Safe Riding

Think When You Drink

Written by  April 30, 2012

Do you drink and ride? If your answer is no, good for you! If your answer is anything other than no, we’ll assume you are at least a social drinker and can use some of the following information to help ensure you and your riding buddies always get home safe and sound.

According to the Fatal Accident Reporting System, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, a number of well-controlled studies of fatal motorcycle crashes have shown that between 40 and 45 percent of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve the use of alcohol. In about one-third of the fatalities, the motorcyclist was legally intoxicated. On a yearly basis, this adds up to about 2,500 motorcyclists killed and about 50,000 seriously injured in crashes involving drinking and riding.

For many riders, motorcycling is a social activity, and one of the most popular places to socialize just happens to be at your neighborhood bar. Asking a motorcyclist to not drink and ride is like asking a teenager to abstain from sex until they are married. While it may sound like the right thing to do, chances are, it’s not going to happen.

Alcohol enters the bloodstream very quickly. Unlike most other foods and beverages, it does not have to be digested. When alcohol reaches the stomach, it passes directly into the intestines where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Within minutes after being consumed, it reaches the brain.

Alcohol is a depressant. That means it slows down bodily functions - both mental and physical. Whatever we do, we do more poorly after consuming alcohol. The biggest problem is that one of the functions that alcohol affects is the ability to judge how well one is doing. This means that although people may be performing more and more poorly, they may think they are doing better and better.

Alcohol in the bloodstream eventually reaches the liver, where it is burned up and eliminated from the body. The average liver can eliminate about one drink per hour.

When a person drinks alcohol at a rate greater than one drink an hour, the alcohol begins to accumulate in the body. The amount of alcohol in the body is referred to as Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC. BAC expresses the amount of alcohol in the body as a percent of the body's total fluids.

At a BAC of approximately .05 percent, most people become impaired, meaning their performance begins to suffer noticeably. At a BAC between .08 and .10 percent, they can no longer function normally and are by most state laws, intoxicated.

Accident Facts, National Safety Council BAC is a function of three factors:

number of ounces of alcohol consumed;
number of hours over which it has been consumed; and
number of pounds the person weighs.

Number of Ounces
BAC depends in part upon the amount of alcohol a person has consumed. The typical drink contains about six-tenths of an ounce of alcohol. This is equally true for beer, wine, or liquor. The alcohol in each of these is shown below:

Drink Size Percent Alcohol Amount of Alcohol
can of beer 12 oz. X 5% = .6 oz.
glass of wine 5 oz. X 12% = .6 oz.
shot of liquor 1.5 oz. X 40% = .6 oz.

Number of Hours
Because it takes about one hour to burn off each drink, the greater the number of hours during which drinking has occurred the less alcohol is still left in the body. For example, if a healthy person takes no more than one drink an hour, alcohol will never accumulate in the body, no matter how long the person drinks. However, if a person takes two drinks an hour, alcohol will build up in the bloodstream. At the end of the first hour, one drink will have been burned off, but the other will still be in the bloodstream. If two drinks are taken in the next hour, one of them will be burned off and one will remain, leaving two drinks in the bloodstream.

To figure out how many drinks there are in the bloodstream, just use the following formula:

drinks consumed - hours = drinks left in the bloodstream.

For instance, if a person has consumed six drinks in three hours, there will be three drinks left in the bloodstream (6-3=3).

Body Weight
The number of drinks, minus the number of hours spent drinking, determines how much alcohol is in the bloodstream. This amount, and a person’s weight, determines the BAC.

The rule about weight in BAC is: the bigger the body, the lower the BAC for any given amount of alcohol. The reason for this is that large people have more blood and other bodily fluids. The greater the amount of fluid, the smaller will be the percent of alcohol in the system.

Estimating BAC
Charts of tables have been prepared to help people figure out BAC from number of drinks, the number of hours, and the number of pounds. Since these charts may not be available when they are needed, simple rules of thumb have been developed to help people estimate BAC.

