Pedaling your way to bad judgment, one drink at a time

Rebecca Mohr

The risk of injury increases when bikes and beer team up

It’s Thursday night, and you’re drunk. You don’t have a designated driver. It may seem like a good idea to hop on a bicycle, but you may want to think twice before attempting to pedal your way home.

The risk of injury while intoxicated on a bike may be connected to two different factors: the decline of motor skills and the increase of risk-taking behavior.

Decline of motor skills

After leaving the bar, some may be under the impression that riding a bike is safer than driving a car. And while it may seem safer, both activities are risky.

Dan J. Neal, assistant professor of psychology who does research in, among other things, intoxicated risk taking, said he would venture that the likelihood of injury is just as high riding a bike as it is driving a car.

“The difference is that bicycle injuries are probably less likely to be fatal, and also, bicycle accidents are less likely to kill innocent people on the road,” Neal said.

John Gunstad, assistant professor of psychology, agreed that riding a bike differs in injury types.

“Riding a bike is less likely to harm the individual,” said Gunstad.

But he said it could cause more accidents because of drivers having to maneuver their cars around the bicyclist quickly.Increase in risk-taking behavior

“Should I cross the street before or after the car passes?”

That’s a decision Gunstad said might be delayed and difficult to make while riding a bike under the influence of alcohol.

“The judgment and planning that would go into riding a bike might cause an accident,” said Gunstad. “A person’s concentration lowers.”

According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, elevated blood alcohol levels were found in about 8 percent of those treated for bicycle-related injuries.

The study states that the increased injury for alcohol-impaired bicyclists may result from a host of risk-taking behaviors that correlate with alcohol use and expose the riders to more dangerous circumstances, such as riding on highways, riding at night, riding under adverse weather conditions or at excessive speeds.

Counting calories

Being impaired is a health concern, but for many individuals the calories in beer are too. Riding a bike home from the bar is not a realistic way to burn off the calories consumed while drinking.

“A calorie will put on weight whether it comes from Halloween candy or a drink,” said Gunstad. “Sober up the next day and then take a bike ride to burn off the extra calories.”

Contact features reporter Rebecca Mohr at [email protected].