Aug 3, 2016

Measuring Facts

“One of motorcycling’s few saving graces is the disconnect between how dangerous the activity is and how safe the practicioners feel. I’m not well-travelled, so I tend to believe this is an American (USA, not Canada or Mexico.) trait. It could be just a human thing, though. Generally, it’s safe to say that don’t get humans. One of the ways that people make those disconnects is by putting “belief” over facts. When confronted with the data that demonstrates riding (per mile travelled) in rural and small town areas is more dangerous than urban travel, especially freeway travel, riders will simply argue(?), “I don’t believe that.” While they are pretending to be skeptical, they are simply being foolish when the data doesn’t support their delusions.

I ran head-on into that argument a few days ago with my neighbor, a generally reasonably intelligent and creative guy who mostly hangs out with idiots because he works for an agricultural construction company. In a spectacular demonstration of the old saying, “lay down with dogs, wake up with fleas,” my neighbor was off on a rant about how nervous Donny Trump made him, but that he couldn’t vote for Clinton because “She’s gonna take away my guns.”

I suggested that I’d heard that bullshit argument for the last 40 years of national elections and Presidents JFK, Johnson, Carter, and Obama have not only not taken away anywhere near “all his guns” but Bush I was the one President to actually make a shot at anything resembling gun control, which Reagan supported. His response was, “I don’t believe that. Look at what Obama did to the price of ammo, right after his election.”

As much as I respect my neighbor’s intelligence, he isn’t a reader and doesn’t do much research on anything but construction projects. Like most people, he isn’t likely to be killed by curiousity. I suggested a couple of websites, The Truth about Guns "Why Is Ammunition So Expensive?" and an article I’d read in the Motley Fool’s investment blog, “The NRA Reveals Who's to Blame for Ammo Shortage: You.” The main reason ammo is in short supply and expensive is that gun nuts are buying and hoarding the supply. It’s actually one of the rare times that supply-and-demand is applicable. I ended with, “Even the NRA’s website conforms that.”

His response was a laugh and, “I still don’t believe that.” He followed with an argument that satistics “don’t prove anything” and that anyone can lie with numbers.

And so it goes.

We went back to talking about safe topics, but I went away wondering how many people quickly justify their prejudice, irrational economic decisions, and generally nutty behavior with “I don’t believe that.” I bet a lot.

MMM recently published one of my less-temperate rants, Safe Motorcycling? One of my points in that essay was, “Our mortality-and-morbidity-per-mile statistics are the grossest evidence possible that motorcycling is as risky an activity as rock climbing, hang gliding, scuba diving or deep free-diving, X-games-everything, or being in a combat zone (‘Top safety chiefs across the military have identified motorcycles as the No. 1 safety concern off the battlefield.’ NPR Report, U.S. Military Combats Rising Motorcycle Fatalities, 2009).” In case you’ve convinced youself that I’m the only one who thinks motorcycles are dangerous, a few years back AOL News published ”The 7 Deadly Hobbies: Pastimes Your Insurer Hates.” Motorcycling, for no rational reason, was #6 with overwhelmingly the most deaths over hang gliding, civilian pilot, mountain climbing, sky diving, recreational boating, and scuba diving. The military still ranks motorcycles and the #1 non-war-related cause of death for US service people. The only thing that seems to affect motorcycle mortality and morbidity numbers in a positive way is the decline in motorcycle popularity. Now that the Boomer mid-life-crisis rush is over, motorcycle sales in the US continue to be stagnant. Suzuki got rid of or lost about 20% of its dealers post-Great Recession and Hardly is still struggling to find non-bluehair customers. I would imagine the same goes for Polaris and the rest of the Japanese manufacturers.

Of course, there are motorcycle dealers and riders who will say, “I don’t believe that.” They’ll argue that anyone can make up sales and miles-ridden statistics and that the motorcycle world and future is rich and rosy. Denying the risk, the economics, and the other factors that are making motorcycles and motorcycling a vanishing activity probably won’t be a great defense for the industry.


Andy Mckenzie said...

While I certainly can't argue the numbers, I'm curious as to how that stacks up in other countries. A lot of Americans are really dumb about riding... they're not willing to wear basic safety gear or follow basic safety precautions, so they die a lot.

On the other hand, just about everyone I saw on a motorcycle in Scotland had at least a helmet, long pants, and a good jacket, and a lot of them were clearly wearing armored gear. I haven't had time to look for good numbers, but I suspect they'll show that in countries where the motorcycle culture is better, motorcycles are less dangerous.

They'll always be more dangerous than cars, because a car insulates you a lot better from bad luck or a moment of inattention, but they don't have to be quite as bad as they seem to be in the US.

Brian J said...

I agree with Andy about Europe in general.

I would also add that American automobile drivers are under trained and are over equipped with ADD. Playing with phones, stereos, kids, applying makeup, reading books, etc, also are not accounted for in any way.

Bad motorcycle habits of Americans are a known quantity, and even the nanny state that is Minnesota, has not focused on poor training of all drivers. Shocking I know.

None of the tenor of the rants are news or are the whole picture I think.

Like the author I remain unconvinced there is a fix.

T.W. Day said...

I keep hearing about this "Minnesota nanny state" thing, I don't get it. Wisconsin would be more what I'd call a "nanny state," since the place is packed full of speed traps and the wingnuts are working hard to make almost every aspect of normal life illegal and most of it a felony. Of course, I heard nut jobs in Colorado call that state a nanny state because it DIDN'T outlaw normal activity. Humans are one seriously fucked up species.