How Do We Get Cagers To Hang Up & Drive?

September 2007

One Hundred Dollars for the Best Idea

In last month’s “Hang Up and Drive!” installment, I pointed out that there are currently 236 million cell phone subscribers on our roadways … that 73% of them are talking while they are driving … that cell phone conversations impair their driving skills as much if they were intoxicated with alcohol… and that consequently they are four times more likely to cause or be involved in an accident than motorists who responsibly shut up and steer. And for those of you who discount these statistics–or for whatever reason refuse to accept the fact that cell phone conversation-impaired cagers are one of the greatest and growing threats to the safety of American motorcyclists–I relate the following:

Saturday, 11 August 2007, marked the end of eleven days and 5,921 miles in the saddle for me. I rode 2,365 miles from Miami Beach, Florida to Gillette, Wyoming, which was my base for this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. From there, I rode another 1,135 miles touring through the scenic Black Hills, Badlands and Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana. I then logged another 2,421 miles of saddletime returning home. I was very fortunate to be able to complete this annual pilgrimage, as I NEARLY LOST MY LIFE 3 TIMES IN THE FIRST 36 HOURS OF THE RIDE. And no, I was not assaulted by Al Qaeda or run down by drunken undocumented workers, so deporting Mohammed or Pedro would not have eliminated the threat. The guilty parties who violated my right-of-way, and almost caused me to crash three times in the first fifteen hundred miles of my ride to Sturgis, were CAUCASIAN CAGERS IMPAIRED BY CELL PHONE CONVERSATIONS.

Incident #1. Early Wednesday morning, 1 August 2007, I was riding alone northbound going about 70 mph in the left of three lanes of the Florida Turnpike just above the Broward County line. The middle lane was empty, and just a nose ahead of me in the right lane was a typical soccer mom’s oversized gas-guzzling SUV. For no apparent reason, the dark-colored SUV started drifting left. As it did so, I observed that the driver was a 30-ish white female with a cell phone glued to her ear, obviously paying no attention to what lane she was in, and oblivious to the fact that she was on a collision course with me. I hit both brakes and sounded my enhanced H-D horns, which startled her out of her conversational impairment just in time to swerve back to the right and out of my lane. Realizing she had just missed sideswiping me by less than two feet, she mouthed an “OOPS!” and waved her now empty right hand. I replied with a message and gesture that were somewhat less cordial, but clearly understood.

Incident #2. Around 10:00am Thursday morning, 2 August 2007, I was heading eastbound on I-24 through southern Illinois, approaching its terminus at I-57. I was riding drag on the right in a tight formation of four bikes going about 75 mph in the left lane as we attempted to pass a semi and the van and car behind it. The two lead bikes were about half-way even with the dark red high-profile Dodge delivery van when its driver apparently decided he wanted to pass the semi as well. He did not bother to use his turn signals or look to see what might be in the lane to the left of him. All four of us riders slammed on our brakes as the van just kept coming left, missing the right lead bike by inches. The van proceeded to pass the semi, with our four bikes behind him now, and then pulled back into the right lane. We sped up, and when I came alongside him, I saw the driver was a 40-ish white male, yakking away into his large white cell phone. He gave no acknowledgment to my communication of displeasure, and I don’t think he even realized what he had just done. He just kept on talking. I bet if this clown had taken out a solo rider he would not have stopped, and the state troopers would’ve reported to the media that the rider died because he “lost control of his motorcycle”.

Incident #3. Early in the afternoon of Thursday, 2 August 2007, I was riding alone eastbound on I-70, approaching the exit to I-435 in Kansas City, Missouri. I was going about 65 mph in the right lane of the interstate, coming around a white dually pulling a trailer full of farm equipment on the left. I was about even with the front of the trailer when the truck’s right turn signal started blinking and the dually started coming hard over into my lane. I quickly geared down and opened up my throttle to shoot through a narrowing slot of safety, and made it with a margin of just a second or two. I then looked back into the truck’s cab, and sure enough the gray-haired Caucasian male behind the wheel was holding a cell phone to his right ear, only belatedly realizing how close he’d come to clipping me with his right front fender.

These are not the first “close calls due to cellphone calls” I have reported to you. But my concern is not with the incidents I (and others, perhaps you) have survived. My concern is the incident that I (or others, perhaps YOU) may not survive. So I ask you:

HOW DO WE GET CAGERS TO HANG UP AND DRIVE?

Hang Up and Drive: Click for ResourcesWe can lobby for laws banning the use of cell phones while driving, but how long will it take to get those laws on the books, how many motorcyclists will be maimed or killed in the interim, and how effective will they be in the end? Most of the laws passed to date ban only the use of hand-held devices and exempt hands-free technologies, but studies show that it is the conversation and not the device that distracts and impairs the driver. These laws also tend to have minimal penalties and be difficult to enforce, so many drivers simply ignore them:

http://tinyurl.com/2wxpya

Lobbying for laws banning the use of cell phones while driving certainly increases public awareness of the issue, but passing “feel good” laws that are painless to defy will not make our roads any safer. There will always be those who still “talk and drive”, just like there will always be those who still “drink and drive”. So, given that cell phone call impairment has the same effect as alcoholic intoxication, perhaps a more equitable and effective legislative route might be to amend our DUI laws to apply the same penalties for DWI (“Driving While Inattentive”):

http://tinyurl.com/3btoc7

Here again, though, I wonder how long will it take to amend the DUI laws, how many motorcyclists will be maimed or killed in the interim, and how effective will the DWI amendments be in the end? Like I said, there will always be those who will “drink and drive”, and there will always be those who will “talk and drive”. So once more, I ask you:

HOW DO WE GET CAGERS TO HANG UP AND DRIVE?

Statehouse politicos and safetycrats may someday give us a solution, but what can bikers do to seek our own solution? I believe it is time for American motorcyclists to defend our right to ride, and to safely share the road. I believe it is time for us to TAKE THIS ISSUE TO THE STREETS, and to develop both organizational programs and individual plans of action that will mitigate the inattentional blindness of cackling cagers by increasing motorists’ expectations of severe negative consequences associated with the maiming or killing of motorcyclists.

I believe this must be our strategy, and we must now define our tactics. I am asking all concerned motorcyclists to contribute to this process. And after what I experienced on my ride to Sturgis, I am willing to pay for your participation. Here is the offer:

IF YOU HAVE ANY SERIOUS, ORIGINAL, FEASIBLE AND LEGITIMATE IDEAS AS TO WHAT ACTIONS AMERICAN MOTORCYCLISTS CAN TAKE ON THE STREETS TO ENCOURAGE CAGERS TO HANG UP AND DRIVE AND/OR PENALIZE THOSE WHO DON’T, PLEASE POST IT ONLINE HERE:

http://tinyurl.com/2j429z

THE CONTRIBUTOR OF THE BEST QUALIFYING IDEA POSTED NO LATER THAN 15 SEPTEMBER 2007 WILL RECEIVE A CASH PRIZE OF ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($100.00). ALL ENTRIES WILL BE JUDGED BY BRUCE ARNOLD, WHO WILL ANNOUNCE THE WINNER AND MAKE THE AWARD BY 15 OCTOBER 2007.

I’d offer more if I could afford it, but hey, I just got back from Sturgis.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Hang Up & Drive!

