question that both physical skills and attitudes go down the drain – and very quickly – if we drink and ride. Perversely, our bravado and self confidence tends to increase with every drink consumed. This is doubly dangerous as alcohol-induced bravery is coupled with decreased physical and judgemental abilities. Stunts seemingly become do-able even as simple tasks become difficult to execute. A person who has been drinking is never a very good judge of his/her own condition or degree of impairment – good judgement requires sobriety.
Why do we continue to sabotage our own health, livelihoods and even lives?
There is no magic formula for how much liquor one can imbibe – or how quickly the effects will be felt. The effects of alcohol have proven very difficult to quantify as variable such as weight, contents of stomach, alcohol tolerance, activity levels, etc all influence the apparent timing and degree of inebriation. The only way to insure that you’re brain and body are functioning at optimum levels for motorcycle control is to simply refrain from drinking and riding.
The absorption of alcohol is slightly easier to quantify. Every drink takes approximately one hour to be neutralized within a body. Which is all fine and dandy – but one doesn’t know when the effects will kick in – so it is doubly hard to time the outcome. You may indeed process the one drink in an hour – but the effects may not have actually reached your body/mind for 30 min. after the drink was consumed. In effect, you would have to wait 1hr. & 30 min. to be deemed sober enough to ride safely. This is far too complicated and too much math for most people who are relaxing with a drink in hand.
Like oil and water – booze and bikes just don’t mix! We all know this - but putting it into practice does not appear to be a priority with far too many of our fraternity. For all our sakes, be pro-active. If you are aware of someone who is drinking and planning to ride home; hide the keys – call a cab – roll out the spare cot - whatever it takes to keep your friends alive. We are all in this together – so not letting our fellow riders risk everything by riding after drinking is worth any possible hassles. For yourself, choose to make the right decision – always.
If we all added some plain old common sense to our New Year Resolution List for the up-coming riding season, everyone would benefit. What price do you put on a life saved? – Alison Green