I live on a mountain with hilly curvy roads. A few weeks ago there was a terrible accident. A car, driven by an drunken 18 year old, not wearing a seat belt, crossed the line on a hill and hit another car head on. The teenager died and took his 15 year old friend in the front seat with him. The girl in the back seat and the driver in the other car were flown to the emergency room and physically survived. My first thought – why didn’t someone step in and prevent that boy from driving? Of course, maybe at that teenage party, none of his peers would want to look “not cool, or maybe they were too intoxicated and distracted.” Where were the parents – responsible parties?
When I see groups of bikers drinking and laughing, I appreciate that they are having a great time and are loving the biker bonding. Bikers are a close community. Drinking and riding have gone together for a long time, particularly at motorcycle events. At rally’s where people bring tents, or have a motel room within walking distance, or a shuttle is provided, it isn’t a problem at all. Been there, done that, loved it. I fear for the riders that get back on their bikes, with several drinks behind their belt, to head back out. Have you ever lost a friend or loved one to an alcohol related crash – motorcycle or car? Have you ever know anyone who has caused the death of another person because they were driving under the influence?
The National Highway Traffic Association (NHTA) states that “alcohol is a greater risk factor for fatal crashes involving motorcycles than other types of vehicle operation.” 1 in 3 fatal motorcycle crashes involve alcohol. The risk of a fatal crash per vehicle mile traveled, is 26 times greater for travel by motorcycle than by passenger car (NHTSA, 2003).
NHTSA sponsored a focus group to learn why motorcyclists ride after drinking. One of the issues found was that traditional impaired driving messages have no impact on motorcyclists. Most motorcyclists thought that they were the exception to being impaired by alcohol, and that beer will not get them as drunk as liquor. Some thought that if they were going to drink heavily, they would drive a car instead, so if they were involved in a crash they would be more protected. The threat of damaging their motorcycle appeared to be more of a concern than personal injury or death of themselves or others.
A motorcycle or any motor vehicle can be considered a weapon. A vehicular homicide defendant can be tried for murder, if the elements required to prove murder exist. While a rider may not set out with the intent to kill someone, their actions throughout the evening can be so irresponsible that the law implies an intent to kill. Once that intent is determined, any impaired driver who kills can be convicted of second degree murder. If the driver uses the defense that they did not know what they were doing because of impairment from alcohol or drugs, their is a slight chance that the charges may be lessened to involuntary manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. These laws do vary from state to state. All states but Alaska, Arizona, Montana, and Oregon have vehicle-specific homicide statutes.
46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted a Zero Tolerance Law for persons under the age of 21. BAC of.01 or.02 for a minor is illegal, which varies slightly from state to state. Nearly 1/3 of all deaths of 15 – 20 year old young people result from motor vehicle crashes. About 35% of these fatalities are alcohol related (NHTSA).
When we see a biker on the side of the road, we immediately want to offer assistance to help someone who is considered our comrade. When we see a biker that has been drinking, how many of us would think it acceptable to offer any assistance or alternative ways to get home. Should we collect motorcycle keys or keyless entry devices at the beginning of a party – have a designated driver with a truck? Have a secure place where a motorcycle could be safely left? “Riders Helping Riders” is NHTSA instructional program to encourage riders to become involved if they see an intoxicated biker. The student guide provides many great suggestions and ideas to help you intervene if a friend, or a stranger is headed for trouble, that they may not realize themselves at the time.
I personally have found that there are several very good beers that are nonalcoholic. Okay, I hear you scoffing, but this is my experience. I currently have a medical reason that prohibits me from drinking alcohol. If you drink and want to get drunk, this is not a good solution for you. If you love the taste of beer, it maybe a possibility.
Just as it is now become an accepted practice to run interference if a friend is unable to drive their car after drinking, I hope that the same solution can be accepted for bikers. Let’s watch out for each other.