Motorcycle crashes contribute significantly to the large number of injuries and fatalities on the roadways. Motorcyclist fatalities accounted for 7 percent of total traffic fatalities in 2000, yet motorcycles were less than 2 percent of all registered vehicles and only .4 percent of all vehicle miles traveled.
Over the past 10 years, the number of alcohol-related fatalities for both passenger car operators and motorcycle operators has fallen; nonetheless, alcohol continues to play a significant role in motorcycle crashes. According to the 2000 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes had higher intoxication rates, with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .10 grams per deciliter or greater, than any other type of motor vehicle driver. More than 40 percent of the motorcycle operators who died in single-vehicle crashes in 2000 were intoxicated.
In 1994, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigated alcohol involvement in motorcycle crashes. The purpose of this 1994 focus group research was to identify prevailing attitudes and potential interventions to reduce drinking and riding among motorcyclists who drink and ride, as well as any similarities and differences between motorcyclists and other vehicle operators who drink and drive.
NHTSA issued two reports on motorcycle fatalities in 2001. The first report showed that motorcyclist fatalities decreased each year from 1993 to 1997, but this trend was reversed with increases in 1998 and 1999. The second report showed that motorcyclist fatalities in single-vehicle crashes had decreased each year from 1990 to 1996, reaching lows in 1996 and 1997. In 1998 and 1999, however, fatalities in single-vehicle motorcycle crashes increased. Among other findings, more riders older than 40 years were dying as a result of these crashes and high BAC levels were involved.
In 2001, NHTSA initiated research to assess motorcyclists’ attitudes and beliefs regarding drinking and riding and to obtain information about their ideas of the most effective methods of reducing impaired motorcycle riding and the resulting crashes, injuries, and fatalities. This project differed from the 1994 focus group project in that special emphasis was placed on obtaining riders’ opinions of strategies that may be effective in curbing drinking and riding. NHTSA will use the project’s results as input in the development of effective programmatic approaches addressing the issues associated with impaired riding.
Twenty focus groups composed of members from the motorcycle community were held in five cities or regions across the United States: 16 Rider Groups and 4 Leadership Groups. The cities or regions for the focus groups were chosen on the basis of high rates of alcohol-related motorcycle fatalities according to FARS; a long riding season or large number of riders; and a distribution of cities or regions consistent with those chosen for NHTSA’s earlier 1994 focus group study on this topic. A total of 129 riders and 35 leaders participated in the groups spanning fall 2001 through early winter 2001.
Recruiters identified potential participants by using a screening instrument that contained questions about riding habits, the use of alcohol, and riding after drinking. Rider Group participant ages ranged from 17 to 66 years. Despite an effort to recruit minority and younger riders, participants primarily were White and older. Almost two-thirds (63 percent) had taken a motorcycle safety course. More than half (55 percent) of the riders indicated they drank a few times per month to a few times per week, and almost half (49 percent) of the riders indicated that they drank at parties, social gatherings, or bars with friends and, thus, potentially might find themselves at risk of drinking and riding. Rider Group participants were split equally between those indicating that they occasionally or seldom rode after drinking and those indicating they never rode after drinking.
The Leadership Group participants were individuals who provide direction on issues related to motorcycle safety at the community, organizational, state, or national level. About a third of the Leadership Group participants work for state or local governments in administrative roles. Law enforcement participants were typically motorcycle patrol officers. Motorcycle industry leaders included those with safety and public communications roles. Leaders from motorcycle rider groups included state and regional organization officials.
The groups were conducted in both public and private facilities. All focus groups were recorded with consent of the participants, and transcripts from the tapes were prepared by professional transcribers. The range of topics in the Rider Moderator’s Guide included situations where motorcyclists drink and ride; reasons for deciding to drink and ride; perceptions of the term “BAC”; BAC and impairment; reduction of drinking and riding among motorcyclists (motorcyclist willingness, effective strategies); and roles of riders, rider groups, and various agencies in addressing impaired riding. The Leadership Moderator’s Guide emphasized five issues: (1) when riding skills become impaired, (2) what the legal BAC for motorcyclists should be, (3) effective strategies for reducing impaired motorcycling, (4) the appropriate roles for different agencies in addressing impaired motorcycling, and (5) barriers to reducing impaired motorcycling and ways to overcome them.
