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While Rome Burns … Betsy Fiddles

February 2007

Want to save more lives and money? Lock up dirty doctors … not lidless riders!

FIGHTING THE WRONG BATTLE: In the entire year of 2005, across the entire United States, mandating that motorcycle riders wear helmets might have saved 728 lives, but mandating that doctors wash their hands between patients would have saved at least 90,000 lives.

7 January 2007

Representative Betsy Hands
Montana House of Representatives
PO Box 200400
Helena, MT 59620-0400

Re: Proposed Mandatory Helmet Legislation LC1683

Honorable Representative Hands:

In 2005, approximately 2 million Americans contracted infections in hospitals, and at least 90,000 of them died needlessly as a result.[1,2,3] That same year, 87,000 Americans were injured and another 4,553 were killed in motorcycle crashes.[4] Of those killed, 2,521 (55%) were wearing helmets AND DIED ANYWAY.[4] Of those injured, approximately 41,760 (48%) were wearing helmets AND INJURED ANYWAY.[5]

In other words, Ms. Hands, in the entire United States for the entire year of 2005, the maximum number of motorcycle crash injuries where wearing a helmet MIGHT have made a difference is approximately 45,240, and the maximum number of motorcycle fatalities where wearing a helmet MIGHT have made a difference is 2,032. And let me clarify what I mean by “MIGHT”. I am aware of no statistics that prove wearing a helmet would have made a difference in ANY of these cases, or in those cases where it did make a difference, how significant that difference was. Given this premise, therefore, the following statement is logically irrefutable:

Neither helmets nor mandatory helmet laws can prevent CRASHES, which are the cause of virtually all motorcycle-related injuries and deaths. And for the entire United States, for the entire year of 2005, wearing a helmet (a) MIGHT have prevented or reduced no more than 45,240 injuries, and (b) MIGHT have prevented no more than 2,032 deaths. In fact, NHTSA estimates that in 2005 only “… 728 more [lives] could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.”[8]

This is not to suggest that saving 728 lives nationwide is not important. Rather I suggest to you, Ms. Hands, that for the same investment of time, money, political capital and legislative resources, many more lives could be saved if you charge in a different direction:

In 2005, needless hospital infections afflicted 44 times as many Americans as were injured in lidless motorcycle crashes, and there were 124 times as many needless hospital infection deaths as there were lidless motorcycle fatalities. Those unnecessary infections added $30 billion to our national healthcare tab, while helmetless riders involved in accidents MIGHT have contributed no more than $1.7 billion.[1,6]

Given that you could save at least 17 times as much money and 124 times as many lives by attacking needless hospital infections rather than responsible lidless riders, Ms. Hands, what has skewed your focus? Could it be the misleadingly alarmist statement broadcast by the World Health Organization’s “Helmet Initiative” that in Montana, motorcycle deaths in 2005 approached a 20-year high?[7] If so, then allow me to offer a more realistic statement of the facts:

According to NHTSA, in 2005 there were only 28 motorcycle fatalities in Montana, and chances are that 46.4% of those riders were wearing helmets AND DIED ANYWAY.[8]

So really, Ms. Hands, just how much impact do you expect your proposed helmet legislation to have? The Great State of Montana will lose untold millions of dollars in motorcycle- and tourism-related revenues, income, employment and sales taxes, and gain what?

RATHER THAN PROPOSE NEEDLESS LEGISLATION THAT DISCRIMINATORILY LIMITS FREEDOM OF CHOICE FOR THE FEW, WHY DON’T YOU INTRODUCE A BILL THAT BOLSTERS RIGHT TO LIFE FOR THE MANY?

“Research indicates that doctors clean their hands before treating a patient only 48% of the time, and this rate is significantly worse at some hospitals.”[2] And as a consequence of their inexcusable negligence, 1 in 20 hospital patients gets an infection–two million Americans every year–and over 90,000 of them die. (And many of these same care-less physicians call riding a motorcycle without a helmet “irresponsible”!)

How many more innocent Americans must die literally at the hands of their dirty doctors? And how many more hard-working, tax-paying motorcyclists must die as a result of the negligence and inattentional blindness of cagers distracted and impaired by cell phones, while misguided politicians punish murder victims for not wearing Kevlar vests? When will this hypocrisy END?

Want to save more lives and money, Ms. Hands? Lock up dirty doctors … not lidless riders! It will be a simple thing to do. The Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths has already drafted a model bill for you, and here it is:

http://www.hospitalinfection.org/modelbill.shtml

LIDS YES, MS. HANDS, BUT LID LAWS NO!

I gratefully acknowledge Edward Birch of Tucson, Arizona for inspiring this statement of position, and attest that I speak strictly for myself and no other individuals or organizations.