August 2007

Online Ammo for an Awareness War

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) has just released Traffic Safety Facts document DOT HS 810791. Here is the introduction:

“A preview of results from the 2006 Annual Assessment of Motor Vehicle Traffic Crash Fatalities and Injuries shows that the number of people killed in the United States in motor vehicle traffic crashes declined from 43,510 in 2005 to 42,642, the lowest level in five years. This decline is the largest in terms of both number and percentage since 1992. The preview Data … shows the decline in fatalities occurred for passenger car occupants, light-truck occupants, and nonmotorists (pedestrian and pedalcyclists). However, motorcycle rider fatalities continued their nine-year increase, reaching 4,810 in 2006. Motorcycle rider fatalities now account for 11 percent of total fatalities, exceeding the number of pedestrian fatalities for the first time since NHTSA began collecting fatal motor vehicle crash data in 1975.”[1]

One reason motorcycle injuries and deaths continue to increase is that more people are riding motorcycles, and many new and “returning” riders are paying a high price for their excesses: excessive speed … excessive sauce … and excessive stupidity. That’s unfortunate, but it’s also Natural Selection. And although these latest statistics provide fresh fuel for the lid law lobbies, as veteran motorcycle training instructor John Sowers notes, “…going 80 [or 120] miles/hr and being drunk and running into a tree [or truck] won’t save you if you were wearing three helmets.”

We must not allow the negative publicity associated with the excesses of the ignorant to overshadow the fact that for experienced and responsible riders, the most significant cause of motorcycle injuries and fatalities continues to be the negligence and inattentional blindness of careless, clueless, distracted and impaired cagers. Quoting Motorcycle-Accidents-Lawyers-Attorneys.com:

Motorcycling Endurance Riders
Bikers Rights, Motorcyclists Rights, Long Distance Motorcycle Riding
“Approximately three-fourths of all motorcycle accidents involve another motor vehicle. Two-thirds of these accidents were caused by the motorist failing to yield the right of way. The most common reason given by the motorist involved in these accidents is that they ‘didn’t see’ the motorcycle. These types of accidents account for approximately 50 percent of ALL motorcycle accidents! Recent scientific studies focusing on a phenomenon known as ‘inattentional blindness’ may help us understand why car drivers often end up causing accidents with motorcycles they ‘didn’t see.'”[2]

As the mountain of research assimilated by my partner Madd Ray shows, a leading cause of inattentional blindness is the driver distraction and impairment induced by cell phone conversations.[3] In fact, in 2002 The Harvard University Center for Risk Analysis estimated that each year 1.5 million accidents, 560,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths were due to phone use in moving vehicles.[4] And there were only 86 million cell phone service subscribers in the U.S. in 2002.[5] As of May 2007, we now have more than 236 million cell phone subscribers nationwide … almost three times as many … and 73% of them are talking while they’re driving![6]

So, how do we address this pandemic problem? Passing legislation that bans the use of handheld cellular devices while driving is certainly not the answer. Why? Because it is the conversation, and not the device, that creates the distraction. As the Center for Auto Safety’s Executive Director Clarence Ditlow noted in his January 2007 letter to NHTSA’s Nicole Nason:

“Research has consistently shown that operating a motor vehicle while talking on a cell phone–whether hand-held or hands-free–increases the risk of an accident to three to four times the experience of attentive drivers. The general consensus of the scientific community is that there is little, if any, difference in crash rates involving hands-free versus hand-held cell phones. The two-way conversation on a cellular phone, not the task of holding the phone, causes a cognitive distraction. This distraction induces ‘inattention blindness,’ inhibiting drivers’ abilities to detect change in road conditions.”[7]

That means there is one and only one way to effectively address this issue. We all have to…

HANG UP AND DRIVE!

Are you seriously interested in reducing the number of bikers maimed and killed each year by careless and clueless cagers? If so, then one of the best things you can do to mitigate inattentional blindness and make our roadways safer for motorcycling is to persuade as many motorists as you can to “Hang Up and Drive”!

Notice that I said “persuade” and not “mandate”. Yes, passing laws to ban the use of cell phones while driving is one way to get drivers to shut up and steer, but it is certainly not the only way. After all, “feel-good” laws that ban only handheld devices … that have limited applicability or negligible penalties … or that are difficult or impossible to enforce … will have little impact. We have enough laws like that on the books already. So, if lobbying for a comprehensive cell phone ban with significant penalty and effective enforcement provisions is not an option … or perhaps not an option for you … campaigning for awareness still is. All you have to do is spread this one simple message:

“HANG UP AND DRIVE!”

Hang Up and Drive: Click for ResourcesHow you choose to spread the message is up to you. Be creative! Paint it on the tailgates of your trucks and trailers. Put it on billboards and road signs. Stamp it on t-shirts, patches, pins, caps, coffee cups, stickers and banners … and sell or give them away anywhere you can find a group of bikers or cagers: grocery stores, gas stations, shopping malls, parking lots, offices, churches, clubs, meetings and events. Add the “Hang Up and Drive” tag line to your web pages, newsletters, press releases, business cards, and email signatures. Tattoo it on your arm … or forehead … or any other body part you like to show off. To give you some more ideas and inspiration, I’ve assembled a small cache of online ammunition for your awareness war.

“Hang Up and Drive” is sure to save bikers’ lives. So please help spread the message.

Do whatever you can, whenever and wherever you can.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

)(

Footnotes:

  1. http://tinyurl.com/2szwsq
  2. http://tinyurl.com/2x88so
  3. http://tinyurl.com/o9bzh
  4. http://tinyurl.com/249dxa
  5. http://tinyurl.com/24u4zc
  6. http://tinyurl.com/4o87q
  7. http://tinyurl.com/2hp4d9

)(

Addendum:

Hang Up and Drive (Song Lyrics from NotPopular.com)

Driving, you’re no better than a drunk, so ask yourself, do you feel lucky punk?
Your attention, should be focused on the road, you’re like a time bomb, waiting to explode
You’re important, or that’s what you claim, but to call you, someone would have to be lame
Because you’re a danger, to all that you see, you should hang up, and listen to me
I know to keep in touch makes you feel more alive
But when you’re on the highway and you’re going 35
You can make the call when you arrive
It’s time for you to hang up and drive

Car phone, a license to kill, you’re a big spender, how high is your bill?
From talking, you’ve got nothing to gain except cancer, a tumor in your brain
It’s just gossip, diarrhea of the mouth
So pick a lane, you can go north, you can go south
You’re clueless; you don’t know what’s up.

http://tinyurl.com/ywfzfl

“MRO” Has No “&” Between The “M” And The “R”

July 2007 (Special Edition)

On Soapbox Subversion and Sleeping With the Enemy

Many believe that “MRO” is an acronym for “Motorcycle Rights Organization”. But that would make no sense. A motorcycle is a piece of property, and has no rights. Motorcyclists, on the other hand, do have rights. And that is what “MRO” stands for: Motorcyclists’ Rights Organization.

There is no “&” (ampersand) between the “M” and the “R” in “MRO”. That’s because the word “and” does not appear between “motorcyclists” and “rights” in the definitive phrase. This seemingly minor difference is actually a major distinction, in that what could be the focus of a “Motorcyclists’ and Rights Organization” and what should be the focus of a “Motorcyclists’ Rights Organization” are two different things.

And how important is focus? Given that we live in a world with finite resources, “focus” is fundamental to survival, success, and the achievement of any significant goal or objective. Focus is how we define those goals and target those objectives, and heavily influences how we allocate and expend our limited resources in their pursuit. A broad focus, for example, compels us to scatter and spread our resources, and dilutes our impact on any specific target. A narrow focus, on the other hand, allows us to concentrate our resources, and thereby increases the likelihood we will accomplish what we set out to do.

