Jun 1, 2015

#111 Start Looking in the Mirror (or Start Reading Darwin)

All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day

In 2009, 4,281 motorcyclists died in crashes, 22% of those "motorcyclists" did not have a valid license, 45% of the motorcycle deaths caused by single-vehicle crashes, and 30% of the fatalities involved a rider with a BAC greater than 0.08. In 2010, the average motorcycle was ridden about 2200 miles. (I think this estimate is incredibly optimistic, but it's still opposed to about 11,000 miles for passenger cars.) The complete 2010 and 2011 details are not yet available, but I don't think we can expect the statistics to be significantly different. So, it seems to me that before we hope for miracles as we try to convince the rest of the world to "Start Seeing Motorcycles," we need to take a hard look in the mirror. Pogo was talking to us when he said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

I just read a series of local police reports and the theme is consistent. These are the shortened (and grammatically corrected) police summaries:
  • Traveling south bound on HWY 57, went off road into ditch. Driver found to be intoxicated.
  • Motorcycle was northbound on HWY 42 when it left the roadway and crashed into a fence.
  • Motorcyclist laid bike down on I94 to avoid rear-ending vehicle in front of him.
  • Motorcycle was eastbound on HWY 27 and ran off the road in a curve.
  • Motorcyclist drove through the semi parking area, attempting to exit back onto the interstate, missed a curve, laying the bike on its side.
  • Motorcyclist was traveling westbound, lost control and laid motorcycle down in the westbound lane.
  • Following a pursuit on westbound HWY 10, driver of motorcycle went over the handle bars resulting in injury.

There is a popular movement among motorcycle enthusiasts to blame the rest of society for our terrible safety statistics. Many motorcyclists still cling to the delusion that safety training and public education will make a dent in our crash statistics over-representation. Motorcyclists gear up for political fights a lot more regularly than for a motorcycle ride and one result or that misdirection is that we are consistently 12-15% of highway deaths and about 3% of crash injuries. Considering that we contribute no more than 0.6% of the total miles driven (not including bicycles), we've produced a dismal record. [One of my favorite "statistics" is one invented by a "motorcyclist" or "biker," I don't remember which, that claimed "70% of all motorcycle fatalities are the fault of a four-wheel motorist." Since 40% or more motorcycle fatalities are consistently single-vehicle crashes, that means we're dying at 110% of the time. No wonder motorcycling is so dangerous! It's total bullshit to believe that all two-vehicle motorcycle deaths are caused by the "other guy," but it's consistent with the whining entitled attitude of the disabled crowd who call themselves "bikers."]

All of this depressing data might make a convincing argument for moving motorcycles out of public transportation and into the recreational vehicle category. It could happen sooner than we like to think. Smart cars are on the horizon and public transportation demands could have an effect on our roadway access. I still believe that motorcycles have a valuable contribution to make to both transportation and society.

In 2009, Michigan State University researchers published "Donorcycles: Do Motorcycle Helmet Laws Reduce Organ Donations?" This study compared the before and after helmet law repeal organ bank contributions from motorcyclists and found that we are slightly more "giving" after helmet laws go away. In politically correct language, that study concludes that "every death of a helmetless motorcyclist prevents or delays as many as 0.33 deaths among individuals on organ transplant waiting lists." In other words, we are 33% of an actual person. In too many ways, this makes sense.

We are, clearly, not that bright.

If we're going to turn around the "donorcycle" image, it's going to take gear, training, and a whole different attitude toward the purpose of a motorcycle. Too many motorcyclists model the behavior that has created a negative public image and terrible fatality statistics. As long as a certain group of characters believe that riding in their underwear and covering their heads with napkins is cool, we're doomed. I have never seen an example of functional self-regulation, but if we're going to stay on public roads we're going to have to be part of the solution or continue to be the problem right up until we're run off of public roads. Nobody else cares about us. We haven't given the rest of society a good reason to care about us.

Marginally productive groups like the AMA, ABATE, and the usual suspects are wasting resources and time fighting helmet laws and should, instead, be arguing for cracking down on unlicensed riders and unrealistic license testing. The 22% unlicensed fatality statistic could be reduced or eliminated pretty quickly if riding without a license resulted in confiscation of the motorcycle. Tiered licensing was a good idea and needs to make a powerful comeback. That might result in some reduced 500cc-and-up sales, but fuel economy standards were supposed to do that for SUVs and large pickups and the actual result was less than dramatic.

As for the rest of traffic looking out for us, that's a hopeless wet dream. It ain't gonna happen. The reason "why" is simple: we're not a threat. The highway is full of hazards that can kill the average cager as quickly as a hippobiker landing on his protective napkin. The list of things to watch out for begins with the biggest and ends soon afterwards. On the interstate in my worn-out Escort (or on the bike), the first thing I worry about is the meth-addled, always-tailgating truckers, followed by the cell-phone-retarded "contractors" in their oversized constantly-lane-swapping crew cab pickups. Next come the mini and maxi-vans piloted by insane momma bear soccer moms, the rolling-living-room SUVs and anything driven by a kid wearing a backwards baseball hat.

By the time I've logged and avoided all of those highway hazards, I might have the time and attention-span to glance around to see if a pack of Village People is sneaking up on me. The ordinary, single motorcyclist attempting to behave like the small sane portion of traffic is almost invisible because he presents no threat to my survival. If you're surrounded by vicious tigers, you won't notice a moonwalking teddy bear. We can decorate the freeway with flashing signs broadcasting "share the road" and 'start seeing motorcyclists," but the combination of our low threat and insignificant numbers will easily defeat that campaign.

The gangbanger look is an attempt to raise the threat level, but it's ineffective. Too many doctors and dentists, lawyers and accountants, and other boring types are hiding behind the Village People dress code and nobody is afraid of them. (The "professionals" or the Village People.) The loud pipes gambit is an attempt to sound like a WWII fighter plane, but cruiser motors are 10 cylinders short of a super-charged Packard V-1650 and sound more like a poorly-tuned 1950's farm tractor.

The absence of 50 caliber machine guns removes a good bit of threat, too. Even wearing a half-Holstein of leather and with a blubbering 1800cc twin between our legs, we're still about 3,000 pounds short of dangerous to the smallest cage on the freeway. Our attempts at looking dangerous are, mostly, comical and the average person avoids bars where bikers can be really dangerous.

If we're going to get our crash and fatality statistics down to acceptable levels, something more drastic is going to have to happen. First, motorcyclists are going to have to learn how to ride. Second, we're going to have to ride more often than in an occasional parade. Third, we're going to have to get over our childish fears and phobias and gear up. Remaining a substantial portion of fatalities while being an insignificant portion of traffic is not an option.

August 2012

The cool subtitle was suggested by Mr. Pearman, my MMM editor.


redlegsrides said...

Hear! Hear!

T.W. Day said...

I've been saying this shit for more than a decade. Suddenly, worrying about motorcycling's future has become popular (or, at least, more popular) with the mainstream motorcycling press. Even Cycle World seems to be barely cognizant that our fatality rate is beyond rationalizing. Only the AMA figures out future trends more slowly than Cycle World.