Ride of the 100 Myrtle Beach SC

MRO: A Strategic Framework

June 2006

Over the past several weeks, I have contributed to a flood of emails and forum postings on the subject of INATTENTIONAL BLINDNESS, the cause of 50% of all motorcycle accidents. I intend to say a lot more about “IB” in the future, but first I thought it might be helpful to show where it fits in the overall MRO strategic framework. And in order to do that, allow me to describe what I mean by a strategic framework for MROs (motorcyclists’ rights organizations) and other biker advocate groups:

MRO Strategic Framework

I believe that MROs should exist to promote the interests and protect the rights of motorcyclists. To accomplish this mission, their activities should be organized into four strategic arenas:

  • Member Acquisition and Retention
  • Motorcycle Safety
  • Motorcyclists’ Rights
  • Motorcycle Awareness

A high-level strategic framework identifying what I consider to be the primary objective, target audience, greatest challenge, best strategy and worst strategy for each of these four arenas is presented in the following paragraphs:

Member Acquisition and Retention

An MRO is a group of people representing a group of people. Members are what gives an MRO its reasons to exist and resources to operate. And like any political group in a democratic society, the broader the membership base, the more political muscle the group is likely to muster, and the greater the political impact the group is likely to have.

Through member acquisition and retention, an MRO gathers human and financial resources which it can deploy in the motorcycle safety, rights and awareness arenas. In order to do so, the MRO must “sell” its target audience–motorcyclists–on the benefits it can deliver in exchange for the time, money and other political capital they contribute.

When this selling effort fails or falls short of expectations, “rider apathy” is often cited as the cause of the problem. This is arguably a false diagnosis, however, in that the most likely cause of any failed selling effort is poor marketing strategy. For MROs, we believe that the best strategy for member acquisition and retention is to focus on key issues that appeal to the broadest possible demographic base. The worst strategy is to focus on a narrow demographic base, and concentrate on only those issues that appeal to them.

Food for thought: How do the demographics of your SMRO compare to the demographics of all motorcycle riders in your state? What percentage of your membership are white male Harley riders age 45 or older? What is that same percentage for all motorcycle riders statewide?

Motorcycle Safety

“Motorcycle safety” is a term best defined in context. Some see it as a cause, some sell it as a commodity, and many view it as an oxymoron. In the context of our strategic framework, “motorcycle safety” is our name for the arena in which MROs deploy resources aimed at saving lives and limbs through training, education and advocating responsible riding.

The greatest challenge in this arena is found not behind a wheel, but inside a bottle: Substance abuse, specifically alcohol, is a factor in 50% of all motorcycle fatalities.

If “friends don’t let friends drive drunk”, then maybe they shouldn’t let them ride that way either. Rider training programs can impact this issue, and helmets and other protective gear can reduce the casualties, but aggressively advocating responsible riding is crucial. Tolerating substance abuse will merely perpetuate the fatal consequences.

Food for thought: Are we not our own worst enemies? Can we realistically expect cagers to show more respect for bikers’ lives, when so often we show none for our own?

Motorcyclists’ Rights

When we say MROs should protect our rights, we of course refer to more than just our right to life. We also mean preserving the motorcycle riding lifestyle and our “freedom of the road”.

The greatest threat in this arena is mandatory helmet laws. Why? Well certainly not because helmets are unsafe. Wearing a helmet increases the safety of a motorcycle rider. Period. Thinking otherwise is about as dumb as taking a knife to a gunfight. The threat is that if we give in on mandatory helmet usage in the name of saving lives, some NHTSA numbskull may propose we can save even more lives by banning motorcycles altogether. And there will end our lifestyle.

I believe the strongest position to take in this seemingly never-ending battle is that mandatory helmet laws are discriminatory unless they are applied to ALL motor vehicle operators, biker and cager alike. The weakest position is any argument that places this issue in the safety arena rather than the rights arena.

Food for thought: How long do you think mandatory helmet laws would stay on the books if the legislators’ wives had to strap on a Shoei each time they drove home from the beauty parlor?

Motorcycle Awareness

In our strategic framework, “motorcycle awareness” constitutes the best and highest use of MRO resources. Here is where we go on the offensive, promoting motorcyclists rights and safety through political and social action (p.c., or not) geared at changing cagers’ expectations and behavior. Here is where we take the high ground, and the fight is according to our rules.

The greatest challenge in this arena is the greatest challenge facing MROs and motorcyclists everywhere: INATTENTIONAL BLINDNESS. “IB” is the cause of 50% of ALL motorcycle accidents, which makes it the single largest cause of motorcycle accidents. Consequently, it stands to reason that if we want to reduce the number of motorcycle accidents, the most important thing we can do is MITIGATE INATTENTIONAL BLINDNESS.

And how do we do that?

Well contrary to what the NHTSA Safety Nazis want us to believe, IB is not just about conspicuity, and it cannot be mitigated simply by donning neon-colored clown suits and putting disco flicker lights all over our bikes. Conspicuity is only one of four factors contributing to inattentional blindness, and it’s not even the one we should be focusing on. The research indicates that our focus should be expectation. Specifically, if we want to save bikers’ lives by mitigating inattentional blindness, we must INCREASE THE EXPECTATION OF RISK, HARM OR LOSS ASSOCIATED WITH “NOT SEEING” A MOTORCYCLE AND CONSEQUENTLY MAIMING OR KILLING A BIKER.

There are many ways to go about this, but as we learned from the failure of Florida’s Stiffer Penalties Law, one approach that is NOT likely to significantly increase this expectation is non-specific ROW violation penalties. In the context of mitigating inattentional blindness, that is fighting the wrong battle. Here is why:

Specific and Severe Penalties Offer A Cure For Inattentional Blindness

In other words, by forming ROW coalitions with bicyclists, pedestrians, crossing guards, mothers with strollers and crippled nuns, we may morally be doing the greater good and guaranteeing ourselves a place in Heaven … but we aren’t necessarily doing anything to keep a biker from getting There sooner than he or she planned.

Food for thought: For more ideas on effective motorcycle awareness measures, read the position paper submitted by “Madd Ray” Henke of Motorcyclists Against Dumb Drivers to the Motorcycle Safety Awareness Symposium (May 19 2006, Orlando Florida):


Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!