12 Facts About Drinking & Riding

  • Impaired driving is one of America’s most-often-committed and deadliest crimes. Overall in 2009, almost 11,000 people were killed in highway crashes involving a driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher.
  • The percentage of intoxicated motorcycle riders with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or greater in fatal crashes is greater than the percentage of intoxicated drivers of passenger cars, SUV’s or pick-up trucks. The percentages of drivers with BAC levels .08 g/dL or higher in fatal crashes in 2009 were 29 percent for motorcycle riders, 23 percent for passenger cars, and 23 percent for light trucks. The percentage of drivers with BAC levels .08 g/dL or higher in fatal crashes was the lowest for large trucks (2%).
  • Alcohol affects those skills essential to riding a motorcycle—balance and coordination. So it plays a particularly big role in fatal Virginia motorcycle crash.
  • In 2009, 30 percent of all fatally injured motorcycle riders had BAC levels of .08 or higher. An additional 7 percent had alcohol levels of BAC .01 to .07.
  • Forty-two percent of the 1,903 motorcycle riders who died in single-vehicle crashes in 2009 had BAC levels of .08 or higher.
  • Motorcycle riders killed in traffic crashes at night were 3.3 times more likely to have BAC levels of .08 g/dL or higher than those killed during the day (46% and 14%, respectively).
  • In 2009, motorcycle riders ages 40-49 who were killed in fatal crashes had the highest rates of alcohol involvement.
  • Far too many people still don’t understand that alcohol, drugs and motorcycle riding don’t mix. Impaired riding is no accident—nor is it a victimless crime.
  • Many motorcyclists believe they only hurt themselves if they are in a crash, but the pain, suffering, and financial costs often extend to family members, friends, employers, insurance companies, and others.
  • Riding a motorcycle while drunk is not worth the risk of losing your life, killing an innocent person, ruining your bike or going to jail.
  • The consequences of impaired riding are serious and real in Virginia. The trauma and financial costs of a crash or an arrest for riding while impaired can be significant and can ruin your life.
  • Drunk drivers in Virginia often face jail time, the loss of their driver’s license, higher insurance rates, and dozens of other unanticipated expenses from attorney fees, other fines and court costs, towing and repairs, lost time at work, and numerous other consequences.

Choosing a Motorcycle Helmet

Obviously, the paramount consideration in chooosing a motorcycle helmet is how it performs in crash tests. If you’re going to be cruising on the highways without any sort of bodily protection, you need to go to great lengths to protect your head and brain.

Does the helmet stay on your head? A simple test to gauge how well the helmet will stay on your head in a crash is to fasten the strap around your chin and grab the back of the helmet, trying to lift it up and off your head. Even when you’re pulling hard enough to hurt yourself, you shouldn’t be able to get the helmet off. Different helmets will perform more or less well on this test based on your head shape. The right fit for your friend might not be hte right one for you.

Which leads us to the next consideration: how well does the thing actually fit? The basic rule is that a helment should fit so snugly that when you shake your head from side to side, up and down, or front to back, the helmet doesn’t move. You don’t want to be out on the road when you discover that the helmet does not fit properly and keeps blocking your vision when you turn to look for traffic. It ought to be so snug that the skin on your face moves with it as you move the helmet.

From a safety perspective, more coverage is better coverage. A study in the January 2003 Annals of Emergency Medicine found that bikers with facial injuries are 3.5 times more likely to suffer a brain injury than those without facial injuries. In addition, those that suffered facial fractures are 6.5 times more likely to suffer a brain injury. A full-coverage facial helmet is more likely to prevent these types of injuries.

Do Motorcycle Helmets Prevent Injuries in Crashes?

Just like airbags and seatbelts in cars, motorcycle helmets are designed to reduce the risk of serious injury in a motorcycle crash. As much as we’d like them to, they cannot prevent injury altogether.

According to a National Highway Transportation & Safety Agency (NHTSA) report, motorcylce helmets reduce the likelihood of a crash being fatal by 37%. Beyond that, though, helmets are also vitally important in prevent traumatic brain injuries in motorcycle crashes. In any given crash, a rider who is not wearing a helmet is three times more likely to suffer a traumatic brain injury than a rider who is helmeted.

Despite this research, there is a myth that is prevelant among the biker community that wearing a helmet actually increases the risk of neck injury. This myth originates from a study that says helmets increase the chance for and severity of whiplash by adding to the weight of the head in a crash. Since that study was performed, there have been more than a dozen studies conducted that expressly reject that finding.

The other major argument against wearing a helmet is that doing so obstructs vision. Again, all of the scientific research poitns the other way. Studies have shown that even a full-coverage helmet provides only minor restrictions on your horizontal perifpheral vision.

Virginia’s motorcycle helmet laws require that all drivers wear a full-coverage helmet (or wear a helmet with some other type of eye protection) and that all riders must wear a helmet.