The focus of a “Motorcyclists’ Rights Organization” should be just that: Motorcyclists’ Rights. All MROs–national, state, regional or local–operate with limited resource bases. They only have so many members, and those members can only contribute so much of their time and money to the issues that MRO leaders bring to their attention. If that attention is diverted to issues that are not specifically related to motorcycles, motorcyclists or motorcycling, then the MRO’s limited political capital is diverted as well. As I have said before, “… we fight to protect the freedom and promote the interests of American motorcyclists … to defend our right to choose our own modes of transportation, attire and lifestyle … to deter and defy discrimination against us … and to vanquish those who violate our rights or right-of-way.” If an issue does not fall within that framework, then it has no place in any MRO platform, publication or agenda.

Immigration reform, for example, is a noble and important cause, but it does not fall within the bikers’ rights framework. Immigration reform is also an explosively divisive issue, and those misguided “freedom riders” subverting our soapboxes to spew flawed and fabricated statistics while wrapping prejudice in American flags and calling it patriotism do more harm to the cause of bikers’ rights than they can imagine. And immigration reform is certainly not the only political issue that should be left out of the MRO mix. When an MRO takes a stand on any non-biker issue, it risks shrinking its political base–and squandering biker political capital–by unnecessarily alienating riders who might disagree with their position. In other words, for an MRO to be fully effective it must focus on matters that appeal to the broadest political base–i.e., the motorcycling mainstream–while avoiding as much as possible those contentious and often petty issues that “divide the tribes”.

Charity is also a noble and important cause. But it is only suitable for MRO agendas if the money being raised is going to an appropriate recipient. Downed riders, and riders down on their luck, should certainly qualify as appropriate recipients. But I am not convinced that MRO philanthropy should extend much beyond that. Yes, an argument can be made that raising money for popular charities increases our “goodwill”. But I think we need to take a long, hard look at (a) just how much–or little–goodwill is actually generated, (b) whether that goodwill is actually doing anything to advance our political agenda, and (c) whether an alternative investment of our time and money might give us better payback. And if nothing else, we should at least make sure we aren’t giving our hard-earned money away to “causes” that don’t really deserve it … people who don’t really need it … or worst of all, parties who politically oppose us–which might very well include lobbyists and physicians cashing healthcare facility checks covered by the deposits of our donations. MROs may at times be forced to sleep with the enemy, but we sure as hell shouldn’t be paying for the privilege.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Why All Motorcyclists Should Be AMA Members

July 2007

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

The March 2007 installment of Bruce on Bikers’ Rights was an open letter to Rob Dingman, President and CEO of the American Motorcyclist Association (“AMA”). In that letter, I challenged for a list of reasons whether the AMA’s “rights. riding. racing.” tagline truly reflected the mission and priorities of our nation’s largest motorcyclists’ rights organization (“MRO”). Part of that challenge was conveyed by this question:

“Why is it that every time a state legislative hearing on [motorcycling issues] is conducted… lobbyists from the American Automobile Association (“AAA”) are almost always present, while the AMA remains conspicuous in its absence?”

Rob never gave me an answer to that question, but subsequent events have certainly suggested one. In one recent instance, I specifically asked the heads of two rival state motorcyclists’ rights organizations (“SMROs”) whether the AMA had offered them assistance or support. The written answers I received said “No”, but subsequent conversations with the individuals involved strongly suggested otherwise. I have no hard evidence I can share here, but my belief is now that the AMA’s absence from state legislative hearings on motorcycling issues is most likely due to SMROs either (a) not inviting the AMA’s participation, or (b) declining the AMA’s offers of support. Either way, from now on I suggest that when the question “Where is the AMA?” comes up, it should be posed first to our SMRO leaders.

While it is clearly politically correct for a national MRO to defer to SMROs on state-level concerns, the line separating national- from state-level motorcycling issues is anything but clear. Do not state motorcycling laws usually impact all riders traveling through that state, regardless of their residence? And what if those laws are, as my partner “Madd Ray” Henke contends, from the federal perspective unconstitutional?

Also, are not the major proponents behind most state-level motorcycle legislation actually national organizations (like the AAA, NHTSA, the healthcare and insurance lobbies, etc.)? And if more of a state’s motorcyclists belong to the AMA than the SMRO, then which organization has the more legitimate mandate?

HANG UP AND DRIVE initiatives to ban cell phone conversations while driving is another political arena where the goal is clear, but who’s got the football is questionable. Laudable efforts by some have even been countermanded by others, so there is clearly a question as to who has “the balls to ban the calls“.

Are cell phone bans truly a “biker” issue? And if so, at what level should they be addressed? National, state or local? As Madd Ray and I pointed out in our October 2006 letter to the AMA, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (“MRF”) and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (“MSF”) the injuries and deaths resulting from accidents caused by cell phone conversation-impaired drivers pose a clear and present danger to all who share the road, but none more so than motorcyclists. And although they have not yet aggressively championed this cause, at least on page 44 of the June 2007 issue of American Motorcyclist magazine, the AMA tops their list of the “8 Worst Things Ever to Happen to Motorcycling” with the following:

“Cellphones Somebody else’s cellphone–the one being used by the driver swerving between lanes in front of you.”

Printing that one line is not exactly storming the Bastille, but at least the AMA is spreading awareness, and hopefully building consensus.

THE REAL GEM in the June 2007 issue of American Motorcyclist, however, is the AMA’s “Who’s Watching You?” article that begins on the next page. Here is the lead-in:

“You’re out for a Sunday ride with your friends, cruising out of town to enjoy your favorite twisties.” On the way back, you jump onto the freeway, where you pass under a metal canopy holding a row of sensors. The sensors download data from a GPS unit installed as standard equipment on your bike. A couple of days later, a traffic ticket arrives at your home. The notation on it indicates that somewhere out there on those back roads, you exceeded the speed limit briefly. You can mail in your fine, or you can go to court and try to prove that you didn’t do what your own bike says you did. … You stop at a gas station to fill up, and a display on the pump indicates that it’s identified your motorcycle. The pump reads your bike’s onboard computer and then adjusts the price of the gas based on your road-usage patterns. … You pull a stack of letters out of the mailbox and notice an envelope from your insurance company. Inside is a bill that includes a hefty surcharge. Why? The helpful note underneath explains that the insurance company has determined you’re spending much of your time on congested roads where the chances of being in an accident are higher. As a result, your insurance rate just went up. … Far-fetched? Hardly. The technology to do all that–and a lot more–already exists.”

This well-written article explains in plain English the present and potential Big Brother applications for event data recorder (“EDR”), global positioning system (“GPS”), intelligent speed adaptation (“ISA”) and radio frequency identification (“RFID”) technologies. It also dovetails well with my recent discussions of Intelligent Transport and Highway Automation and reinforces my concerns that motorcyclists everywhere need to start worrying less about being Wild Hogs and more about becoming Boiled Frogs.

IF YOU ARE AN AMA MEMBER, you can login and read “Who’s Watching You?” here:

http://tinyurl.com/2c3brr

If you are not, then you can become a member in minutes by going here:

http://ama-cycle.org/

Membership in the American Motorcyclist Association is only $39.00 a year, including among many other benefits an annual subscription to American Motorcyclist magazine. And no matter where you are (geographically or politically) … or what or how you ride … I am confident that somewhere in those twelve issues you’ll find more than enough value to justify that investment.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

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!