People who are small in stature, and weigh less than 120 pounds, will generally become intoxicated with only three drinks in their systems, while people over 180 pounds can have as many as five drinks in their systems before becoming intoxicated, according to the law.

For people of average weight (e.g., 140-180 pounds), four drinks in the system will produce a BAC of approximately .08 to .10 percent, i.e., intoxication. Since you know that alcohol leaves the body at one drink an hour, it is easy to figure out how many drinks are left in the system. A person who has consumed six drinks in two hours will have (six minus two) four drinks in the system.

The best way for motorcycle riders to keep from having their performance dangerously impaired by alcohol is to control the use of alcohol so that their performance is never impaired. There are several ways to do this:

Don't drink - The best way to keep from becoming impaired by alcohol is simply not to drink. Once people start to drink, their resistance to further drinking becomes weaker.
Set a limit - People who are going to drink must figure out in advance how many drinks they can have over the time they plan to drink and set that as a limit. Once the limit has been set, they must stick to it. If they wait until they feel the effects, it is too late; another drink is already on the way to the brain.
Pacing - To stay within their limit, drinkers must pace themselves. The best way to do this is to get involved in something other than drinking, such as swapping war stories, dancing, playing video games, and so on.

Riders who exceed their limit must stay off the bike. Here are some ways of handling the situation:

Leave the bike home - Smart people, knowing that they are going to want to ride their bikes even if they have been drinking, will leave the bike at home so they won't be tempted to ride. They'll arrange some other way of getting home, such as hitching a ride with someone who doesn't drink.
Leave it there - Even if they brought their bikes, they shouldn't attempt to ride home. Better to lock the bike up and get a ride home with someone else. It'll still be there in the morning.
Wait - Most people who were riding a motorcycle before they started drinking will want to ride it afterwards. The only thing they can safely do is wait until the number of drinks in their system is back down to a safe level.

Getting back down to a safe level once the limit has been exceeded will take time. The liver will only oxidize about one drink an hour. Nothing can hasten this process. Some people think that hot coffee, cold showers, or exercise will help sober them up. All it will produce is a drunk that's wide awake, clean, and winded.
Too many people are simply unable to make responsible decisions about drinking and riding once they begin to drink. Such people need the help of their friends if they are going to avoid hurting themselves or other people, or wrecking their bikes.

People are naturally reluctant to interfere with the drinking and riding of others. This is particularly true when others are adults and are suppose to be able to take care of themselves.

Yet when it is clear that people cannot take care of themselves, someone has to step in and do it for them. Those who have had friends or family injured or killed in an accident that they might have prevented say that the feeling of having been responsible - the 'if only...' - never leave them.

There are several ways that motorcycle riders can step in to keep their buddies from hurting themselves or wrecking their bikes:

Arrange a safe ride home - They can do their best to see that people don't ride their bikes when they are going to drink by arranging rides. This is particularly important for those riders who have a reputation for drinking too much.
Slow the pace of drinking - Those who do drink and ride have to be slowed down if they start drinking too fast. A gentle reminder may be enough. Otherwise, get them involved in activities that draw their attention away from the alcohol.
Keep them there - If you can't control a rider, try to control the bike. Try to get the keys. If that doesn't work, try to disable the bike (for example, loosen or switch the plug leads so they won't fire).

Stepping in is not easy. It takes strength and a real concern for others. Studies have demonstrated that peer intervention is one of the most effective ways to decrease alcohol-related accidents. It helps to get the moral support and assistance of other sober, responsible people. The more there are, the easier it is to be firm and the harder it is for a drunken rider to resist.

Those who step in can expect a lot of heat and little thanks for their efforts at the time. But those efforts will be appreciated by all those who share concern for people who are unable to exercise responsible judgment. Most of all, they will never have to say, 'If only I had...'
For more information on safe riding, visit the Missouri Motorcycle Safety Program (MMSP) web site.

By Mike Schweder