Section 1. Alcohol and other drugs


In 2000, NAMS listed reducing motorcycle operator alcohol and drug involvement as one of its four top-priority “urgent” recommendations. The urgency is even greater today. In 2000, 1,188 motorcycle operators in fatal crashes had a positive blood alcohol concentration (BAC). In five years the number rose 34 percent, to 1,587 in 2005. Similarly, the number of operators in fatal crashes with a BAC over the legal limit of .08 grams per deciliter rose 32 percent, from 944 in 2000 to 1,246 in 2005. The only good news is that the proportion of alcohol-involved motorcycle operators in fatal crashes dropped: 34 percent had a positive BAC in 2005 compared to 40 percent in 2000, and 27 percent were over .08 g/dL in 2005 compared to 32 percent in 2000. But this drop in alcohol-involvement percentages results from the even more rapid increase in the number of sober motorcycle operators in fatal crashes from 2000 to 2004. See NHTSA (2005a) and Pickrell (2006) for data.

Motorcycle operators in fatal crashes have higher alcohol involvement rates than other drivers. The 2005 rate of 34 percent with a positive BAC compares with 26 percent for passenger car drivers; the 27 percent of motorcycle operators over .08 compares with 22 percent for passenger cars. Light-truck driver alcohol rates were slightly lower than passenger car driver rates (NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts 2005).

Operating a motorcycle while impaired by alcohol or other drugs differs from impaired driving in several important respects. A two-wheeled motorcycle is inherently more difficult to control than a four-wheeled car or light truck, so that motorcycle operators have less margin for error than other vehicle drivers. Impaired driving laws apply to motorcycle operators and other vehicle drivers equally, but many DUI enforcement and publicity activities are directed primarily to four-wheeled vehicle drivers. Finally, some motorcyclists and motorcycle groups have been associated with a culture that combined alcohol and motorcycling.

These differences present opportunities that form the basis of the four complementary strategies in this section. Communications can use messages and delivery methods that focus on motorcycle operators to be more efficient and effective than general communications directed to all drivers. If designed, conducted, and publicized appropriately, DUI enforcement can reach and affect many motorcycle operators efficiently. States and communities may wish to cooperate with groups already engaged in impaired driving activities to increase their focus on motorcyclists. Finally, some rider groups are establishing a positive alcohol- and drug-free riding culture.

These four strategies interlock. Rider groups and impaired driving groups can play a key role in developing and delivering communications to riders and in crafting effective enforcement activities. Enforcement needs good communications to be effective.

Objective: Reduce crashes in which motorcycle operators are impaired by alcohol or other drugs.

Strategy 1.1: Communications – Create and disseminate effective communications to riders on how alcohol and other drugs affect motorcycle operator skills.

The scientific facts of how alcohol affects motorcycle operators’ judgment, motorcycling skills, and crash risk are generally well-established (See Jones and Lacey [2001] for a comprehensive survey of alcohol and traffic safety). NHTSA is conducting additional research on the effects of lower BAC levels on motorcycle operators. Knowledge is more limited regarding other drugs. Not all motorcycle operators know or understand how alcohol and other drugs affect riding skills. Effective communications must be based on sound science, must be presented in ways that attract attention, must be believable and memorable, and must use media and delivery methods that reach motorcyclists. The action steps below suggest methods to do this.

Action steps:

  • State motorcycle safety administrators, State highway safety offices, State insurance commissioners, and rider groups create messages and material that motorcyclists will understand and believe.

  • State highway offices and rider group leadership develop strategies and campaigns for alcohol and drug awareness and positive advocacy from within individual rider groups and organizations.

  • Distribute communications through rider groups, rider media, dealers, local news, law enforcement media, and insurance companies.

  • Law enforcement motorcycle officers deliver impaired riding messages to motorcyclists.

  • State motorcycle safety administrators, State highway safety offices, rider groups, and others work with motorcycle-friendly businesses that serve alcohol to create awareness of server training issues and encourage safe-ride-home options.

Promising practices:

  • In 2005 the California Motorcycle Safety Program distributed 11,000 posters to all public high schools, community colleges, State colleges, universities, DMV offices, franchised motorcycle dealerships, and California Highway Patrol field offices. Three different alcohol awareness posters emphasized the need to avoid drinking and riding.