Open Letter to Henry Pierson Curtis

May 2007 (Special Edition)

“Biker deaths debunk myths”? Wrong. Try: Truth debunks Henry Pierson Curtis and Orlando Sentinel editors as responsible journalists!

30 April 2007

To (Mis)Reporter Henry Pierson Curtis and the Editors of the Orlando Sentinel:

I am an American citizen, a resident of the state of Florida, a taxpayer, a voter, and a motorcyclist. On my ride home to Miami yesterday morning, after spending over 900 of my hard-earned after-tax dollars with numerous merchants and service providers in and around Central Florida’s Leesburg BikeFest, I exited the Turnpike in Orlando to fill my tank and empty my bladder. As I waited to hand yet another of my nearly-depleted twenties to an employee of one of the businesses whose advertising pays the salaries of “professional” journalists such as yourselves, this front-page headline leaped out at me from a chest-high stack of your Sunday edition:

BIKER DEATHS DEBUNK MYTHS
Record shows riders at fault 70% of the time

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/orl-motorcycles2907apr29,0,1740924.story?coll=orl-home-headlines

To say the least, the sensationalism of this headline gave me pause, and I bought a copy of your paper. So congratulations! If your primary objective is revenue–and the sacred trust of the public in their free press to tell the truth is for you a distant memory–then as Dubya would say, “Mission Accomplished!”

Unfortunately for the Orlando Sentinel–and its readers and advertisers–your strategy is penny-wise but pound-foolish. You see, as your own paper told you here…

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/lake/orl-llivestory2907apr29,0,5033918.story?coll=orl-news-headlines-lake

…there were an estimated 200,000 other motorcyclists pumping about as much money into the Central Florida economy these past few days as I did. And if they read your article carefully, I am sure they will find it to be nothing more than a bunch of numerical nonsense, hack and half-truths, and be as insulted by it as I am. Which means, Henry Pierson Curtis, that you may have just bitten 180 million dollars ($900 x 200,000 visiting motorcyclists) in recurring economic benefit right out of the hands that feed you.

And for WHAT? You publish this article front-page on the very weekend of the Leesburg BikeFest, just so you can sell a few more buck-fifty papers? Meanwhile, the advertisers that fund your paycheck–and pay for the paper, ink and goodwill you waste–stand to lose MILLIONS.

AND YOU CALL MOTORCYCLISTS “RECKLESS”?

I will concede, Henry, that you at least made an attempt at making your disjointed diatribe seem fair and balanced by requesting commentary from a representative of a Florida-based motorcyclists’ rights organization. Unfortunately, however, the individual you selected speaks for less than 2% of Florida’s motorcyclists, and was not prepared to challenge your specious assertions and spurious statistics. Allow me to respond on behalf of some of the remaining 98% who are. I will go point by point:

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“Biker deaths debunk myths”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Read the rest of what I present here, and you will see that the only myth debunked by this article is any notion that Henry Pierson Curtis or the Editors of the Orlando Sentinel are responsible journalists.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“Records show riders at fault 70% of the time.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

What “records”? What “riders”? What “time”? There is NOTHING in your article that clearly defines these three parameters. And without those definitions, your “70%” headline statistic is a sham.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“8 of the 15 Volusia County fatalities in 2006 occurred in March during Bike Week…. Of those 8, 1 was 23 years old. The rest were 44 to 65.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Do you want to discuss motorcycle fatalities for Daytona Bike Week–for which the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) defines a multi-county area–or for Volusia County annually individually? Mixing the two makes the numbers you report here mean nothing. And in case you missed it Henry, there were only 7 Daytona Bike Week Deaths this year–down 67% from the 21 of 2006–and many attribute a substantial portion of the improvement to the successful Motorcycle Awareness Campaign of the Bike Week Safety Task Force (aimed at automobile drivers, not motorcyclists) reported in your own paper here:

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/volusia/orl-vbikeweek2507feb25,0,7989938.story?coll=orl-news-headlines-volusia

And also Henry, automobile drivers–not motorcyclists–were the leading cause of motorcycle fatalities during Daytona Bike Week 2006. You forgot to mention that, didn’t you?

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“76% of Orange County fatalities in 2006 involved sport bikes…. Only 1 in 10 of the riders who died was older than 45.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Even if these numbers are absolutely accurate, Henry, they are equally worthless. What percentage of the registered motorcycles in Orange County in 2006 were sport bikes? Without disclosing that, your “76%” means nothing. How many riders were there, and how many of those were older than 45? Without disclosing that, your “1 in 10” means nothing.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“In Orange County, most who died were on sport bikes, uninsured, younger than 45 and the only vehicle involved.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

What number and percentage of the registered motorcycles in the base population were sport bikes? And how does the age and insurance status of the riders who died compare to those who did not? How many accidents were there involving multiple as well as single vehicles, and what were the injuries and fatalities associated with each? Without this information as context, Henry, your claim has no meaning.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“In Volusia County, according to FHP figures, most who died were on cruisers, uninsured, older than 45 and collided with another vehicle.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Most who died WHEN, Henry? And how does the motorcycle type, insurance status and age of those who died compare to that of the general population? And who was at fault in these collisions? Again, without this information as context, your claim has no meaning.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“The lore suggests most of those who die in motorcycle crashes are young riders with a need for outrageous speed on high-performance sport bikes…. But preliminary figures of motorcycling deaths in Florida’s largest urban areas last year show that sport bikers account for a little more than half of the fatalities. The other half come from the growing number of aging ‘renaissance riders’ who take to the road on their cruisers, often without proper training.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

I don’t know what “lore” you refer to Henry, but I do know that “a little more than half” qualifies as “most”. Also, where is your support for use of the word “often” before “proper training”?

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“And contrary to the notion that careless automobile drivers cause most accidents involving motorcycles, last year’s deadly crashes were caused by the bikers themselves more than two-thirds of the time.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

That “notion” is a long-standing proven nationwide statistic, Henry. And the fact that you can fabricate contradictory data by combining statistics from ONLY accidents investigated by the FHP in ONLY the Florida counties you selected for ONLY the timeframe you selected means NOTHING.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“The state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will release comprehensive statewide data in June, but the Sentinel was able to review the data from Central Florida, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Palm Beach and Tampa. An analysis of the 119 fatal crashes investigated by FHP in those areas shows: 64 of the dead were sport-bike riders; 55 rode some other form of motorcycle. Eight in 10 riders who died did not have insurance. 70 percent were at fault.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

70 percent of WHOM, Henry? The eight in 10 with no insurance, the 64 who rode sports bikers, the 55 who did not, or the 119 who were killed overall? Don’t bother clarification, because what you have will in any case be an arbitrary statistic you fabricated by combining statistics from ONLY accidents investigated by the FHP in ONLY the Florida counties you selected for ONLY the timeframe you selected, and that therefore means NOTHING

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“41 percent were not wearing helmets; Florida has no mandatory helmet law for riders older than 21.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Again you provide a statistic with no clear context, Henry. But if you are saying that 41% of the motorcyclists who died sometime and somewhere were not wearing helmets, then please recognize you are ALSO saying that 59% of those killed were wearing helmets and DIED ANYWAY.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“A quarter of them did not have a license to drive a motorcycle in Florida. At least one in five was drunk or under the influence of drugs, according to autopsy reports after the crashes…. The crash data have prompted at least one Florida lawmaker to raise questions about how the state regulates its deadliest form of transportation. Florida and Washington remain the only states in which motorcyclists can legally ride without insurance. Safety advocates say the exemption supports motorcycle sales by freeing riders from paying $1,000 a year or more for coverage.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

