Drinking and Riding on The Hill

My friends, it is fall. The days are darkening; the rainy season has begun; and it finally feels like Seattle again. For many people, especially the 5% of Americans who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, the lack of sunlight means a surplus of alcohol consumption. To all the courageous Capitol Hill cyclists getting soaked this season: Don’t drink and ride.

      Despite the rain, the hills, and the traffic, Seattle is a cycling capital of the world. Because Seattle is a relatively small city with a large college-aged population, cyclists as well as binge-drinkers tend to be more prominent; the alarming link between the two demographics puts Capitol Hill’s young men, in particular, at greater risk.

      According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, men accounted for 81% of all drunk-driving incidents in 2010, and alcohol was involved in 47.2% of pedestrian fatalities, 39.9% of vehicle occupant fatalities, and 33.8% of cyclist fatalities.1 The lethal combination is highlighted in this sobering article in the New York Times, which found that one in five cyclists who died in New York City had alcohol in his bloodstream.

      Cycling while intoxicated is certainly not taboo in the way that drunk driving is. Many argue that drunk riding is only harmful to the cyclist himself–a similar stance taken by those who oppose mandatory seatbelt or helmet laws–but this is difficult to prove, as many non-fatal cycling accidents go unreported, and it misses the point. Each accident is a real loss to the cycling community and undermines our city’s valiant efforts to improve cycling infrastructure and keep us safe.

      Amidst the current bloom of hip, young cyclists and newly-converted commuters, it is important to emphasize that, in general, cycling is becoming safer. From 1988 to 2008, the total number of cyclist fatalities fell by 21% in the USA and by 66% in Canada. In practice, however, it takes hands-on experience to learn how to ride safely and effectively on the Hill. Always use front and rear flashing lights at night, especially in the rain. Signal turns by pointing and stay clear of the “door zone.” Learn your limits with alcohol or use a personal BAL indicator. If you must, try to shorten the length of rides or ride with a group. However, abstinence and responsibility are the only ways to truly ensure a safer ride.


Ray Lumpp is an avid cyclist, part-time bicycle courier, and year-round commuter on Capitol Hill. When not on the bike, he writes for AllTreatment.com, an online resource and directory for people seeking treatment and recovery.

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