  • Georgia’s 2006 “Riders Helping Riders” campaign delivers the impaired riding message to motorcyclists from a source they trust the most – other riders. The Georgia Department of Driver Services will use Riders Helping Riders in all its motorcycle safety training programs. Georgia motorcycle safety instructors will make presentations at club meetings, rallies, dealer events and other rider gatherings, focusing on how to keep riders away from alcohol when they're riding, keeping alcohol away from rider gatherings, and teaching ways to discourage fellow riders from riding when they've been drinking. The program also seeks to educate riders who might feel that drinking and riding is not as dangerous as it actually is. The program is funded by NHTSA and Georgia is serving as the pilot test State. For information, contact the Director of Public Affairs, Governor's Office of Highway Safety, 404-657-9105,
  • Ohio is conducting focus groups in 2006 to develop an impaired motorcycling communications and enforcement campaign (Ride Smart/Sober). For information, contact Motorcycle Ohio at 800-837-4337.

  • The Oregon highway office hosted an Impaired Rider Symposium in 2005, in collaboration with motorcycle safety and rider group leaders and law enforcement officials. For information, contact Team Oregon at

  • Minnesota Motorcycle Dial-a-Ride ( is a nonprofit 501(c)3 volunteer organization established in 1990 to educate Minnesota motorcyclists about the consequences of drinking and riding, to encourage the use of intervention methods to prevent impaired riders from riding, and to provide a safe free ride service to motorcyclists in Minnesota as a final intervention method. Motorcycle Dial-A-Ride provides a free ride home from 6 pm Friday through midnight Sunday from the last weekend of April through the last weekend of October, as well as on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. When motorcyclists call the toll free number, 888-DIALRID(E) or 888-342-5743 during the hours of service, Motorcycle Dial-A-Ride will dispatch a volunteer equipped to transport the operator, passenger, and their motorcycle from a public establishment to the rider's home or local accommodation. Motorcycle Dial-A-Ride, Inc., is supported by ABATE of Minnesota, motorcycle organizations, businesses, and over 200 volunteers statewide.

Resources and supporting activities:

  • AMA and NHTSA’s Ride Straight campaign ( provides downloadable audio, video, and print material as well as information on the effects of alcohol on the body and links to alcohol-impairment research and crash statistics.

  • MSF ( provides “Don’t Drink and Ride” PSAs produced by RADD as well as general information about the effects of alcohol and other drugs on motorcyclists.

  • MSF makes its Riding Straight Module available for purchase. Riding Straight is a complete alcohol-awareness program that can be used by motorcyclists, motorcycle groups, and other individuals and groups who would like to contribute to motorcycle safety by facilitating interactive events about the folly of drinking and riding. The Riding Straight Module contains a Facilitator's Guide, a 12-minute Riding Straight VHS Video, Fatal Vision Simulator Goggles, a roll of MSF floor tape, and a CD with a digital copy of the Facilitator's Guide.

  • NHTSA is conducting a study on educational, public information, and other activities to reduce impaired motorcycling. The results, authorized by SAFETEA-LU, will be presented in a report to Congress.
  • NHTSA is conducting a closed-course study to examine the impairing effects of alcohol at different BAC levels on motorcycle skills.

  • NHTSA is developing, testing, and evaluating a multifaceted program to reduce alcohol-related motorcycle crashes. The program includes communications and outreach activities, enforcement of existing traffic laws, and cooperative activities with tavern owners and motorcycle dealers.

Strategy 1.2: Enforcement – Include motorcyclists in effective and well-publicized impaired driving enforcement activities.

It is illegal to operate a motorcycle or any other motor vehicle on a public highway when impaired by alcohol or other drugs. All States and the District of Columbia have enacted per se laws under which it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08 or higher, with no other evidence of impairment required. All States enforce their impaired driving laws during regular patrol operations and special campaigns. Highly visible and well-publicized DUI enforcement convinces many drivers not to drive after drinking.

