NHTSA to Study Effects of Blood-Alcohol Levels on Motorcyclist Performance and Safety

How much alcohol is too much to ride? That's the question the DOT and NHTSA seek to answer with a new study of drinking-motorcyclist performance, but the number is likely to be lower than many motorcycle riders suppose.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is calling for bids for a "Study To Determine Motorcycle Impairment at Different BAC [Blood-Alcohol Content] Levels." Alcohol has long been recognized as a major factor in motorcycle accidents, showing up in more than a third of motorcycle accidents and 62 percent of weekend, night, single-vehicle, fatal motorcycle crashes. Rates of alcohol involvement in fatal accidents are about 50 percent greater for motorcycles than for passenger cars. (Source: National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety.)

The proposed NHTSA study apparently seeks to determine the BAC levels at which motorcyclist performance begins to deteriorate. That danger point is likely to be much lower than many riders suppose. As Jim Ouellet, one of the authors of the famous Hurt Report, writes in the August 2005 issue of _Motorcycle Cruiser _ magazine, "Riders with more than one beer under the ribs are about 40 times as likely to crash as sober riders."

The NHTSA's request for proposals seeks "a limited review of the literature on simulator and closed-course studies as applied to motor vehicles, especially motorcycles. This study will test experienced riders at various BAC levels and compare their riding behavior in a simulator or closed course environment rider behavior observed under naturalistic conditions. The review shall also contain information on field studies conducted with motorcyclists to identify behavioral impairment from alcohol. In a letter report, the pros and cons of these approaches shall be reviewed and documented."

Motorcycle Cruiser has conducted testing of its own along these lines, and you can read the results in Rolling Stoned: Experiments in Riding Drunk in the Street Survival section of this site.

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If you have questions or comments about this article, please email _ Motorcycle Cruiser's web editor at _ Art.Friedman@primedia.com _or at _ ArtoftheMotorcycle@hotmail.com.