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Florida Motorcycle Handbook: Riding While Impaired

The Florida Motorcycle Driver Handbook contains all of the information that you need to familiarize yourself with the concepts on the license exam!

Florida Motorcycle Handbook: Riding While Impaired

Table of Contents

5. Ride within your Abilities

Let's look at the risks involved in riding after drinking or using drugs. What to do to protect yourself and your fellow riders is also examined.


Alcohol is a major contributor to motorcycle crashes, particularly fatal crashes. Studies show that 40% to 45% of all riders killed in motorcycle crashes had been drinking. Only one-third of those riders had a blood alcohol concentration above legal limits. The rest had only a few drinks in their systems - enough to impair riding skills. In the past, drug levels have been harder to distinguish or have not been separated from drinking violations for the traffic records. But riding "under the influence" of either alcohol or drugs poses physical and legal hazards for every rider.

Drinking and drug use is as big a problem among motorcyclists as it is among automobile drivers. Motorcyclists, however, are more likely to be killed or severely injured in a crash. Injuries occur in 90% of motorcycle crashes and 33% of automobile crashes that involve abuse of substances. On a yearly basis, 2,100 motorcyclists are killed and about 50,000 seriously injured in this same type of crash. These statistics are too overwhelming to ignore.

By becoming knowledgeable about the effects of alcohol and other drugs you will see that riding and substance abuse don't mix. Take positive steps to protect yourself and prevent others from injuring themselves.


No one is immune to the effects of alcohol or drugs. Friends may brag about their ability to hold their liquor or perform better on drugs, but alcohol or drugs make them less able to think clearly and perform physical tasks skillfully. Judgment and the decision-making processes needed for vehicle operation are affected long before legal limitations are reached. Many over-the-counter, prescription and illegal drugs have side effects that increase the risk for riders. It is difficult to accurately measure the involvement of particular drugs in motorcycle crashes. But we do know what effects various drugs have on the process involved in riding a motorcycle. We also know that the combined effects of alcohol and other drugs are more dangerous than either is alone.


Alcohol enters the bloodstream quickly. Unlike most foods and beverages, it does not need to be digested. Within minutes after being consumed, it reaches the brain and begins to affect the drinker. The major effect alcohol has is to slow down and impair bodily functions - both mental and physical. Whatever you do, you do less well after consuming alcohol.


Blood Alcohol Concentration or BAC is the amount of alcohol in relation to blood in the body. Generally, alcohol can be eliminated in the body at the rate of almost one drink per hour. But a variety of other factors may also influence the level of alcohol retained. The more alcohol in your blood, the greater the degree of impairment.

Three factors play a major part in determining BAC:

  • The amount of alcohol you consume.
  • How fast you drink.
  • Your body weight.

Other factors also contribute to the way alcohol affects your system. Your sex, physical condition and food intake are just a few that may cause your BAC level to be even higher. But the full effects of these are not completely known. Alcohol may still accumulate in your body even if you are drinking at a rate of one drink per hour. Abilities and judgment can be affected by that one drink.

A 12-ounce can of beer, a mixed drink with one shot of liquor and a 5-ounce glass of wine all contain the same amount of alcohol. The faster you drink, the more alcohol accumulates in your body. If you drink two drinks in an hour, at the end of that hour, at least one drink will remain in your bloodstream.

Without taking into account any of the other factors, the formula below illustrates the LEAST amount of drinks remaining in the bloodstream:

Total drinks consumed LESS # hours since last drink EQUALS drinks left in body
__________ - __________ = __________

A person drinking:

  • 8 drinks in 4 hours would have at least 4 drinks remaining in their system.
  • 7 drinks in 3 hours would have at least 4 drinks remaining in their system.

There are times when a larger person may not accumulate as high a concentration of alcohol for each drink consumed. They have more blood and other bodily fluids. But because of individual differences it is better not to take the chance that abilities and judgment have not been affected. Whether or not you are legally intoxicated is not the real issue. Impairment of judgment and skills begins well below the legal limit.


In most states, a person with a BAC of .08 or above is considered intoxicated. It doesn't matter how sober you may look or act. The breath or urine test is what usually determines whether you are riding legally or illegally.

Your chances of being stopped for riding under the influence of alcohol are increasing. Law enforcement is being stepped up across the country in response to the senseless deaths and injuries caused by drinking drivers and riders.


Years ago, first offenders had a good chance of getting off with a small fine and participation in alcohol-abuse classes. Today the laws of most states impose stiff penalties on drinking operators. And those penalties are mandatory, meaning that judges must impose them.

If you are convicted of riding under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may receive any of the following penalties:

  • License Suspension - Mandatory suspension for conviction, arrest or refusal to submit to a breath test.
  • Fines - Severe fines are another aspect of a conviction, usually levied with a license suspension.
  • Community Service - Performing tasks such as picking up litter along the highway, washing cars in the motor-vehicle pool or working at an emergency ward.
  • Costs - Additional lawyer's fees to pay, lost work time spent in court or alcohol-education programs, public transportation costs (while your license is suspended) and the added psychological costs of being tagged a "drunk driver."


  • Don't Drink - Once you start, your resistance becomes weaker.
    Setting a limit or pacing yourself are poor alternatives at best. Your ability to exercise good judgment is one of the first things affected by alcohol. Even if you have tried to drink in moderation, you may not realize to what extent your skills have suffered from alcohol's fatiguing effects.
  • Or Don't Ride - If you haven't controlled your drinking, you must control your riding.
  • Leave the motorcycle - so you won't be tempted to ride. Arrange another way to get home.
  • Wait - If you exceed your limit, wait until your system eliminates the alcohol and its fatiguing effects.


People who have had too much to drink are unable to make a responsible decision. It is up to others to step in and keep them from taking too great a risk. No one wants to do this - it's uncomfortable, embarrassing and thankless. You are rarely thanked for your efforts at the time. But the alternatives are often worse.

There are several ways to keep friends from hurting themselves:

  • Arrange a safe ride - Provide alternative ways for them to get home.
  • Slow the pace of drinking - Involve them in other activities.
  • Keep them there - Use any excuse to keep them from getting on their motorcycle. Serve them food and coffee to pass the time. Explain your concerns for their risks of getting arrested or hurt or hurting someone else.
  • Get friends involved - Use peer pressure from a group of friends to intervene. It helps to enlist support from others when you decide to step in. The more people on your side, the easier it is to be firm and the harder it is for the rider to resist. While you may not be thanked at the time, you will never have to say, "If only I had..."

5.23.8 - FATIGUE

Riding a motorcycle is more tiring than driving a car. On a long trip, you'll tire sooner than you would in a car. Avoid riding when tired. Fatigue can affect your control of the motorcycle.

  • Protect yourself from the elements - Wind, cold, and rain make you tire quickly. Dress warmly. A windshield is worth its cost if you plan to ride long distances.
  • Limit your distance - Experienced riders seldom try to ride more than about six hours a day.
  • Take frequent rest breaks - Stop, and get off the motorcycle at least every two hours.
  • Don't drink or use drugs - Artificial stimulants often result in extreme fatigue or depression when they start to wear off. Riders are unable to concentrate on the task at hand.

5.23.9 - Be Smart

Follow the law and use caution. Failing to follow the law will result in serious consequences and may risk your life. This year our legislators implemented a couple of laws to encourage safe motorcycle operation.

  • A person riding a motorcycle shall keep both wheels on the ground at all times. A person violating this law shall be cited for a moving violation.
  • The fine for exceeding the speed limit by more than 50 mph is raised to $1,000 for the 1st offense and $2,500 for the second. In addition, a second offense will result in a 1-year driver license suspension.