If a motorcycle rider dies strictly because he or she was impaired or otherwise unqualified to ride, that’s a shame, but it’s also Natural Selection. On the other hand, Henry, if you plan on convincing me that the amount of insurance a rider carries has anything to do with the probability that he or she will be involved in a fatal accident, you have a lot of explaining to do.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee, unsuccessfully proposed a bill this year that would require have required motorcyclists who ride without helmets to carry at least $50,000 in health-insurance coverage. He said the state needs to work with insurers to keep policies from being prohibitively expensive for motorcyclists.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Henry, Henry, Henry. Even using your distorted database, many of the riders who were killed had insurance and DIED ANYWAY, and most of them were wearing helmets and DIED ANYWAY. Your implication that the act of buying insurance or wearing a helmet might prevent a crash is ridiculous.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“‘It’s clear motorcycles are more risky, and if you get hurt it’s going to cost more, and a large part will be paid by the public,’ Constantine said. ‘I think I’m looking out for their best interests as well as the state of Florida.'”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

What’s pretty clear here is that this quote is completely out of context and therefore irrelevant. If a rider dies in an accident, the cost “paid by the public” is merely that of tagging and bagging the body.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“The 119 deaths investigated by the Florida Highway Patrol in those urban areas do not include fatal crashes investigated by local police departments and sheriff’s offices. They represent a tiny proportion of the state’s nearly 600,000 riders. Motorcycling deaths have increased steadily in Florida since 2000, when the mandatory helmet law was repealed for riders older than 21. Overall, motorcyclists are 34 times more likely to die and eight times more likely to be injured in crashes than passenger-car occupants, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

If you think getting on a motorcycle in America is a risky, Henry, try going in for healthcare. Perhaps you are unaware that OUR HIGHWAYS ARE SAFER THAN OUR HOSPITALS. According to NHTSA, 43,443 people were killed on our highways in 2005. For that same year, the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths estimates that more than twice that number died as a result of needless hospital infections brought on by the carelessness and negligence of physicians and other care providers. And as for helmets saving lives, let me put that assertion in perspective for you:

At least seven of the motorcyclists killed during Daytona Bike Week 2006 were wearing helmets and DIED ANYWAY. Almost half (49.3%) of the motorcyclists killed in Florida during 2005 were wearing helmets and DIED ANYWAY. And even NHTSA concedes that in the entire year of 2005, across the entire United States, mandating that all motorcycle riders wear helmets might have saved only 728 lives, whereas the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths projects that mandating doctors wash their hands between patients could have saved up to 103,000 lives.

NHTSA Source: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/810620.PDF
CRID Source: http://www.hospitalinfection.org/ridbooklet.pdf

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“The increasing number of biker deaths did not surprise Doc Reichenbach, president of the Florida chapter of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education, or ABATE. He said riding today is much different and more dangerous than 20 to 30 years ago. There’s more traffic, more construction, more distraction and threats of every kind…. ‘New riders have no clue,’ Reichenbach said of challenges as basic as confronting grooved pavement or cars drifting across lanes. ‘Educating all the public is the thing — not just us, but car drivers, truck drivers and any other vehicles on the road. We’re doing everything we can, and we’re still dying.'”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Mr. Reichenbach’s statement that “new riders have no clue” is a regrettable choice of words and suggests he may not recall the knowledge base and riding skills required to obtain a motorcycle endorsement in Florida. The State of Florida assures that new motorcycle riders at least know what they need to know, and it is up to the individual to act on that knowledge. Also, “we’re doing everything we can” belies the fact that Mr. Reichenbach attempted to countermand efforts by Florida motorcyclists’ rights activists earlier this year seeking legislation to totally ban cell phone conversations (on both hand-held and hands-free devices) while driving … which would eliminate a major driver distraction … and thereby make Florida’s highways safer not only for motorcyclists but for all who share the road.

If you really care about reducing the number of motorcyclists getting killed on Florida roads, Henry, I recommend you wheel your guns around and point them at the people who refuse to hang up and drive: As a distance rider, I frequently cover 1,000 miles or more in a day. And every time I do, I can count on my life being threatened by at least three irresponsible motorists swerving into my lane or otherwise violating my right-of-way. And when I subsequently come alongside the driver’s window to gesture my anger, I usually find them engrossed in a cell call and oblivious to their infraction.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“Biker tastes vary by age… Although sport bikes make up about a quarter of motorcycles sales nationwide, they accounted for 54 percent of the Florida deaths the Sentinel examined. Capable of reaching speeds of almost 200 mph, they are wildly popular with young riders but leave many motorists shaking their heads in dismay when they pass in a dangerous blur on highways. Characteristics of Florida motorcyclists vary widely by age. Riders in Reichenbach’s over-40 age bracket overwhelmingly choose cruisers — comfortable road bikes in the 1,000 cc engine range, such as Harley-Davidson, BMW and many other brands. Those types of bikes account for half of all U.S. sales, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. Less likely to race recklessly in traffic, these renaissance riders — baby boomers who take up motorcycling or begin riding again after decades away from it — still accounted for nearly half of the 119 fatalities the Sentinel looked at.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

I have previously explained that the database from which you draw your “54 percent”, “119 fatalities” and other statistics is suspect. And in this particular context, they provide little relevance anyway.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“Motorcycling groups and police say as more older riders take to the road, the number of fatalities in that age group will inevitably increase.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

It is no great revelation that as any group of people get older, Henry, their mortality rate increases.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“Consider Volusia County, where eight of the 15 motorcycle fatalities last year happened during Bike Week in March, when a half-million bikers visit Daytona Beach. Of those deaths, one rider was 23 years old; the rest were 44 to 65.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Once again, Henry, do you want to discuss motorcycle fatalities for Daytona Bike Week–for which the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) defines a multi-county area–or for Volusia County annually individually? Mixing the two makes the numbers you report here mean nothing … except for one: If “a half-million bikers” enter the state each year for Daytona Bike Week, that almost doubles the number of motorcycles on Florida roads while they are here. And any accidents they are involved in leave us with inflated injury and fatality statistics long after the out-of-state riders go home.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“‘Training and experience on a motorcycle is what saves you,’ said FHP Sgt. Robert Blackwell, who supervises fatal-crash investigations in Central Florida. Stephen Crisson, one of the 119 Central Florida riders who died, was riding too fast on East Colonial Drive last September when traffic stopped in front of him. The 48-year-old braked and tried to swerve but struck the rear of a pickup, records show. He did not have a license to drive, or insurance for, his 2005 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, records show.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Even if I accept the accuracy of this report, by your own admission it relates to 1 out of 119 riders, and says nothing about the general motorcycling population.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

Motorcycles ‘more risky’… The high incidence of at-fault deaths for young and older riders alike means inadequate training and experience are most likely to blame, according to the national Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

The mission of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is to sell rider education and training, Henry. One would expect them to say what they need to say to sell training … just like you and your editors are apparently willing to print anything that will sell newspapers.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“The belief that most bikers die in collisions with automobiles in which drivers are at fault is based on a 25-year-old study, the most recent nationwide examination of motorcycle crashes, said Ray Ochs, MSF head of training… ‘We have seen the number of single-vehicle crashes go up,’ Ochs said. ‘There are so many variables. . . . We don’t know how many people crash who are riding a bike too large for them,’ for example.”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

The study Mr. Ochs refers to may be 25 years old, but there has been no similar study in the interim that refutes its conclusions. And yes, I have seen isolated statistics suggesting that the number of single-vehicle crashes has increased in certain venues. But in those same contexts, e.g. the 21 deaths during Daytona Bike Week 2006, right-of-way and other driving violations by negligent, distracted and impaired motorists remained the leading cause of motorcycle fatalities.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“MSF, an industry-funded group, instructs new riders and offers classes for experienced riders on how to read traffic, how aging affects reaction time and the dangers posed by fatigue, drugs and alcohol. Unlike some European countries, the U.S. does not require graduated licensing mandating that riders prove their proficiency on motorcycles with smaller engines before moving up to larger, faster models such as sport bikes. Of the fatal crashes examined by the Sentinel, only five of the 64 sport bikers had insurance. And all but 10 of those crashes involved careless or reckless operation at up to three times the posted speed limits, according to the FHP reports.”

