A few weeks ago, the Sacramento Bee reported in their Sacto 911 section that two people riding a motorcycle on Madison Avenue early on the morning of September 26th were struck and killed by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the westbound lane. While it’s unknown how fast the drunk driver’s car and the motorcycle were going, the fact that both vehicles caught on fire gives some clue to the severity of the accident.
Motorcycle accidents often result in severe injuries, and this accident was no exception. Despite the fact that both motorcycle riders were wearing helmets, both were declared dead at the scene. The drunk driver was charged with manslaughter and felony driving under the influence.
The prevalence of drunk drivers is much higher at night.
The biggest issue with driving in the dark is that visibility is reduced. A drunk driver traveling the wrong way down a major street during the day would be immediately obvious. But at night, it’s a different story.
Secondly, drunk drivers are on the road in much higher quantities at night. A study published in 2014 by the NHTSA found that in 2013, drunk drivers accounted for 9% of fatal accidents in the daytime, versus 35% of fatal accidents at night. In an earlier study, the NHTSA found that in 2009, the highest incidence fatal accidents caused by drunk drivers was between the hours of midnight and 3 AM, when 66% of fatal crashes involved a drunk driver.
One contributing factor to the prevalence of late night drunk driving—at least in the state of California—is that bars are forced to close at 2 AM, resulting in a wave of inebriated drivers stumbling to their cars and attempting to return home. In the case of Monday’s accident, it’s unknown where the drunk driver had been drinking before the accident, but the accident did occur at 3 AM, after the mandated bar closure time, and within the NHTSA’s identified period of highest risk.
Staying Safe While Night-Riding on Your Motorcycle
The unfortunate fact of motorcycle riding is that motorcyclists can’t trust that other drivers will do the right thing. What would be an unfortunate but ultimately annoying fender bender between two cars can mean lifelong impairment or death in the case of a motorcycle accident. And as shown above, nighttime is by far the most dangerous time for motorcyclists to take to the streets.
Make sure that your headlights are properly adjusted, so that you have a long enough sight line to avoid danger coming down the road, such as obstacles, pedestrians, and oncoming drivers. If possible, stick to less traveled roads at night, where there will be fewer drivers to contend with, and more options for getting out of the way of dangerous drivers.
Perhaps most importantly, seriously consider the risks of late-night riding. Diminished visibility and the increased prevalence of drunk drivers is a terribly dangerous combination. Bear in mind, you do have a right to ride your motorcycle in a lawful fashion at any time of day or night. But take the time to consider whether your nighttime ride is truly necessary. Give some thought to taking your car instead, or not going at all during that dangerous midnight to 3 AM period.
Your discretion might save your life.