Effective motorcycle DUI enforcement requires that law enforcement officers be trained to identify a motorcyclist in traffic who may be impaired and that DUI enforcement operations be conducted in areas where motorcyclists frequently ride or crash. It also requires publicity directed to motorcyclists that communicates the potential consequences of a DUI arrest in terms that may influence motorcyclists’ behavior.

Action steps:

  • Integrate motorcycles into the Impaired Driving Crackdown and other impaired driving enforcement activities; include motorcycle operators and rider groups in planning and coordinating impaired driving enforcement and publicity activities.

  • Develop and disseminate an appropriate amount of motorcyclist-relevant publicity within overall impaired driving publicity.

  • Educate patrol officers on the behavioral cues of alcohol-impaired motorcyclists; include these cues in regular Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) training for all law enforcement officers.

  • Provide information to law enforcement through presentations or booths at national and State conferences and meetings of law enforcement organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the National Sheriffs Association (NSA), and the Commission for Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).

  • Establish a highly visible law enforcement presence at rider events.

  • State Highway Safety Office law enforcement liaisons meet with law enforcement agencies in motorcycle crash “hot spots” to encourage an emphasis on officer education and motorcycle enforcement planning.

Promising practices:

  • Some States distribute NHTSA’s Detection of DWI Motorcyclists brochures and cue cards directly to law enforcement agencies. Examples include Illinois ( and West Virginia (304-558-1041 or

  • California’s Motorcycle Safety Program (CMSP) has joined with various law enforcement agencies and rider groups at public events to promote rider safety and education. At these events the Fatal Vision Impairment Simulator Goggles are always featured and event participants are encouraged to experience the goggle exercise. From January 2004 to April 2006 the CMSP had participated in events attended by over 180,000 current and prospective motorcyclists.

  • Pennsylvania’s Motorcycle Safety Program, through its extensive network of instructors, participates in public events across the State. The Fatal Vision Goggles are used as a popular interactive way to increase awareness of the effects of alcohol consumption and riding ability.

  • Minnesota has incorporated the NHTSA Detection of DWI Motorcyclists brochures and cue card information into a Web-based seminar presentation. The seminar is eligible for two hours POST credit for agencies that wish to have the presentation given to their staff in-house. For information, contact the Information Officer at the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center at 651-282-2916 or

  • For the past two years, Wisconsin has employed State patrol motor officers and county and local law enforcement at major rider events to educate riders on motorcycle safety and to enforce all traffic laws, including impaired riding. This strategy has been used at the 2004 H.O.G. Rally in Chippewa Falls, the 2005 H.O.G. Rally in Manitowoc, and the 2004 and 2005 Fall Color Rides at Tomahawk. For information, contact the Wisconsin Motorcycle Safety Program at 608-266-7855 or

  • Several other States regularly establish a high-visibility law enforcement presence at major rider events. For information on Ohio’s program, contact the Ohio State Highway Patrol at 614-466-3167, or Motorcycle Ohio at 800-837-4337.

Resources and supporting activities:

Strategy 1.3: Partnerships – Encourage partnerships with groups already involved in impaired driving activities, such as MADD and SADD.

Many national, State, and community organizations have conducted extensive activities to reduce impaired driving. Some, such as MADD, RADD, RID, and SADD, have the reduction of impaired driving as their primary mission. Others, such as many local Safe Community organizations, include impaired driving within a broader highway safety mission. These organizations often do not include motorcyclists within their membership and have few program activities directed toward or relevant to motorcyclists. Similarly, many impaired motorcycling activities have not approached these organizations to investigate cooperative activities. These and similar organizations may be able to lend their expertise and resources to assist impaired motorcycling activities.

Action steps:

  • State motorcycle safety administrators and State highway safety offices collaborate to bring together rider groups, law enforcement, and impaired driving groups, to seek common ground and investigate cooperative activities.

Promising practices:

  • Wisconsin’s 2004 motorcycle safety summit included representatives from Safe Community organizations.