Is Your Motorcycle Helmet D.O.T. Certified?

A motorcycle helmet doesn’t do you much good if it comes off in a crash or fails to absorb the impact and protect your brain. The United States Department of Transportation has created a set of standards designed to set the safe helmets apart from the unsafe. Among those standards, the DOT asks whether hte helmet absorbs a significant amoutn of the impact, whether its shell prevents penetration, and whether the fastening system that holds it on your head stays intact when struck with a significant amount of force.

One important feature of the DOT approved helmets is that they include an expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam liner. If you took this apart, it would look a lot like styrofoam, but it absorbs much more energy. However, it is a non-rseilient liner. This means that after one crash, the EPS liner becomes crushed and will not return to its original form. For this reason, if you have been involved in one motorcycle accident, you should throw away your current helmet and purchase a new one.

The DOT posts results of it’s pass/fail test on the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration website, here. Only those helmets that meet DOT standards are eligible to place the “DOT Approved” sticker on the back.

Seven Ways to Identify Unsafe Motorcycle Helments

One of the surest ways to cause a brain injury in a motorcycle crash is to wear the wrong helmet or no helmet at all. Virginia motorcycle regulations require that everyone on a bike be wearing a helmet. In addition, the driver either be wearing a helmet that provides some sort of eye protection or must have a face shield on the front of his bike.

But this doesn’t mean that you should be strapping on any old helmet. Here are seven things that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that you look for in a helmet:

  1. A Sturdy Chin Strap and Rivets. A helmet with cheap rivets or a loose chin strap can be just as bad as not wearing any helmet at all if you are ejected from your bike in a crash.
  2. A Heavy Feel. Unsafe helmets tend to weigh less than a pound. Obviously, you don’t want a helmet that will hurt your neck, but the safest helmets are about three pounds. This weight allows them to pack enough padding and protection in.
  3. Thick Inner Lining. In order to meet the minimum Federal safety standards, a helmet must have an inner liner of about one-inch thick polystyrene foam. Unsafe helmets, by contrast, normally have soft foam padding or no padding at all.
  4. DOT Sticker. This is a simple way to evaluate the safety of your helmet – if it has a DOT sticker, you can be sure that it meets or exceed FMVSS 218 and provides you a good level of protection.
  5. Snell or ANSI Labels. These are located on the inside of a helmet to show that the helmet meets the private, non-profit stnadrds of safety from Snell or the American National Standards Institute.
  6. Design & Style. Unsafe helmets tend to be smaller in diameter and thinner than DOT helmets. Additionally, DOT safety standards do not allow anything to extend more than 2/10 of an inch from the surface of the helmet (such as spikes or other decorations)
  7. Manufacturer’s Labeling. FMVSS 218 requires that manufacturers place a lable on or inside the helmet stating the manufacturer’s name, model, size, month and year of manufacture, construction material and owner’s information. Helmets without this labeling typically do not meet Federal safety standards.

The Dangers of Drinking & Riding

After increasing for 11 years straight, motorcyclist fatalities have dropped for the first time in 2009. While motorcyclists make up only 6 percent of motor vehicles on America’s roads, motorcyclist fatalities made up 13 percent of the total traffic fatalities in 2009. Many of these fatalities can be chalked up to drinking and riding. In fact, statistics show that the percentage of per se intoxicated motorcycle riders in fatal crashes (29 percent) is greater than the percentage of per se intoxicated drivers of passenger cars (23 percent), light trucks (23 percent) or large trucks (two percent). That’s why the motorcycle accident attorneys at the Law Offices of David L. Marks is urging all Virginia motorcyclists to always ride smart and sober.

Statistics show that it is extremely dangerous to drive any vehicle while impaired, especially a motorcycle, which requires a great deal of balance and coordination.

Far too many people die or suffer debilitating injuries as a result of impaired riding, particularly among middle-aged riders and baby boomers. In 2009, of all age groups, motorcycle riders between 40 to 49 years old had the highest rates of alcohol involvement in fatal motorcycle crashes.

In Virginia, it is illegal per se (in and of itself) to drive with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of .08 or higher. Still, about 1,250 motorcycle riders killed in traffic crashes across the nation in 2009 were over that limit. According to research performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), thirty percent all motorcycle riders who died in traffic crashes in 2009 had BAC levels of .08 or higher. Research shows that even lower levels of alcohol can have a negative effect on a motorcycle rider’s ability to ride safely. In 2009, an additional 7 percent of motorcycle riders who had alcohol levels of BAC .01 to .07 also died in traffic crashes. Alcohol in any amount can have a dramatic effect on a motorcyclist’s abilities to maintain control of their bikes.

No one should ever get that late-night phone call from police telling him or her that their loved one has died due to impaired riding. People do things they regret when they’re drunk, but riding a motorcycle should never be one of them. Additional information about motorcycle safety can be found on the NHTSA website.


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