Respectfully Submitted,

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

Footnotes:

  1. http://www.hospitalinfection.org/ridbooklet.pdf
  2. http://www.hospitalinfection.org/
  3. http://www.aarp.org/bulletin/yourhealth/dirty_hospitals.html
  4. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSFAnn/TSF2005.pdf
  5. http://itd.idaho.gov/Apps/MediaManagerViewer/NewsRelease/NewsRelease.aspx?Id=742
  6. http://www.ntsb.gov/Events/symp_motorcycle_safety/Trends%20and%20Safety%20Statistics%20Panel/Ted%20Miller%20-%20Pacific%20Institute%20for%20Research%20and%20Evaluation.pdf
    Medical costs are 15% of $17.4 billion ($2.61 billion), and the 52% of the 87,000 injured riders that were lidless are allocated twice the cost of those wearing lids.
  7. http://www.whohelmets.org/headlines/06_winter_twostates.htm
  8. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/ncsa/tsf2005/motorcyclestsf05.pdf

State Highway Safety Plan Relevance Rankings

January 2007

Are YOUR state highway safety planners paying enough attention to Motorcycle Awareness and Motorcycle Safety?

STATE HIGHWAY SAFETY PLAN
RELEVANCE RANKINGS FFY07

CR State MA MS
 1 Rhode Island 2 3
 2 New York 1 6
 3 South Dakota 5 2
 4 New Hampshire 5 7
 5 Maryland 3 9
 6 California 6 11
 7 Ohio 7 12
 8 Montana 4 16
 9 Louisiana 4 17
10 Tennessee 9 13
11 Wisconsin 9 15
12 Kentucky 9 22
13 Vermont 8 29
14 Colorado 18 1
15 Utah 18 2
16 Oregon 14 8
17 New Mexico 10 11
18 Connecticut 15 9
19 Oklahoma 15 11
20 Illinois 18 4
20 Minnesota 11 13
21 North Dakota 18 5
21 Texas 15 14
22 Massachusetts 17 15
23 Michigan 17 17
23 Missouri 10 19
24 South Carolina 13 19
25 Georgia 17 18
26 Washington 12 25
27 Nevada 12 27
28 Indiana 11 29
28 Nebraska 12 28
29 Pennsylvania 16 26
30 Kansas 15 28
31 North Carolina 18 10
32 Florida 18 12
33 Arizona 18 16
34 Wyoming 18 20
35 New Jersey 18 21
36 West Virginia 18 23
37 Maine 18 24
38 Iowa 18 26
39 Hawaii 18 28
40 Arkansas 18 30
41 Mississippi 18 31
42 Delaware 12 33
43 Idaho 18 32
44 Alabama 18 33
44 Alaska 18 33
44 Virginia 18 33

Are your state highway safety planners spending their time and your tax dollars addressing your issues? Are they paying enough attention to what’s needed for Motorcycle Awareness and Motorcycle Safety?

One way to answer these questions is to analyze each of the 50 state’s current highway safety and performance plans for content relevant to motorcycle safety and awareness issues–including inattentive, distracted and cell phone conversation impaired drivers–and rank each state’s relevance scores against those of the remaining 49.

That’s exactly what I did, and the results are summarized in the table above. Here is the supporting research:

Background and Data Source

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA):

“In order to receive federal highway safety grant funds, State Highway Safety Offices (SHSO) must submit an annual Highway Safety Performance Plan (HSPP). Every state has a different process for preparing the annual plan and the content of those plans. While similar in many respects, the plans also differ from state to state.”

Source:
http://www.ghsa.org/html/projects/index.html

And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

“Every State is required to submit two plans: a Performance Plan and a Highway Safety Plan. Many States submit the two required plans as one single document.”

“The Performance Plan must set measurable highway safety goals for the State…. The Performance Plan must also include [a] description of all highway safety processes for:

Identifying problems
Setting goals
Setting performance measures
Selecting projects or activities
Involving constituency groups in the planning process
A list of data sources and information used in its development.”

“In addition, every State must submit a Highway Safety Plan (HSP) that describes specific highway safety programs and projects and relates how performance goals can be reached through these programs and projects. The HSP functions as a State strategic safety plan or road map and describes how the State will reach its goals…. The HSP must, at a minimum:

Include one year’s worth of Section 402-funded projects
Include a list of projects by program area (occupant protection, impaired driving, etc.)
Indicate which organization or agency will receive funding
Identify the funding amount
Ensure that at least 40 percent of the 402 funding either goes directly to local governments or benefits local governments
Be approved by the Governor’s Representative.”

