- Road safety – Alcohol – World Health Organization
- Alcohol related accidents | Drinkaware
- Impaired Driving: Get the Facts | Motor Vehicle Safety | CDC Injury …
- Influence of alcohol intoxication of pedestrians on injuries in fatal road …
- The Contribution of Alcohol to Serious Car Crash Injuries – JStor
- Crashes and injuries – European Commission – European Union
No doubt it comes as a surprise that Bicycle Clubs and bicyclists in general enjoy libations either after a hard ride (or perhaps not so hard) or as part of group celebrations (e.g. YuleTide parties, Club picnic, Group outings). In essence bicyclists have the unenviable conundrum of celebrating the lives of their fellow bicycle riders each year at the Ride of Silence but being unwilling to ‘find a new path‘ in the enjoyment of alcohol that would greatly benefit Society as a whole.
Every group in the world gathers and drinks. Alcohol is a great ‘mixer‘. It lowers inhibitions and allows cyclists to ‘come out of their shells‘ and share stories about the epic rides they have managed to suffer through. And to some degree the alcohol itself happens to ease the aches and pains that most surely ensue a hard ride. Some folks need a few beers just to get to sleep at night to prefer for the next day on the road at multi-day events.
Probably the most frequently consumed beverages are beer and wine. But hard liquor is always present when upscale cyclists get together at a cocktail bar.
What Is The Fuss?
Well, let’s go back to that Ride of Silence idea. When we think about having to ride home on our bicycles at night, we cringe at the idea of someone who has been ‘over-served‘ getting behind the wheel and entering the roadway that we are sharing. One wrong move and suddenly our lives are ‘on the line‘.
But you really do not have to wait until night to discover just how vulnerable you are on a bicycle. Suppose you are headed home after a hard day at the office and meet some guy who has been drinking all afternoon and is heading somewhere in a hurry (or not) ‘feeling no pain‘.
When a cyclist dies at the hands of a motorist, we as a group get quite maudlin about the loss of life, and well we should. But the problem here is that within the context of a society like ours, being irate over the death of a friend or loved one due to an alcohol-related incident is pretty much a waste of energy is we cyclists are not doing anything to change the way people enjoy alcohol.
Most of the folks who leave a club YuleTide party do so in automobiles. Let me repeat this. We are drivers, just like everyone else. We get home from social gatherings in cars (especially if those gathers take place in winter) because being out on the road at night is dangerous and cold. Besides, it takes very little time to get home when driving versus an hours (or more) ride in below zero temperatures.
Even in summer when it is nice out riding home from a gathering can be a problem. If you are taking your bike home you are likely doing it in the dark. And that means (depending on your level of inebriation) that you could fall prey to wrong turns that land up on the busiest roads in your area where bicycles are altogether prohibited. And if your bikes does not have a hub generator or you simply forget to turn on those battery-driven beauties you brag about, you are likely trying to ply rural or semi-rural roads (if you are lucky) in near total darkness.
And if you are on relatively well-lit urban streets you still have to worry about the level of construction and repair that the roads undergo all year long to prevent yourself from riding headlong into an open section of roadway where you suffer life-threatening injuries that leave you a paraplegic.
How About Other Drugs?
Increasingly Americans are mixing alcohol and weed because the trend is towards legalization of the latter. And whether you know it or not among the cheapest drugs around are cocaine and heroine. And since cyclists tend to be younger people who universally feel invincible they will and do try just about anything to get high and often pay the price.
So when it comes to dying on the roadways of America, we are probably the only group that has an annual affair that spotlights road deaths and tries to focus attention on the problem of unnecessary deaths of fellow cyclists. The Ride of Silence is a good idea that deserves some refinement. But what often happens is that following such a ride the group gathers at a watering hole and drinks before heading home. Say what!?
Booze Buses And Other Strategies
Oddly enough it is the business party that has had the greater impact on strategies to avoid injury and death following a group gathering. Employers organize a party and then hire a bus. The driver stays sober and carries his group to one or more places to eat and drink. They get from their office parking lot to the party site and back in one piece. But there is a ‘gap‘. How do the party-goers get home from the company parking lot? They drive a car or a bike of course!
Some clubs have a practice of holding their parties in the home of a couple. They consume enough alcohol to make their a danger to themselves and other before driving home or taking their bikes. Either way they are on the roadway in a ‘buzzed condition‘ (or worse). But should some hapless cyclist get clobbered at night while riding home we cyclists are always ready to wag our tongues at the stupidity of the motorist who gets behind the wheel in an impaired state.
So how does a society that loves to party take care of itself?
Parties In Place
A simple idea that is quite effective is to hold the party at a hotel venue. You eat and drink and when the last party hat is about to fall off, you hie yourselves to your rooms to sleep it off. That is a great option. There is only one problem, it requires tons of planning on the part of the organizers and oh yes, money! In essence you have to be willing to spend a few bucks to secure that room.
Remember that I noted the youthfulness of bicyclists (in general), we along with their youthfulness comes a general lack of earning power associated with older people who are equally interested in partying with alcohol, but far more able to pay with their choices. These older folks are likely to enjoy beer and wine and then perhaps add in cocktails!
They may have a babysitter sleeping over who is taking care of the kids (grandparents come in very handy for this sort of thing) but whatever their arrangement it means they can sleep off their inebriation and still get home in one piece.