The 20 focus groups produced several hundred pages of transcripts. We conducted an automated content analysis of the transcripts using a qualitative data analysis software package. Rider and Leadership Groups were analyzed separately. Patterns and themes across groups were noted and illustrative quotes were identified for use in the report. Tabular analysis of participant data was conducted.
Most motorcycle riders in this group consistently reported that they rode a motorcycle to (1) experience the open road, (2) unwind from life’s daily pressures, (3) experience the satisfaction that comes from mastering the operation of powerful machinery, and (4) be a member of an elite group. Riders consistently characterized their strong social affinity for other riders, suggesting a strong sense of community.
Riders expressed a range of riding preferences. Some primarily rode in groups, others rode alone, and some rode both alone and in groups, depending on the circumstances. The majority felt that there was a limit to how big a group ride could be and still operate safely.
Typical drinking-and-riding circumstances and venues reported by riders include biker bars, other bars and public establishments serving alcohol, poker runs, national or regional rallies, and events and club meetings. Poker runs are organized rides on a route consisting of destinations that riders visit to collect a card for their hand [written verification of arrival at a particular destination] where riders report that they typically purchase the product or service offered for sale by the establishment.
Most riders are familiar with the term “BAC,” but question its value as an indicator of impairment. Virtually all riders in this study were vehemently opposed to the setting of a lower BAC for riders relative to drivers.
A fundamental belief among riders is that “since drinking riders only hurt themselves” (unlike car drivers), government intervention to discourage drinking and riding is inappropriate. This belief is strongly linked to the riders’ views of freedom and independence.
The riders’ concern for the safety and security of their motorcycles nearly always overshadows concerns for individual safety and contributes to drinking and riding.
Riders often discourage their peers from riding after drinking, but a culturally reinforced respect for rider individuality and freedom, and strong beliefs in “individual responsibility” set boundaries for peer actions. Under certain circumstances, riders will disable impaired peers’ motorcycles to prevent them from riding after drinking.
The riders participating in this study did not consider traditional countermeasures for drinking and riding such as fines and license suspension persuasive. However, motorcycle impoundment and court-ordered payment of costs for vehicle storage, alcohol rehabilitation programs, and other costs were considered persuasive.
The Leadership Groups identified overwhelming legal and political barriers to the concept of a lower legal BAC for riders of motorcycles than for drivers of passenger vehicles.
The groups identified approaches based on social norms models as potentially promising directions for changes in motorcycle rider education programs.
The results of this study support continued law enforcement organization participation in enforcement, public education, and educational activities. Leadership Group participants encouraged widespread training of law enforcement personnel in the NHTSA program, “The Detection of DWI Motorcyclists.”
Rider Groups can play an important role in reducing drinking and riding. Activities can include sponsoring alcohol-free rides and lock-ins, changes in formal and informal club practices to discourage or prohibit drinking and riding, and other forms of internal policing where feasible. Umbrella organizations that reach out to individual riders or are considered influential or trend setting should consider changes in sponsorship and publication policies to disassociate motorcycling and alcohol use.
Riders felt that existing rider training programs adequately conveyed a drinking and riding prevention message, but they also felt that there are not enough seats currently available in training courses to accommodate the demand for training.
The responsibility for reduction of drinking and riding weighs heavily on riders. Individual riders can encourage their peers to not drink and ride, refrain from participation in clubs and events that do not discourage drinking and riding, and encourage their clubs and organizations to sponsor lock-ins and alcohol-free events.
The results of the Leadership Groups suggest the need for a renewed emphasis on motorcycle safety within the total complex of highway safety programs. Credibility would probably be enhanced among motorcycle riders if some of these efforts also included motorcycle awareness campaigns aimed at motor vehicle operators.
Riders in our study were as passionate about motorcycling and the experience of riding as the 1994 focus group participants. In both studies, many riders believed that other motor vehicle operators frequently caused motorcycle crashes, either indirectly through carelessness or directly with presumed forethought and malice.
Riders in both studies believed that individual differences were important in physiological reactions to alcohol.
