Study Links Alcohol and Bicycle Deaths

From the New York Times City Room:

Don’t drink and drive? What about “don’t drink and bike?”

Some 21 percent of autopsies for New York City bicyclists who died within three hours of their accidents detected alcohol in the body, according to a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study that examined fatal bicycling accidents in New York City from 1996 to 2005.

“It’s something we have to call attention to,” said Catherine Stayton, director of the health department’s injury epidemiology unit. “To learn this is new for us. We want to get that information out there.”

She said the study raises a lot of more of questions for researchers. “It makes you want to ask a lot more about the circumstances before the crash,” she said. The study also found that alcohol was detected in 6 percent of the drivers involved in bicycle crashes.

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5 Responses to “Study Links Alcohol and Bicycle Deaths”

  • Fritz says:

    No big surprise there. I think NHTSA stats show similar.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I saw this elsewhere. It seems interesting but the problems with the data sources and the lack of toxicology reports really only indicate that this would be a good area to investigate further.

  • jamesmallon says:

    Sure, it must be more dangerous to ride drunk than sober, but unlike a car, I’m only going to get myself killed.

  • Ron Georg says:


    I once got pulled over, breezing along through town, three sheets to the wind. It was probably the beer (or some other psychotropic substance–my pre-parenthood life was colorful) talking when I responded to the officer’s request for my driver’s license, “I don’t think I need one to ride a bike.”

    It was only partly a smart-assed comment. Mainly, it was in defense of my driver’s license. I was working as a mountain bike guide at the time, and I needed a clean driving record to pilot the trucks and vans which are a sad necessity for most bicycle outfitters. It didn’t seem reasonable that my behavior on a bicycle would affect my driving privilege.

    I also knew that Utah statutory code is quite specific on the topic. Not only does it reference “motor vehicles” in the Driving Under the Influence portions (as opposed to simply “vehicle”, which includes bicycles, throughout most of the code), there is another statute which allows that bicyclists should not be subject to the same penalties as drivers for driving while tipsy (or downright dazed and confused).

    The sheriff’s deputy was not aware of these finer points of the law. He threatened to bring me in for DUI. I told him he would be making a mistake, that I wasn’t guilty of that crime under Utah law. He suggested that might be a question for a judge; I told him I’d be willing to look into it myself and get back to him.

    Thankfully, he had a sense of humor. He let me go, and I lived up to my promise. I went to the county attorney for an opinion, and he supported my interpretation. He even threw out the ticket I did receive (which I deserved; I haven’t run a stoplight before or since), agreeing that an infraction on my bicycle shouldn’t affect my driving record.

    I wrote the whole thing up for a column on cycling I had in the local paper, and I also published it in a regional magazine. The officer took some ribbing from his fellow deputies, but he also kept his sense of humor. Years later, we can joke about the incident.

    For my column, I looked up statutes in our neighboring states, and I was surprised to find that Utah is the only one which recognizes that biking under the influence is a mostly victimless crime–if I had a collision with a car in my condition, I would have come out on the losing end. Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico don’t see it that way; they all specifically include bicyclists in their DUI statutes.

    Personally, I believe public intoxication standards are more applicable than DUI statutes. If you are so drunk as to be a hazard to yourself or others just by leaving the house, you become a public safety issue. Weaving in traffic could cause a pile-up. But if you’re able to walk or ride in a straight line without hitting anything (I was doing just fine until I got pulled over), your buzz should be a private matter.

    I concluded my column with the most pertinent comment I heard, which came from our former police cheif, who said, “If you’re planning on going out partying, and you think you’ll catch a buzz, I think a bicycle sounds like a good idea.”

    Happy Trails,
    Ron Georg

  • Adrienne says:

    Only 18 usable tests out of all of that? How can you make public policy out of such flimsy info? How high were the blood levels? What were the road conditions? How many of those accidents were caused by poor riding or poor driving?

    There needs to be real research completed before stories like this are written.

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