Cabs And Drivers
Another remedy to putting yourself in harm’s way (or for that matter others) is to take a cab. That can however end up costing as much as sleeping it off at a hotel. But it should be something that cyclists are willing to do if it means showing others how to party without the deadly aftermath.
But do bicyclists as a rule really take any of this stuff seriously? I have not seen or heard of special attention being paid to getting club members home safely after a late night drinking party. We seem as a group to be little different from our driving only neighbors.
How About More Bicycle Infrastructure?
Frankly, that is meant as a bit of a joke. There are a couple of things to say about bicycle infrastructure. Like your home computer or even your SmartPhone the technology is thoroughly defeated by alcohol. There are no apps that make it possible for you to drive your car while safely texting some inane message at 60 mph. Certainly it has to be pretty darned obvious that the pretty green paint and ugly looking PVC bollards you get when in the separated bike lane are frankly meaningless against a drunk driver. But more to the point if you yourself are drunk (or buzzed) no amount of pretty green paint or PVC bollards can protect you against taking a wrong turn onto the Lake Shore Drive roadway and finding yourself climbing a ramp that dumps you onto an even busier highway! Just consult the videos of hapless Divvy bicyclists (who were presumably sober at the time) but ended up riding in very dangerous places! One medical student celebrating his graduation from med school ended up losing a foot on the Lake Shore Drive in the dead of night!
Even in broad daylight bicycle infrastructure is more a Rabbit’s Foot than a cure for anything. Get some driver or cyclists who is drinking during the day or stone cold sober but riding home from the night shift and you have the recipe for some deadly accidents. And as was demonstrated to our neighborhood a few days ago a lone motorcyclist driving his bike around in daylight can be deadly.
Maybe we just need some rules of engagement? As bicyclists we have to do more than preach about the sins of motorists. We have to offer some sort of solution to the problem of impaired vehicle operation. Think about the situation this way. Even grade schoolers can legally drive a bicycle. So even they coming home from school are at the mercy of impaired drivers of cars and bicycles.
Do we have bicycle-related outings which end before the cyclists are safely at home? Should bicycle clubs have policies that encourage the use of alcohol only when you are close enough to walk home after having enjoyed libations? I know for certain that lots of cyclists in larger clubs live in widely separated areas.
The smarter ones are going to find ways to stay off the roadway in an impaired state. But is this something that clubs take seriously? Think about it this way. We make people sign waivers before joining a club ride regarding the use of helmets. But then we go and do something utterly contradictory like hold a party where no-one has to find a cab as a means of getting home!
Bike club are famous for having knock-down drag-out arguments over tiny little things like which invitational rides can count for end-of-year mileage awards honors. But when it comes to protecting one another following a group party by ensuring that everyone gets home via cab or bus, we have no interest in doing our due diligence. How can that be?
How is it that we can stand and deliver answers to a local reporter about the nature of the dangers of drunk driving and then be guilty of that practice ourselves? How is it that we can excoriate drivers who text but say absolutely nothing about cyclists who in the name of winning a Strava™ context manage to run down a pedestrian in the crosswalk?
We really cannot hope to play the victim well into our dotage while carting home open bottles/cans of alcohol on our bikes or even in our cars.
Did you know that bicyclists love to ride at night? Well if you did not here is a real eye-opener. We routinely organize group rides and even mass rides that take place at night. We wait until the moon is full and then start rides at remote locations usually on rural or country roads. And in the cities of America we do this sort of thing in urban neighborhoods! Yikes!
Keep in mind that there is a vibrant disagreement between those who demand the use of helmets, reflective clothing and bright lights and those who think that nobody has the right to force them to buy and use gear of that nature. And yet all these folks manage to ride en mass at night when the greater likelihood of encountering an impaired road user is quite high. (No pun intended.)
So given the affinity of riders to enjoy a moonlit ride around would it not make sense for us to champion the best practices people should be following when trying to operate their vehicles in the evening? You would think so. But I doubt seriously whether there are any real innovations in thinking about the best way to celebrate with alcohol and still get home safely that we could share with motorists, other than to shame them into not drinking and driving.
But that of course is a lost cost (to some extent) if we then do the same thing when holding our pool party or that mid-winter festive gala.
Sorry But This Is Gonna Take Some Thinking
My guess is that few of us are really dialed into the reality of the tenuousness of life on the roadways until something awful happens. Then we get a bit maudlin. But putting up ghost bikes is pointless if we do not go after the social practices that result in deaths. And it is not enough to just consider the deaths of cyclists alone. And most certainly no Ride of Silence should ever be held without realizing that we willfully ignore the deaths of pedestrians who were killed by a fellow cyclist. There are no justifications for that practice.
Think of it this way. If you are a supporter of BlackLivesMatter than you really have to be ready to answer for the murders of 9-year old children in gang disputes. If you focus is solely on the killing of young black men by police officers, but you studiously avoid shining the spotlight on the practices that lead to black-on-black violence, then you mission is doomed to failure.
Riding a bike buzzed or driving your car home buzzed following a Bicycle Club gathering is hypocritical in the context of trying to demand more bicycle infrastructure in your town. At some point bicyclists have to stand up to their own weaknesses if they ever expect motorists to do the same to their demons.
And if anyone is to be blamed it would most certainly have to be bicycle advocacy organizations that are willing to do the wink-wink nudge-nudge routine with the cycling community and then offer fundraisers where bicyclists gather to drink booze, and beer and wine before heading home in their automobiles or on their bikes in the dead of night.