Impairments to Safe Motorcycle Riding

by CAbiker on October 21, 2008

If you were a kid once, and I’m pretty sure you were, there’s a pretty good chance you spent hours having fun riding around on a bicycle through your neighborhood.  Now that you’re a big kid, you may be thinking about getting that new motorcycle you’ve always wanted, or maybe you just made the big purchase and you just can’t wait to get out there and have hours of fun riding around on a motorcycle through your neighborhood.  Not to put a damper on your fun, but before you fire up that shiny new toy there are some things you need to be aware of and consider carefully regarding your ability to handle the ride. After all, this isn’t the bicycle of your youth.  Your commitment to safe motorcycle riding starts now; before you ever hit the start button and may determine whether you get home in one piece.  In this article we will briefly touch on the various impairments to safe motorcycle riding.

Defining the Problem:

The definition of the word impairment will differ depending on which dictionary you use, but a pretty common theme among them is that impairment is considered to be an alteration or reduction in ability.  Any one of the several impairments we will discuss can severely alter or reduce your ability to exercise sound judgment. You need to be aware of the myriad hazards that are just waiting to spoil your day, to anticipate those hazards, and use your ability to react to them.  Listen, you don’t need a degree in astrophysics to know that when you’re on a motorcycle, you’re exposed and far more vulnerable than when you drive your car, so the correct identification of impairments to your safe riding is critical to staying alive and well.  So let’s dig a little deeper into what these impairments are and some tips on avoiding them.

Alcohol:

If you guessed alcohol as being the number one impairment to safe riding, you’d be right.  In fact, statistical data shows that in more than half of all motorcycle rider fatalities, alcohol was the key ingredient.  Remembering that motorcycle riders are more vulnerable and exposed than those in an automobile, the shocking part of this fact is that significantly higher levels of alcohol consumption are found among motorcycle riders than operators of cars.  In other words, it’s part of the “culture”.   It’s this mixing of higher rates of alcohol consumption with the vulnerability that continues to make alcohol the number one impairment to safe riding.

Drugs:

Of course a list of riding impairments wouldn’t be complete without mentioning drugs, and it’s not just illegal ones either.  That nasty head cold you have, or perhaps some other ailment, has forced you to take an over-the-counter remedy or maybe even a prescription drug.  You need to keep in mind that many such drugs impair your ability to process information and react, which is why they give you those warning labels to avoid operating machinery.

Stress:

High levels of stress can cause distractions making it difficult to concentrate on your riding skills.

Emotion:

As variations of stress, emotion in the forms of being overly distraught, depressed or angry does not put you in an optimal mental state to safely operate a motorcycle.

Exhaustion or lack of sleep:

This one is pretty easy to pick out.  We’ve all pushed ourselves to the brink of exhaustion or suffered a sleepless night.  These factors can drastically impair your ability to exercise all of the necessary skills to riding, both physical and mental.  If you’ve ever driven your car under these conditions, you know how unsafe it can be. Now compound that hazard perhaps tenfold or more when riding your motorcycle under these same conditions.  Falling asleep at the controls is definitely not something you want to mess around with.

Extremes in Temperature:

Here’s one you may not have thought about.  Research has shown that extremes in temperature can have a dramatic effect on your ability to think and react.  Along with lack of sleep, stress, emotion and the chemical factors we’ve discussed, a kind of lethargy tends to set in with temperature extremes.  Under such adverse conditions, more of your body’s energy gets assigned the task of heating up, or cooling down, and will take vital energy from normal brain function, making it a bit more difficult to deal with otherwise routine issues on the bike.

Dehydration:

Another deceptive impairment to safe riding that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with overheating.  You can fill a super-tanker with the depth and breadth of research regarding the human body and its need for water.  Bad things can happen when you don’t give your body the water it requires.  Migraines headaches, muscle cramping, blurred vision, fatigue, etc. are all on the short list of symptoms that can adversely impair your ability to ride safely.

Hormones:

I’ll bet you never thought of this one.  While not one of your garden variety impairments, this nasty little impediment to sound judgment is quite deadly.  If you’ve ever been driving down the freeway in your car and had some guy blow by you on a sport bike with their hair on fire, or if you’ve grabbed that throttle yourself and given it a good twist, you know the hormones I’m talking about. It is the need for speed, to show off and prove your manhood.  The old adage “speed kills” has never been truer than when straddling a big, powerful V-twin cruiser or clinging on to a high-torque sport bike.  If alcohol is the number one impairment to safe riding, raging hormones surely take a close second.

So what’s the answer?

Unfortunately, there is no magic wand you can wave to make yourself invulnerable to impairment.  Some are easily within our ability to control because they involve free will and choice, while others just exist out there waiting to make you the latest statistic.  Ultimately, the best and most effective means of dealing with impairment also happens to be the easiest.  It is through correctly identifying them through education, understanding your own physical and/or mental limitations, using a little common sense, and making a firm commitment to safety before hopping on your bike to ride through the neighborhood. It’s as plain as the wind in your face.

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