Source:
http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/outreach/TipsandTactics/pages/3What_do_SHSOs_Do.htm

NHTSA further explains:

“In the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), Congress directed that NHTSA make publicly available, on its web site, State highway safety plans, State annual accomplishment reports and NHTSA’s management review and special management review guidelines.”

Source: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/nhtsa/whatsup/SAFETEAweb/

As so required, most of the state highway safety plans for FFY07 (Federal Fiscal Year 2007, which began October 1, 2006) have been posted to the NHTSA website here:

http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/nhtsa/whatsup/SAFETEAweb/pages/SafetyPlans.htm

Relevance Ranking Methodology

One way to gauge what issues highway safety planners are focusing on (and how much attention they are paying to them) is to identify key phrases associated with those issues, and determine how many times those phrases appear in their plan documents. These statistics can then be used to compute contextual relevance scores (relative rank weights descending from 50 to 0) that in turn serve as the basis for relevance rankings (relative ranks ascending from 1 to n). The logic behind the approach is similar to that applied by search engine ranking algorithms. And while the results are rarely perfect, the popularity of search engines like Google and Yahoo are a testament to their overall effectiveness and utility.

The key phrases I used to gauge relevance to Motorcycle Awareness included “motorcycle awareness”, “inattent”, “distract”, “cellular” and “cell phone”. The rationale for the first key phrase is obvious. The second identifies all references to “inattentional blindness”, driver “inattention”, and “inattentive” drivers. The third picks up driver “distraction” and “distracted” drivers, the fourth “cellular” phones and calls, and the fifth drivers impaired by “cell phones” and “cell phone” bans.

Note: This methodology did not identify phrases analogous to “motorcycle awareness”, e.g. the use of “public awareness” in a motorcycle context. Some may view this as a flaw, while others might see it as an encouragement for state highway planners to use more specific and appropriate terminology. (Either way, any appeals for a revised ranking should be accompanied by a check payable to “Cash” with a few zeroes at the end of the amount, as all research to date has been provided at no cost to the taxpayers and funded solely by yours truly! 😉

The key phrases I used to gauge relevance to Motorcycle Safety included “motorcycle safety”, “motorcyc”, and any mentions of the name or abbreviation for that state’s leading motorcyclists rights organization (SMRO), e.g. “ABATE of South Dakota” or the “Rhode Island Motorcycle Association”. The rationale for the first key phrase is obvious. The second identifies all references to “motorcycle”, “motorcycles”, “motorcycling”, “motorcyclist” or “motorcyclists”. The third test credits those state highway planners who explicitly acknowledge their SMRO, or engage them in their planning processes as NHTSA recommends:

“States are encouraged, but not required, to involve constituency groups in the planning process. Constituency groups can be local governments, other State agencies, nonprofit organizations, community programs, State or local chapters of national organizations, or even members of the public at large.”

Source: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/outreach/TipsandTactics/pages/3What_do_SHSOs_Do.htm

Using these criteria and key phrases, I conducted relevance ranking analysis on each of the most recent state highway safety plans on file here with NHTSA (or obtained directly from state websites) as of 14 December 2006:

http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/nhtsa/whatsup/SAFETEAweb/pages/SafetyPlans.htm

For all but a few states, these were the plans for Federal Fiscal Year 2007 (FFY07). I was unable to apply our methodology to the safety plans of three states: Alabama, Alaska and Virginia. The reason is that the PDF documents filed for these three states do not contain searchable text. They are actually “images” of the state plan documents, rather than the documents themselves. This is an undesirable filing practice by these states for a number of reasons, and hopefully ranking last in our analysis will encourage them to file their reports properly in the future.

Relevance Ranking Results and Recommendations

Applying the methodology just described, we were able to compute the Motorcycle Awareness (“MA”), Motorcycle Safety (“MS”) and Combined Relevance (“CR”) rankings presented in the table above. And what should you do with all this? I recommend the following:

Check out the relevance rankings for your state, and then take the time to READ THE ACTUAL PLAN it is based on. Once again, you can retrieve the PDF document here:

http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/nhtsa/whatsup/SAFETEAweb/pages/SafetyPlans.htm

If you disagree with what you read, LET YOUR STATE LEGISLATORS AND HIGHWAY SAFETY PLANNERS KNOW ABOUT IT.

If you agree with what you read, LET YOUR STATE LEGISLATORS AND HIGHWAY SAFETY PLANNERS KNOW ABOUT IT.
Remember, this is still the good ole USA! We are a democracy. The government is there to serve YOU. The politicians work for YOU. The bureaucrats work for YOU.