  • Oregon’s State motorcycle safety program partners with “biker bars” to conduct training clinics and drinking and riding awareness activities. For information, contact Team Oregon at

  • The Pennsylvania DUI Association has created a special division to increase motorcyclists’ awareness of the dangers of riding while under the influence. The DUI Association reaches thousands of motorcyclists annually at major motorcycling events including the Harley-Davidson York Open House, Gettysburg Bike Week, Carlisle Summer Bike Fest, and Thunder in the Valley. The association also joins with Pennsylvania’s DOT, law enforcement, Motorcycle Safety Program, and other organizations in Team DUI, a collaboration to fight drunk driving. For further information contact the Pennsylvania DUI Association at 717-238-4354.

  • In Pennsylvania, Laugerman’s Harley-Davidson dealership, a leader in alcohol-free events, has worked closely with Pennsylvania’s Motorcycle Safety Program to communicate alcohol and drug awareness.

Resources and supporting activities:

  • No specific resources for this strategy. For general resources see Strategy 7.3, cooperative activities.   

Strategy 1.4: Rider groups – Encourage rider groups to conduct alcohol- and drug-free events.

Rider groups, both formal and informal, have substantial influence in the motorcycling community. National rider organizations have consistently advocated and acted to improve rider safety by discouraging motorcycling while impaired by alcohol or other drugs: see for example the AMA and NHTSA Ride Straight campaign (Strategy 1.1). But a portion of the motorcycle culture has been closely associated with alcohol, for example through bars with a predominantly motorcyclist clientele or organized rides that proceed from bar to bar. Some State and local rider groups have acted to change this culture by sponsoring alcohol-free events or by adopting an alcohol-free policy.

Action steps:

  • Rider group State organizations endorse alcohol- and drug-free events.

  • Local rider groups adopt and abide by alcohol- and drug-free event policies.

  • Rider groups establish relationships with businesses other than bars for organized rides.

Promising practices:

  • The Fox Valley, Wisconsin, Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) chapter established a Group Riding Protocol by majority vote on July 5, 2005: “All Fox Valley, Wisconsin, H.O.G. Chapter rides are drug- and alcohol-free. Any amount of alcohol negatively affects a rider’s ability to operate a motorcycle; therefore, Harley-Davidson of Appleton, H.O.G., and the Fox Valley, Wisconsin, H.O.G. Chapter strictly prohibit the consumption of alcoholic beverages prior to or during breaks on scheduled rides.” For information, contact the Fox Valley H.O.G. Chapter at 920-757-1651.

  • The Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) policy prohibits the sale, distribution, or advertising of alcoholic beverages at any GWRRA event (, Section G, page G-3).

  • Illinois ABATE sponsors alcohol-free rides. For information, contact

  • As a result of Oregon’s 2005 Impaired Rider Symposium, individual rider groups developed zero-alcohol policies for their rides. For information, contact Team Oregon at

  • ABATE of Pennsylvania, in cooperation with the Pennsylvania DOT, sponsors a poster contest to increase alcohol awareness.

Resources and supporting activities:

  •  See resources and supporting activities listed under Strategy 1.1.

References and notes for Section 1, Alcohol and other drugs

NAMS recommendations for States and communities on alcohol and other drugs:
28. Continue to discourage mixing alcohol and other drugs with motorcycling.
29. Educate law enforcement about unique alcohol-related behavior of motorcyclists.
30. Encourage partnerships with groups already involved in alcohol/substance abuse issues related to motor vehicle crashes, e.g., MADD and SADD.

General references on alcohol, other drugs, and motorcycling

  • Becker, L.R., McKnight, A.S., and Nelkin, V.S., et al. (2003). Drinking, Riding, and Prevention: A Focus Group Study. DOT HS 809 490. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
    . The most recent study exploring the motivations and activities of motorcyclists who drink and ride, and methods that may reduce their drinking and riding.

  • Jones, R.K., and Lacey, J.H. (2001). Alcohol and Highway Safety 2001: A Review of the State of Knowledge. DOT HS 809 383. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A comprehensive summary as of 2001, with extensive references.

  • NHTSA (2005a). Traffic Safety Facts 2004. DOT HS 809 919. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Complete data on fatal and nonfatal crashes from NHTSA’s FARS and GES systems. Issued annually.

  • Pickrell, T.M. (2006). Driver alcohol involvement in fatal crashes by age group and vehicle type. Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note. DOT HS 810 598. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A 6-page summary of key FARS data from 2000 to 2004.