One drink before riding

Bikers have been warned by the UK’s leading doctors’ association that risking ‘just one beer or glass of wine’ before they go riding could be a life-changing decision for all the wrong reasons.

Sir Ian Gilmore, President of The British Medical Association (BMA), issued the warning after it was revealed that the ‘average’ glass of beer and wine consumed in the UK was getting stronger – making its impact on a rider’s skills and ability to handle their bike even greater.

Sir Ian Gilmore said that for decades, riders had looked to ‘get away’ with a drink or two before getting on their bike, as that should leave them below the drink-riding alcohol limit.

But he stressed that that philosophy “has always been dangerous” – but now average drinks were so much stronger than when current drink-riding laws were devised in the 1960s, riders were taking an even greater risk.

He pointed out that a 125ml glass of 9 per cent wine — which was a common size measure and strength of wine in the 1960s and 70s when drink-riding rules were drawn up – is now 'virtually unheard of'. Instead pubs regularly serve wine in 250ml glasses, at 13-14 per cent strength.

Beer too is far stronger: whereas bitter and lager were often 3.5 per cent, today beers are regularly at 5-6 per cent strength, making them nearly twice as intoxicating.

The culture of “one drink before riding” did not take into account these increases in strength.

Sir Ian said it was time to consider a lower level for the drink-riding/driving limit, which in the England is currently 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. Doing so would bring the UK more into line with Europe, where 50mg is more common. He said:

“My preference is to go down to 20 milligrams. It allows for almost zero-tolerance but takes account of a pretty strong aftershave that morning.”

Biking safety groups have been calling for bike riders to be wary of touching any alcohol for some time. One pointed out:

“The idea we could have a pint and get away with it has always been dodgy. The risks are so high and the consequences are so big. Alcohol impacts most strongly on the very fine motor skills we rely on to maintain balance, control and awareness when riding. Just one drink has always been a risk: the BMA is correct to point out that the increase in drinks’ strength make this doubly so.”

Dr Katherine Severi, chief executive, Institute of Alcohol Studies said:

“We support the BMA's sensible call for the UK to reduce its alcohol limit to match most countries in Europe.

'Riders within the current legal limit are six times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash, compared to those who haven't consumed alcohol.'

She added:

“After years of progress on road safety it is concerning that drink-driving/riding deaths increased by 21 per cent between 2020 to 2022, so now is the time for action.”

Research by the World Health Organisation found that riders with between 20 to 50milligrams of alcohol per 100millilitres of blood are three times more likely to die in a crash than those who have not consumed any alcohol – despite being well under the current limit.

Lucy Straker, campaign manager at road safety charity Brake, commented:

“We also know that when alcohol is involved, people are more likely to speed. The current limit gives a false impression it is safe to drink and ride, up to that limit. It isn't. Clarity in law is needed to drive a change in behaviour.”

She added:

“Reducing the limit will not only save lives, but also save people from the unimaginable grief of losing a friend or family member in such an unnecessary way.”

There were 85,410 casualties as a result of drink-drive collisions in Britain between 2011 and 2020, according to the Department for Transport. These led to an estimated 2,320 deaths and 15,540 serious injuries.

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