Ride of the 100 Myrtle Beach SC

A House Divided … A Dual Paradox

November 2006 (Special Edition)

Most Bikers Are Also Cagers & Freedom of Speech vs. Right to Life

As I’ve said before, when it comes to politics it’s not about fair. It’s about advancing the agenda of us, which we see internally as an extension of me. In short, politics reflects life, and when you cut through the altruism, that often means it’s all about me. And therein lies the fundamental challenge for bikers’ rights advocates:

All bikers are motorcyclists … but all motorcyclists are not bikers … and most motorcyclists are also cagers … but most cagers are not also motorcyclists.

Allow me to refer to all motorcyclists as “bikers”, and we can simplify to this:

Most bikers are also cagers … but most cagers are not also bikers.

The ramifications of this paradox are manifold, chief among those being that most bikers can empathize with issues that impact cagers–like cell phone bans–but most cagers cannot empathize with issues that impact bikers–like mandatory helmet laws. 24/7 bikers who like me own no cage have nothing to lose and something to gain from a cell phone ban, so why wouldn’t they support it? Similarly, 24/7 cagers suffer no discriminatory inconvenience from a mandatory motorcycle helmet law, and if it might reduce the damages they have to pay if sued for hitting a biker, why wouldn’t they support it?

But what about the bikers who are also cagers, i.e. the vast majority of motorcyclists? How will they respond to a crossover issue like banning cell phone use while driving?

If they make their decision based solely on logic, the latest scientific research compels them to support the ban. As the Insurance Information Institute reports in their October 2006 Hot Topics…


… “The latest research shows that while using a cell phone when driving may not be the most dangerous distraction, because it is so prevalent it is by far the most common cause of this type of crash and near crash.”

If they make their decision based solely on fairness, “A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver” by David L. Strayer, Frank A. Drews, and Dennis J. Crouch of the University of Utah will convince them that the same DUI penalties applied to drivers impaired by alcohol should also be applied to drivers impaired by cell phone usage, because… “When driving conditions and time on task were controlled for, the impairments associated with using a cell phone while driving can be as profound as those associated with driving while drunk.”

Yes, in a world where all decisions are based on logic and reason, and all politics on fairness and equity, banning cell phone usage while driving would be a non-issue. But we don’t live in such a world, do we? Nope! In the real world, few of us think like Vulcans. And in real-life political arenas, it’s rarely about fair.

So, how will bikers who are also cagers respond to a crossover issue like banning cell phone use while driving? If we can’t count on them to act rationally or equitably, what can we count on?

We can count on them to act in accordance with what they perceive to be their best self-interests. And there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as their perception is accurate. Unfortunately for some, that does not appear to be the case.

We talk about “freedom”. We talk about “rights”. And we often use those two words as if they were interchangeable. THEY ARE NOT. Not only do they differ, they frequently conflict. Preserving a freedom often means foregoing a right, and protecting a right often requires the sacrifice of a freedom.

And so it is with banning cell phone usage while driving. The conflict is one of:

Freedom-of-Speech versus Right-to-Life

If biker/cagers support banning cell phone usage while driving, they are saying that right-to-life is more important than freedom-of-speech. And if they oppose banning cell phone usage while driving, they are saying that freedom-of-speech is more important than right-to-life. The choice is simple and straightforward, but the trade-off is not an easy one. And rather than face it, some waver, and some remain in a state of denial.

Some seem to think that freedom-of-speech should include the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Some use half-truths, distortions and outright fabrications to try to discount the scope of the cell phone problem, but they fool no one with any intelligence who has read the latest research. Some say the answer is to “educate, not legislate”, but as it is with alcohol, a driver impaired by cell phone usage cannot be un-impaired by education. And some say supporting any new legislation that restricts our freedoms goes against the grain of what bikers’ rights advocacy is all about. But the hypocrisy here is that these are often the same people who crow so loudly about legislating stiffer penalties for right-of-way violations (ROWVs). I mean seriously, folks, if you’re in favor of legislation to reduce ROWVs, how can you not be in favor of legislation to mitigate one of their leading causal factors?

And speaking of legislation, allow me to note that effectively banning cell phone usage while driving does not necessarily mean we need to pass new laws. Many states and municipalities already have laws on the books banning cell phone usage and penalizing inattentive driving. If those laws have teeth, then the challenge may be more one of enforcing laws than creating them. Civil litigation, especially regarding the use of cell phones to make business calls while driving, may represent another effective means of ban implementation.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”–Abraham Lincoln, 1858

I cannot predict with certainty where the issue of banning cell phones will lead, but I expect to see more conflicts and contradictions along the way. I can say that the crossover nature of this issue clearly exposes the Achilles’ heel of the bikers’ rights movement, i.e., that most motorcyclists are also cagers. It has also shown that many preach sacrifice in support of “the cause” … but only so long as they don’t personally have to make that sacrifice. American motorcyclists are truly a house divided, and what that portends is not a pleasant proposition.

Fortunately, there is an upside to all of this. Recent research proves that our brains don’t really multi-task all that well, and that the more attention one activity requires, the less others will receive. The same might also be said about society in general and political institutions in particular: For many months now, we have been trying to shift the agenda of bikers’ rights advocates from reactive defense to proactive offense … move the bureaucratic emphasis from crash survival to crash prevention … and focus public attention on mitigating the negligence and inattentional blindness of careless, distracted and impaired cagers, rather than discriminatory mandatory helmet laws that do nothing to make the roads safer. And the issue of banning cell phone usage while driving is helping us to accomplish exactly that!

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!