Both studies indicated that intervention with friends commonly occurs. Confiscating keys and tampering with ignition systems were reported in both studies as means of disabling motorcycles of impaired riders. Riders in both studies were equally reluctant to leave their motorcycles unattended overnight in public parking areas and also reported the use of trucks or vans to transport the motorcycles of impaired riders.
Participants in both studies did not view consequences of riding after drinking such as fines and license suspension seriously.
Focus group participants in both studies recommended that drinking and riding media messages should incorporate specific motorcycle content.
Impoundment, or the total loss of a motorcycle due to damage, drew substantial, animated responses from riders in the current study and are comparable with the reported responses for the 1994 study.
As the focus of this study was different from the 1994 study, the sample selection differed. The 1994 study was interested in identifying messages that might deter riders from riding after drinking. As such, the participants were riders who admitted to riding after drinking. This study sought to identify the reasons and decision-making for riders who chose to drink and ride, and for riders who chose not to drink and ride, even though they did drink alcohol. Consequently, the sample in this study consisted of riders who said they did drink alcohol, but some indicated that they rode after drinking while others did not.
Unlike the 1994 study, the results of this study do not suggest that drinking and riding are consistently co-occurring activities. The current study findings suggest intolerance to drinking riders by their riding peers. A noticeable proportion of the riders participating in this study reported that motorcycle club activities are moving closer towards alcohol-free events. They also said that drinking riders, even if not always considered a hazard to themselves, are considered a hazard to other riders.
Our study revealed that organized club riders and road captains said followup trucks that typically carry additional group gear and supplies and transport motorcycles experiencing mechanical failure during a ride, are also used to transport the motorcycles of riders who become a hazard to themselves and/or to the group due to drinking alcohol while on a group ride.
Road Captains reported that drinking riders are often asked to refrain from further drinking, and if they do not comply, they are asked immediately to leave a group ride.
Riders in at least one region of the country had experienced the substantial economic and other disruptive impacts of DUI/DWI (driving under the influence/driving while intoxicated) convictions and expressed strong desires to avoid repeating this experience. These impacts were cited as consequences to avoid and reasons not to drink and ride.
The results of the Rider Groups and Leadership Groups suggest that the following approaches may be promising for reducing impaired motorcycle riding: (1) enhancing peer activities; (2) incorporating social norm models into drinking-and-riding awareness programs; (3) offering responsible beverage service and expanded crisis intervention training to servers, event staff, and motorcycle organization leaders, members, and rank and file riders; (4) exploring the feasibility of encouraging motorcycle impoundment as a countermeasure; and (5) expanding the use of media messages specifically crafted for motorcyclists and motorcyclist subcultures.
The strong social fabric of the motorcycle riding community and the ongoing informal peer-based activities to reduce drinking and riding suggest that building upon these existing peer-based activities may be an effective approach to reduce drinking and riding. Developing and/or modifying existing peer intervention curricula and offering seminars to leaders of nationally recognized motorcycle organizations in a cost-effective, train-the-trainer format could accomplish this. Also, promoting the dissemination of this training to local motorcycle clubs would be advisable.
The results of the Leadership Groups indicate that social norms models should be explored for application to motorcycling, specifically drinking and riding. Our findings suggest that this may be promising because (1) riders report that their groups already discourage drinking and riding; (2) new and independent riders may harbor misconceptions of rider views towards drinking and riding; and (3) the social norms model is already in use on college campuses and in some state-based youth alcohol and driving programs. Further, social norms modeling also may serve to reinforce ongoing and future peer-based interventions.
The Rider Groups suggested awareness training in techniques for intervention with intoxicated riders for servers and event staff. Crisis Intervention Techniques have been known and used for at least 20 years. NHTSA might consider exploring the applicability and portability of these techniques to servers and event staff and also to motorcycle organization leaders and members.
Our findings suggest that impoundment may be an effective countermeasure to drinking and riding. NHTSA might consider studying vehicle impoundment and exploring the feasibility of encouraging its expansion in circumstances of drinking and riding.
Our findings suggest that drinking-and-riding media messages should incorporate specific motorcycle content. In addition, messages should target specific rider subcultures (e.g., sport bike riders as compared to cruisers).
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