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1 figure, 1 table omitted
Motorcycles are the most dangerous type of motor vehicle to drive.1 These vehicles are involved in fatal crashes at a
rate of 35.0 per 100 million miles of travel, compared with a rate of 1.7
per 100 million miles of travel for passenger cars. The National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA) has reported increasing numbers of motorcycle
deaths associated with alcohol-impaired driving in recent years, especially
among persons aged ≥40 years.2 To determine
trends by age group in motorcycle fatalities overall and in those involving
alcohol impairment, CDC analyzed data from the NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting
System (FARS) for 1983, 1993, and 2003. This report summarizes the results
of that analysis, which indicated that, during 1983-2003, the overall prevalence
of elevated blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) among motorcycle drivers who
died in crashes declined; however, the peak rate of death among alcohol-impaired
motorcycle drivers shifted from those aged 20-24 years to those aged 40-44
years. Strong enforcement of existing BAC laws, together with other public
health interventions aimed at motorcyclists, might reduce the crash mortality
rate, especially among older drivers.
FARS is an active, population-based surveillance system for motor-vehicle
crashes that occur on public roadways in the United States and result in the
death of an occupant or nonoccupant (e.g., pedestrian) within 30 days of the
crash. FARS data are extracted primarily from law enforcement accident reports,
which typically document driver BACs. However, for the approximately 35% of
fatally injured drivers for whom BACs are unknown, NHTSA imputes BACs from
driver and crash characteristics.3 For this
analysis, a BAC level ≥0.08 g/dL, the legal limit in all states, was defined
as alcohol impairment. This analysis was restricted to persons who died as
a result of injuries sustained while driving a motorcycle or passenger car.
The passenger car category does not include pickups, vans, or sport-utility
vehicles. Rates were calculated by using U.S. census population estimates
for 1983, 1993, and 2003.4
Overall, motorcycle mortality rates per 100,000 population declined
from 1.6 in 1983 to 0.9 in 1993 and then increased to 1.2 in 2003. Most of
the decline occurred among motorcyclists aged <30 years. For example, among
drivers aged 20-24 years, the mortality rate declined from 5.0 in 1983 to
3.0 in 1993 and 2.4 in 2003, whereas among drivers aged 40-44 years, the mortality
rate declined from 1.2 in 1983 to 1.0 in 1993 and then increased to 1.9 in
2003 (Figure). Among alcohol-impaired motorcycle drivers, the mortality rate
was highest among persons aged 20-24 years in 1983 and among persons aged
40-44 years in 2003. In 1983, 8.2% of alcohol-impaired, fatally injured motorcycle
drivers were aged ≥40 years; by 2003, 48.2% of such drivers were in this
During 1983-2003, the overall proportion of both motorcycle and passenger-car
drivers dying in crashes who were alcohol impaired declined (Table). Alcohol
impairment occurred less often in automobile drivers of all ages in 2003 compared
with 1983. This decrease also was observed among motorcycle drivers, except
for persons aged 55-59 years, for whom the proportion with alcohol impairment
increased from 16.7% in 1983 to 21.1% in 2003. In 2003, the proportion of
fatally injured drivers with alcohol impairment was consistently lower among
motorcycle drivers than among passenger-car drivers at each age through age
34 years. After age 34 years, however, higher proportions of motorcycle drivers
than passenger-car drivers were alcohol-impaired.
Reported by: LJ Paulozzi, MD, R Patel, MPH,
Div of Unintentional Injury Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention
and Control, CDC.
CDC Editorial Note: Sales of new on-road motorcycles
increased substantially from 1997 through 2003, from 247,000 to 648,000 units.5 This increase coincided with a 69.8% increase in the
number of motorcyclist traffic fatalities during that period, from 2,116 in
1997 to 3,592 in 2003.6 The increased number
of motorcycles on the road probably contributed to the increase in the motorcycle
mortality rate during 1993-2003. The mortality rate increase has been restricted
to older motorcycle drivers.
Although the proportion of alcohol-impaired motorcycle drivers in fatal
crashes declined from 48.6% in 1983 to 29.5% in 2003, the decline has been
comparatively small among motorcycle drivers aged ≥40 years. Mortality
rates might be increasing among motorcycle drivers aged ≥40 years, not
only because more persons in this age group are riding motorcycles, but also
because older motorcycle drivers might now be more likely to consume alcohol
before driving than younger motorcycle drivers. Older drivers might be more
likely than younger drivers to limit their riding to recreational trips on
weekends under circumstances that might involve alcohol consumption.
The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations.
First, because BAC levels were imputed forsome cases, they must be considered
estimates. Second, drinking drivers might be overrepresented among motorcycle
drivers compared with passenger-car drivers because of other risk factors
associated with drinking among motorcyclists. For example, motorcyclists who
drink are also less likely to wear helmets,2 a
factor that increases the risk for death in a motorcycle crash.7 Finally,
because the number of motorcycle drivers in each age group is not known, age-specific
rates cannot be calculated on the basis of the number of drivers in each age
group nor on more sensitive measures (e.g., the number of miles of motorcycle
travel by each age group).
Efforts to reduce alcohol consumption among motorcyclists should target
older drivers. Several measures are effective in reducing the rate of alcohol-impaired
driving.8 Certain measures, including sobriety
checkpoints, enhanced enforcement of 0.08 g/dL BAC laws, and some types of
server-intervention programs to reduce alcohol consumption in bars and restaurants,
are most likely to impact motorcycle drivers aged ≥40 years. Laws setting
a BAC limit of 0.08 g/dL for drivers have already been passed in all 50 states.
Strong enforcement of these laws, together with other public health interventions
aimed at motorcyclists, might help reduce the crash mortality rate, especially
among older drivers. Because BAC levels less than the legal limit also adversely
affect performance,9 drivers of all ages can
help by avoiding the consumption of any alcohol before driving.
This report is based, in part, on contributions by T Lindsey, National
Highway Traffic Safety Admin, Washington, DC.
Trends in Motorcycle Fatalities Associated With Alcohol-Impaired Driving—United States, 1983-2003. JAMA. 2005;293(3):287–288. doi:10.1001/jama.293.3.287
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