“‘It’s a dilemma for us. The riders come in and demand the product,’ said Winn Peeples, a lobbyist in Tallahassee for the Florida Motorcycle Dealers Association and a former dealer. Consider the death of Thomas Perry on his 23rd birthday last year. ‘The cause of this crash is strictly due to driver error,’ FHP Cpl. Shaun Lattinville wrote after the Nov. 16 crash. The Lake County resident struck a mail box at 130 mph when he lost control of his 2006 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6 in Lady Lake. Crash investigators noted the 45 mph zone was straight and dry on a clear afternoon.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Once again, Henry, buying insurance does not prevent motorcycle crashes any more than wearing a helmet does. And if a motorcycle rider dies strictly because he or she was impaired or otherwise unqualified to ride, that’s a shame, but it’s also Natural Selection.

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM:

“Laws can go only so far… Some strides have already been made to strengthen Florida’s motorcycle laws. New legislation requiring red license plates for riders 21 and younger took effect Jan. 1 to make it easier for police to spot riders who must wear helmets. Starting July 1, 2008, anyone applying for a motorcycle endorsement to legally ride in Florida must first pass a rider-safety course. Motorcycle dealers also will not be allowed to issue temporary tags to new owners who do not hold a valid drivers license and motorcycle endorsement. For years, dealers sold motorcycles to unlicensed riders, saying they did not have a legal — or ethical — obligation to stop the sales. Still, once the bikes are off the lot, common sense is one thing instructors can’t teach, said Ochs of MSF. ‘A lot of people don’t respect a motorcycle. It’s still a toy to them,’ Ochs said. ‘If someone has that attitude, it’s part of living in a free country and being able to make wrong decisions.'”

Henry Pierson Curtis and the Orlando Sentinel Editors CLAIM DEBUNKED:

Yes, Henry, “laws can only go so far”. An argument could be made that some of the laws you mention here go too far, but we can save that discussion for another day. To summarize, let me simply point out that in a free society, we must all be held accountable for our actions. And that includes incompetent and/or ill-intentioned journalists–like Henry Pierson Curtis and the Editors of the Orlando Sentinel–who spin half-truths and spew sensationalism just to turn a buck.

Speaking strictly for myself and no other individuals or organizations,

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Bruce@LdrLongDistanceRider.com
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-Ray’s Biker Forum
Premier Member, Iron Butt Association
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation
Member and Elite Legislative Supporter, American Motorcyclist Association

Intelligent Transport & Highway Automation

May 2007

In the grand scheme, is a place for motorcycles assured?

On 11 April 2007, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Mark V. Rosenker gave a speech at the Northwestern University Transportation Center that presented an intriguing glimpse into the future of American roadway transportation. I encourage you to take a moment and read the transcript:

http://www.ntsb.gov/Speeches/rosenker/mvr070411.htm

In it, he projects his vision of the roads of tomorrow … a virtual railway of computer-controlled conveyances (think cattle cars) enabled by a mind-boggling array of intelligent transport systems (ITS), highway automation, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure integration … reinforced with telematics for vehicle navigation (and occupant tracking) … and prefaced by the following:

“In aviation, the average is 700 to 800 fatalities a year, almost all associated with private pilots in small general aviation aircraft… By comparison, about 43,000 people lose their lives on the nation’s highways each year. For aviation fatalities to match those of highway, we would have to have a commercial airline hull loss accident every day… So, while you may know of the Safety Board based on our aviation work, tonight I’d like to focus on highway safety… [W]hile we accomplished much in the past decade to improve the crashworthiness of automobiles, we have reached some practical limits in combating the physical forces involved in crashes. It is time to move beyond crash mitigation and enter a new era where technology will help us prevent accidents. I recognize that this will be a tough battle to win. Less than 1% of accidents are fatal, so to save one life, we must prevent more than a hundred crashes… We can no longer be satisfied with trying to protect people who get into crashes. We must instead use the technology at our command to prevent crashes from happening.”

Mr. Rosenker’s acknowledgement that far more highway injuries and deaths can be prevented by targeting crash avoidance rather than crash survival is encouraging. But on the other hand, the fact that he failed to include or even mention motorcycles in his grand scheme of intelligent transport and highway automation systems forces me to ask this question:

IS there a place for motorcycles on the highways of tomorrow?

This is not a new question, and I am certainly not the first one to ask it. The debate goes back a decade or more, as is reflected by this 1998 article originated by the Federation of European Motorcyclists Associations (FEMA), and the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF)…

Click to access FromEuropetotheUnitedS.pdf

…in which FEMA’s Simon Willard advised the following:

“[R]oad transport is undergoing some fundamental changes. It is the responsibility of all riders to make efforts to ensure that motorcycling remains enjoyable for future generations by becoming active in their own national riders’ rights organisation.”

Mr. Willard’s concerns were reiterated in this 2003 paper transmitted by FEMA, the MRF, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and allied organizations…

Click to access TRANS-WP29-130-inf01e.pdf

…which contained this request:

“The recognition that certain types of vehicles will not be compatible with some ITS applications, requires that the rights of the owners and users of such vehicles be considered… It is also a general principle that regulations applied to one vehicle category should not result in the owner or user of another category of vehicle being disadvantaged… The parties to this paper therefore request the relevant United Nations bodies formally to recognize the following principle: ‘That where a vehicle or a category of vehicles are not compatible with an ITS application, it is accepted that the vehicles’ incompatibility will not result in its being excluded from any part of the road system that the vehicle currently uses and that in future would utilize that ITS application.'”

Is that request being honored? Australia’s Monash University Accident Research Centre attempted to answer that question, at least in part, with their research study entitled “Intelligent Transport Systems and Motorcycle Safety”, published in July of 2006:

Click to access muarc260.pdf

Their research was comprehensive, but left them with more questions than conclusions. Two of their conclusions, however, seem as relevant here in the U.S. as they are down under:

“Some motorcycling groups have expressed concern about the potential for ITS technologies to automate aspects of the riding task or to compromise motorcycle safety. It is critical that the views of the motorcycling fraternity be properly researched and understood, and that this knowledge be used to inform the design and deployment of technologies which are acceptable to them. There have been no formal studies of the acceptance of riders to ITS in motorcycles.”

“There is no known strategy for the design, development, deployment and evaluation of ITS in motorcycles.”

