Drinking and riding: is subjective workload related to performance?



Within the context of road safety it is important that workload (the portion of a driver‟s resources expended to perform a task) remains at a manageable level, preventing overloading and consequently performance decrements. Motorcyclists are over represented in crash statistics where the vehicle operator has a positive, low blood alcohol concentration (BAC) (e.g., 0.05%). The NASA task load index (NASA-TLX) comprises sub-scales that purportedly assess different aspects of subjective workload. It was hypothesized that, compared to a zero BAC condition, low BACs would be associated with increases in workload ratings, and decrements in riding performance.


Forty participants (20 novice, 20 experienced) completed simulated motorcycle rides in urban and rural scenarios under low dose BAC conditions (0.00%, 0.02%, 0.05% BAC), while completing a safety relevant peripheral detection task (PDT). Six sub-scales of the NASA-TLX were completed after each ride. Riding performance was assessed using standard deviation of lateral position (SDLP). Hazard perception was assessed by response time to the PDT.


Riding performance and hazard perception were affected by alcohol. There was a significant increase in SDLP in the urban scenario and of PDT reaction time in the rural scenario under 0.05% BAC compared to 0.00% BAC. Overall NASA-TLX score increased at 0.02% and 0.05% BAC in the urban environment only, with a trend for novices to rate workload higher than experienced riders. There was a significant main effect of sub-scale on workload ratings in both the urban and rural scenarios.


0.05% BAC was associated with decrements in riding performance in the urban environment, decrements in hazard perception in the rural environment, and increases in overall ratings of subjective workload in the urban environment. The workload sub-scales of the NASA-TLX appear to be measuring distinct aspects of motorcycle riding-related workload. Issues of workload and alcohol impaired riding performance are discussed.

Proceedings of the Australasian Road Safety Research, Policing and Education Conference 2012: