Sturgis Black Hills Motor Classic

Wild Hogs Maybe … Boiled Frogs For Sure

June 2007

Handheld Bans and Helmet Laws are Kindling for I.T.S. Fire

A frog dropped into boiling water has the sense to jump out. But place a frog in cool water that is slowly heated, and it will boil to death before it realizes it’s in trouble. This is what is happening to American motorcyclists today. As with the frog, a significant change is occurring all around us, but the change is too slow and subtle for many of us to notice.

Last month, I tried to raise awareness about our government’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (“I.T.S.”) agenda and questioned whether there is a place for motorcycles on the highways of tomorrow. That article may have been interesting for some, but it was alarming for few. Why? Because like the frog, you aren’t feeling the heat. But trust me, my brothers and sisters, the heat is on and the temperature is rising. Allow me to illustrate:

Why do you think almost all legislation banning the use of cell phones while driving ends up banning handheld devices only?

Scientific evidence makes an irrefutable case that it is the cell phone conversation and not the device that creates the greatest driver distraction yet time after time, before a ban makes the books it will be diluted into a restriction of the use of handheld devices only. Why? So that politicians can say they’ve done something to make our roadways safer, without alienating their constituents who refuse to hang up and drive … and, so that telecommunications lobbyists can create new multi-million dollar hands-free cellular device markets for their deep-pocketed clients … and, so that cellular communications can become yet another layer of technology integrated into our vehicles to pave the way for I.T.S.

Why do you think the number of federal and state politicians and bureaucrats calling for mandatory motorcycle helmet laws continues to increase?

Some will say they support lid laws because they save lives. Some will say they support lid laws because they prevent injuries. Some will say they support lid laws because they decrease the public burden associated with the treatment of injured motorcyclists who were uninsured or underinsured, or whose injuries were caused by cagers who were uninsured or underinsured. All of these claims ignore civil rights issues, of course, and all of them are, to one extent or another, both true and false. And therein, my friends, lie the seeds of the “Great Helmet Debate”. I often say that this debate is brought on by those who confuse the utility of helmets with the futility of helmet laws, but in this context I don’t think the propeller heads behind I.T.S. are confused at all. They know that if they are to integrate motorcycles into their vision of the computer-controlled roadways of tomorrow, they will need to have a helmet on all riders at all times, in order to house the necessary head-mounted I.T.S. communications and display technologies.

Perhaps what we are seeing here is the inexorable “march of human progress” … which in my lifetime has come to mean much the same as “advances in technology” … which necessarily entails an increase in computer dependency and a decline in self-sufficiency. Perhaps I.T.S. is a good thing, or at least a necessary thing. But what if it’s not? As I implied last month, the intelligent transport and highway automation systems of tomorrow envisioned by NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker may sound Utopian … but my fear is they might just as likely be Orwellian. What may apply here is the age-old axiom that just because you can do something does not necessarily mean you should.

I am not saying we should stop I.T.S., and I am not sure we could even if we wanted to. I am not saying we should leap out of the pot, at least not without knowing where we will land. But I do believe it is in the best interests of American motorcyclists to slow I.T.S. down, and I do believe we can do so. The more logs we can keep out of the I.T.S. fire, the longer it will take them to boil the water. For starters, here are the two most obvious:

Let’s get and keep cellular technology out of the cars. In the short run, this will reduce the number of motorcyclists maimed and killed by the negligence and inattentional blindness of cell phone conversation-impaired motorists. In the long run, this should delay I.T.S. implementation.

Let’s get and keep mandatory helmet laws off of the books. Like I always say, LIDS YES … LID LAWS NO.

In the short run, this will preserve our freedom of choice, and show all Americans the importance of being vigilant in protecting our rights. And again, in the long run, this should impede I.T.S. implementation. These are not battles we will always win … and I increasingly believe we will not win them by sleeping with the enemy. But they are battles we must always fight … and hopefully fight together … with at least as much zeal as when we fight each other. Otherwise, Wild Hogs or not, we are Boiled Frogs for sure.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!