But wait a moment. Does that second conclusion really apply to us? Maybe so, maybe no:

Mr. Rosenker did not include motorcycles in his vision of our road transport future. And, I was unable to find anything that resembled a “strategy for the design, development, deployment and evaluation of ITS in motorcycles” on the website of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) ITS Joint Program Office:

http://www.its.dot.gov/index.htm

BUT… intelligent transportation systems for motorcycles were discussed during the NTSB Public Forum on Motorcycle Safety on 12-13 September 2007, and those comments are available in the searchable (but not copyable) PDF transcripts for both days downloadable from here:

http://www.ntsb.gov/events/symp_motorcycle_safety/
symp_motorcycle_safety.htm

AND… intelligent transportation systems are an explicit part of the mission and agenda for the newly-formed Federal Highway Administration Motorcyclist Advisory Council (MAC-FHWA)…

http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/mac/index.htm

…whose members include the following:

Mark Bloschock [mbloscho@dot.state.tx.us] -Texas Dept. of Transportation
Jeff Hennie [jeff@mrf.org] - Motorcycle Riders Foundation
Darrell Killion [killiond1@yahoo.com] - ABATE of South Dakota
Ken Kiphart [nvrider@dps.state.nv.us]- State Motorcycle Safety Administrators
Robert McClune [bob.mcclune@pottersbeads.com]- North American Potters Industries
Ed Moreland [edmoreland.ama@erols.com] - American Motorcyclist Association
Gerald Salontai [Gsalontai@kleinfelder.com] - Kleinfelder Incorporated
Kathy VanKleeck [kvankleeck@mic.org] - Motorcycle Industry Council
Donald Vaughn [VaughnD@dot.state.al.us] - Alabama Dept. of Transportation
Steve Zimmer [Cambolt@aol.com] ABATE of Ohio Inc

In a transcript of their meeting on 24 October 2006…

http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/mac/fulltranscript102406.htm

…ABATE of Ohio’s Steve Zimmer had this to say:

“Intelligent transportation is another issue we need to be concerned about because as intelligent transportation systems develop we need to make sure that motorcycles are considered in the development and are not excluded at the end.”

I think Steve is right. And based on the research I just shared with you, I fear his statement may be prophetic. I fear that the answer to the question…

“IS there a place for motorcycles on the highways of tomorrow?”

…just might be NO.

So… what are we as motorcyclists to do about that?

For many years now, visionary bikers’ rights activists have been warning us that we should be “concerned” about being “excluded” from the roadways of tomorrow. A decade ago, we were advised that “[it] is the responsibility of all riders to make efforts to ensure that motorcycling remains enjoyable for future generations.”

And have we met that responsibility? Apparently not. And why not? BECAUSE WE HAVE FAILED TO FOCUS ON WHAT’S IMPORTANT. As I wrote last December:

“Political history teaches us that few things bring people together like the threat of a common and formidable foe. That’s what United our States … how the Allies won World War II … and why Dubya got re-elected. But for some perplexing reason, the motorcycling community seems exempt from that axiom… At a time when we should be banding together as brothers, instead we squabble like Scottish Lords. Rather than broadening their political base by focusing on issues of interest and benefit to all motorcyclists, some MROs and their mouthpieces are leading the charge in the opposite direction. Platforms purported to champion bikers’ rights are often subverted soapboxes for agendas that serve no purpose other than to isolate and alienate the very riders we most desperately need to attract and enlist. MRO leaders bemoan increasing apathy and declines in membership. But rather than narrow their focus to timely and relevant issues with broad appeal, some seek out only the decreasing few who share their world view, chastising or ignoring all others.”

This must end. We must narrow our focus to the issues of greatest importance and broadest appeal if we are to succeed politically and survive socially. And I can think of no other issue that should unite all motorcyclists more than…

OUR RIGHT TO RIDE OUR MOTORCYCLES!

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Have the Balls to Ban the Calls

April 2007 (Special Edition)

Open Letter to the Florida State Legislature

)(

26 March 2007

Honorable Members of the Florida State Legislature:

Proposed legislation–including bills SB620, SB1944 and SB2372–is currently before you that is intended to stem the rising tide of deaths and injuries attributable to the inattentional blindness of motor vehicle operators distracted to the point of impairment as a result of their engaging in cell phone conversations while driving. As you address this issue, I ask that you please keep in mind that it is the conversation–not the communications device–that creates the dangerous distraction. In other words, if your aim is to mitigate inattentional blindness by restricting the use of cellular communications devices while driving, you must restrict the use of ALL such devices, including “hands-free” as well as “hand-held” technologies.

In a 21 January 2007 letter to Nicole R. Nason, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”)…

Click to access phpwmd6vH_CellPhonePetitionFinal.pdf

…the Center for Auto Safety’s Executive Director Clarence Ditlow noted the following:

“Research has consistently shown that operating a motor vehicle while talking on a cell phone–whether hand-held or hands-free–increases the risk of an accident to three to four times the experience of attentive drivers.(6) The general consensus of the scientific community is that there is little, if any, difference in crash rates involving hands-free versus hand-held cell phones. The two-way conversation on a cellular phone, not the task of holding the phone, causes a cognitive distraction. This distraction induces ‘inattention blindness,’ inhibiting drivers’ abilities to detect change in road conditions.(7)”

These conclusions are corroborated by numerous scientific studies, including one by the University of Utah’s David L. Strayer, Frank A. Drews, and Dennis J. Crouch entitled “A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver” which concluded:

“When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone. By contrast, when drivers were intoxicated from ethanol they exhibited a more aggressive driving style, following closer to the vehicle immediately in front of them and applying more force while braking. Conclusion: 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.”

The facts are irrefutable: In order for any ban on the use of cellular communications technology while driving to achieve the desired effect of mitigating inattentional blindness and reducing the resultant crashes, injuries and deaths, the CALLS MUST BE RESTRICTED REGARDLESS OF THE TECHNOLOGY–e.g., HAND-HELD OR HANDS-FREE–USED TO ENABLE THEM. Again citing Clarence Ditlow’s letter:

“The Center for Auto Safety therefore petitions NHTSA to initiate rulemaking to prohibit the use of integrated cellular telephones and other interactive communication and data transmission devices that can be used for personal conversations and other interactive personal communication or messaging while a vehicle is in motion. As a first step, the Center petitions NHTSA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking which would amend FMVVSS 102 to add a new provision reading: ‘Any vehicle integrated personal communication systems including cellular phones and text messaging systems shall be inoperative when the transmission shift lever is in a forward or reverse drive position.'”

In order to effectively restrict cellular communications while driving, I strongly recommend that the Florida State Legislature consider similar provisions.

As an American motorcyclist who understands the importance of protecting our freedoms and preserving our individual rights, endorsing any legislation that restricts the former or limits the latter goes against my basic nature. I recognize, however, that the words “freedom” and “rights” are not interchangeable. 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 that of Freedom-of-Speech versus Right-to-Life. And although there may be those who think the First Amendment to the United States Constitution gives us the right to falsely yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, I do not believe that was the intention of our Founding Fathers. If Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. were alive today, I believe he would agree with the following:

Mobile telecommunications may not carry the specter of a thermonuclear holocaust, but a growing body of science and statistics compels any reasonable person to concede that this is yet another area where mankind’s ability to create technology has exceeded his ability to manage it. The unrestricted activity of engaging in cell phone conversations while driving constitutes a clear and present danger to all who share the road. And no matter how politically inexpedient the necessary measures may be … we must act to protect the safety of the many … even if it inconveniences the few.

