If you love riding motorcycles, a night with a full moon might seem like the perfect time to take your bike for a spin. But while the roadside scenery under the moonlit night may be beautiful, it can also be dangerously distracting, scientists reported Monday in the BMJ.
In the study, published in the journal’s notoriously quirky Christmas Issue, American and Canadian scientists show evidence of an increased risk of fatal motorcycle crashes during full moons, compared to less picturesque nights.
While the researchers acknowledge that there could be confounding factors at play, they caution that riding during a full moon could be distracting, and say that motorcyclists should take extra care to keep their eyes on the road.
“An awareness of the risk might encourage motorcyclists to ride with extra care during a full moon and, more generally, to appreciate the power of seemingly minor distractions at all times,” conclude the study’s authors, Donald Redelmeier, Ph.D., professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, and Eldar Shafir, Ph.D., professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
Using records of motor vehicle crashes from 1975 through 2014 in the United States, they compared the number of motorcycle accident fatalities that occurred on full moon nights to the number of fatalities that occurred on the nights one week before and after the full moon. Out of the 13,029 fatalities during the study period, occurring over 1,482 relevant nights, they found a modest increase on full moon nights. A total of 4,494 fatal crashes happened on the 494 nights with a full moon, whereas 8,535 happened on the 988 nights without a full moon.
This translates to an average of 9.10 crashes per night during a full moon and 8.64 crashes per night on nights without a full moon.
This may sound like a minor increase, but it’s one that occurred over a long enough time period that we shouldn’t dismiss it. Plus, the researchers found similar results in data from Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
The authors note that their findings underscore the dangers of being distracted, especially since the risk increased during a supermoon. If you simply can’t resist the pull of the full moon the next time you get on your bike, please be extra careful.
This article was originally published on December 12, 2017.