Speaking strictly for myself and no other individuals or organizations,

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Bruce@LdrLongDistanceRider.com
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-Ray’s Biker Forum
Premier Member, Iron Butt Association
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation
Member and Elite Legislative Supporter, American Motorcyclist Association

Why We Fight

April 2007

Explaining Our War To The Wild Hogs

I began the second day of Daytona Bike Week 2007 by riding to Deland for a hearty breakfast at Gram’s Kitchen on SR44, then cruising downtown for a leisurely stroll through the vendor booths set up for the nine hours of the Deland Bike Rally. At one of those booths, an ABATE of Florida volunteer handed me a three-inch paper coaster in a plastic wrapper, and told me it was “an air freshener for my motorcycle”. I have yet to make the mental connection between freedom-fighting and air-freshening, but someday maybe someone will explain it to me…

Anyway, my next stop was the Iron Horse in Ormond Beach, where hundreds of hardy riders in wet leathers were having a great time despite the chilly downpour. I made my rounds and eventually ended up at a picnic table on the front porch, where I struck up a conversation with a local couple and two “Wild Hogs” hailing from a Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati. I told them I was into long distance riding and the fight for bikers rights, and that I published articles about both on my LdrLongDistanceRider.com website and Bruce-n-Ray’s Biker Forum. Their response was not what I expected:

“What do you mean by the fight for bikers rights?” one of them asked.

I could tell by the three other blank stares that no one else had the answer, so I started into a current events briefing on inattentional blindness and the folly of banning cell phones rather than cell calls while driving … the hypocrisy of the medical community attacking motorcycling, when our highways are safer than our hospitals … our HIPAA discrimination issues in DC … the helmet law battles out west (and how the AAA always shows up at lid law hearings, and the AMA never does) … the ape hanger arguments in Connecticut … the NHTSA Nazis’ latest statistical spin … and so on. But as those blank stares began to glaze over, I realized my audience had no clue what I was talking about or why it should concern them. So I stepped down from my soap box, and let the conversation drift back to bikes, beer and boobs.

That was a mistake on my part. Instead of backing off, I should have backed up; backed up and explained what the war was all about, so they could make sense of some of the battles. I should have helped them distinguish the utility of helmets from the futility of helmet laws, and clarified the difference between motorcycle safety (a commodity) and motorcycle awareness (our cause). I should have told them why we fight.

I guess I could have handed them my ABATE of Florida air freshener, but they were confused enough already. Or perhaps I could have recommended they attend the next meeting of their local ABATE or SMRO chapter, but then I’d have to explain what “ABATE” and “SMRO” stand for. SMRO is of course short for “State Motorcyclists’ Rights Organization”, but ABATE can refer to “A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments”, “American Bikers Aiming Towards Education” … or both … or neither. And besides that, what would happen if they did attend that meeting?

Would they acquire an understanding of what their rights as American motorcyclists should be, or have their sensibilities assaulted by right-wing ravings with no relevance to riding? Would they go home with a newfound appreciation of their obligation to fight for those rights? Or would they simply come away with a new patch for their Hot Leathers vest, an invitation to the next chapter beer bust, and a flyer for some charity poker run? What would happen if they attended the next meeting of your SMRO?

Too late now for me to make it right, I suppose. I may never get another chance to explain our war to those Wild Hogs. But just in case you do, please tell’em why we fight:

The battle for bikers’ rights is not about patches, parties or poker runs. We fight to protect the freedom and promote the interests of American motorcyclists … to defend our right to choose our own modes of transportation, attire and lifestyle … to deter and defy discrimination against us … and to vanquish those who violate our rights or right-of-way.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Open Letter to Rob Dingman

March 2007

)(

25 February 2007

Rob Dingman
President
American Motorcyclist Association
13515 Yarmouth Drive
Pickerington, OH 43147
Email: rdingman@ama-cycle.org

Dear Rob:

I congratulate you on your recent appointment as President of the American Motorcyclist Association (“AMA”). I applaud your commitment to “A New Beginning”, as expressed in your article on page 18 of the March 2007 issue of American Motorcyclist magazine, wherein you state:

“… the AMA has put many changes into place, with more in the works. The single objective of all this is to better enable the organization to deliver in three key areas: rights. riding. racing…. Those three words are more than just the tagline on the Association’s logo. They represent the core of this organization. The AMA has a proud history of protecting your right to ride, of sharing with you the unique experience of motorcycling, and of creating an annual calendar of thousands of amateur and professional races for riders and fans…. To be successful, it is imperative that the Association stick to what it does best.”

These words, however, raise more questions than they answer. For starters, how is it that the AMA will achieve “a new beginning” by sticking to “what it does best”? For that premise to be logically consistent, then you must be tactfully conceding that (a) the AMA has not been doing what it does best, and/or (b) the AMA has not been doing what it is supposed to do. And with a few qualifications, Rob, I am afraid I have to agree with you. Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that (1) it is possible for one organization to simultaneously and effectively focus on three missions, and (2) the three missions of the AMA are those identified as “racing”, “riding” and “rights”:

Racing

From what I see as an AMA member, the focus on racing is nothing short of pervasive. Racing content and coverage dominate the AMA website and American Motorcyclist magazine. And if Google Alerts are any measure, then at least 90 percent of the AMA’s press releases must be racing-related. I even receive what appear to be extensive and expensive snailmail packages devoted entirely to the AMA racing agenda.

Riding

I don’t spend much time on this portion of the AMA website, but just about every monthly issue of American Motorcyclist magazine contains one to a few articles by writers sharing “…the unique experience of motorcycling”. These pieces provide a refreshing break from the Nationwide/Geico/Progressive/Other insurance ads and colorful pictures of brain-bucketed, body-armored riders that might otherwise dominate that publication.

Rights

“Rights” may come first in the AMA tag line, but from every outward appearance, “rights” is the least important of the three AMA missions.

Yes, I know you claim a “… victory in getting federal funding for the first new study of motorcycle crashes in more than a quarter century”. But if it was such a great victory, then why must we pay for the study with our tax dollars, and our AMA membership dollars, and again through individual contributions? And besides the “funding” we got, just how much input did we get regarding the methodology by which the study will be conducted, the data crunched, and the results presented?

And Yes, I am aware of the AMA’s much-touted Justice For All (“JFA”) program. But that model defines right-of-way-violation penalties that are neither severe nor specific to the maiming or killing of motorcyclists. And to date, I have seen no statistics suggesting that any legislation based on JFA has had any measurable impact in terms of reducing the number of motorcycle crashes, injuries and deaths attributable to negligent, care-less, distracted and impaired motorists.

And Yes, I am aware of the somewhat dated “AMA position in support of voluntary helmet use”:

http://www.amadirectlink.com/legisltn/positions/helmet.asp

But other than lip service, what is the AMA actually doing to support that position? Why is it that every time a state legislative hearing on mandatory helmet laws is conducted, pro-helmet law lobbyists from the American Automobile Association (AAA) are almost always present, while the AMA remains conspicuous in its absence?
My challenge to you and your AMA management team is a simple one, Rob: Either (a) stop including the word “rights” in the AMA tag line as an enticement for membership dues, or (b) start delivering what your members should expect from an outfit that alleges to be the nation’s largest “motorcyclists’ rights organization”.

Speaking strictly for myself and no other individuals or organizations,

Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce

Bruce on Bikers Rights, Motorcyclists Rights, MROBruce@LdrLongDistanceRider.com
Author and Publisher, LdrLongDistanceRider.com
Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-Ray’s Biker Forum
Premier Member, Iron Butt Association
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation
Member and Elite Legislative Supporter, American Motorcyclist Association

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!