Let them know what matters to YOU. Let them know YOU are watching.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

We Are Killing Ourselves

NATURAL SELECTION: Witnesses say the motorcyclist seen above was going faster than 100 miles per hour when he crashed into the back of a semi truck at about one o’clock in the morning. Investigators say evidence shows the rider was going about 120 miles per hour at the time of the impact. It took the truck driver more than a quarter of a mile to come to a stop. When he did, he stepped out of his rig and found the motorcyclist dead at the back of the truck. Source: Dean Gunter

December 2006

Biker Ignorance Challenges Driver Distraction as Top Crash Cause

In a position paper I submitted to the recent NTSB Motorcycle Safety Forum, I stated that “… the greatest single problem in the motorcycle safety arena today is the negligence, distraction and inattentional blindness of automobile drivers.” While that continues to be a valid assertion, I regret to report that the same may not be true about one statistic used to support it. Specifically, recent empirical observations as well as motorcycle crash and fatality statistics released by Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington state and others indicate that it may no longer be true that “… 50% of all motorcycle accidents are caused by the inattentional blindness of automobile drivers.”

In short, although careless, clueless and cell phone-impaired cagers may continue to be the leading cause of motorcycle crashes and fatalities, responsibility for the majority of those accidents and deaths may now fall squarely on our saddles.

We Are Killing Ourselves … Literally

Young crotch rocketeers craving adrenaline and attention are adding nitrous boosters to production sport bikes already capable of 200mph, and racing through busy streets begging for the inevitable:

http://pub42.bravenet.com/forum/3562429698/show/752097

Meanwhile, over-forty empty nesters–including many naive newbies with little training and more dollars than sense–are getting liquored up, revving up, and roaring right off the road, taking out themselves and everyone in their path:

http://pub42.bravenet.com/forum/3562429698/show/758017

Alcohol. Adrenaline. Inexperience. Ignorance. Far too many of us now ride with these Four Horsemen, racing Hell-bent down roads that can lead only to destruction. And no rider group shows any immunity to this Apocalyptic affliction: Young and old … male and female … black, brown, yellow and white … Geezer Gliders and Crotch Rocketeers. “Biker Ignorance” is now pandemic.

And if that isn’t bad enough…

We Are Killing Ourselves … Politically

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.

In signing the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin advised “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Is that so hard to understand?

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

A House Divided … A Dual Paradox

November 2006 (Special Edition)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.iii.org/media/hottopics/insurance/cellphones/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom-of-Speech versus Right-to-Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Motorcycle Awareness Billboards

November 2006

Distracting Drivers … So They’ll Pay Attention?

Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Nowhere is that old saying more applicable than to politics in general and motorcycling issues in particular. Few will argue, however, with the fact that consistently over the 10-year period from 1995 to 2004 about 90% of all U.S. motorcycle fatalities occurred on roads that are not divided or have no median barrier.

Why? Because that is where motorcyclists are most vulnerable to crashes (both single- and multi-vehicle) caused by right-of-way violations resulting from the negligence and inattentional blindness of distracted and impaired automobile drivers. And what can we do about it? Reduce the number of distracted and impaired drivers on the road. And how do we do that? By identifying the sources of driver distraction and impairment, and eliminating to the extent feasible those for which it is socially cost-effective, and not just politically expedient, to do so.

We already have DUI and vehicular homicide laws on the books to deter and punish drivers impaired by alcohol. And now, we have scientific evidence that drivers engaging in cell phone conversations (including those using hands-free devices) are just as impaired as someone with a .08 blood alcohol level, and consequently 4 times as likely to cause or be involved in a crash as unimpaired drivers.

Educate, Don’t Legislate does not apply to impairment, so it would be logically and ethically consistent to extend our DUI laws to cover the new DWI: Driving While Inattentive. In all fairness, and to avoid hypocrisy, we need to either…

BAN THE CALLS … OR FREE THE DRUNKS

Madd Ray Henke offers much more on this topic here: http://tinyurl.com/o9bzh

Banning cell phone conversations while driving will mitigate a major proven distraction. Another distractor we need to take a long hard look at (pardon the pun) is ROADSIDE BILLBOARDS.

According to a study by the Center for Crash Causation and Human Factors at Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute (VTTI), “… billboards do not measurably affect driving performance:”

http://tinyurl.com/f9ju6

But that study is tainted by the fact that it was commissioned by the Foundation for Outdoor Advertising Research and Education (FOARE), which is administered by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Inc. (OAAA), which is the lead trade association representing the outdoor advertising industry. Wikipedia puts it this way:

“Traffic safety experts have studied the relationship between outdoor advertising and traffic accidents since the 1950s, finding no authoritative or scientific evidence that billboards are linked to traffic accidents. However, many of these studies were funded by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, which has led to accusations of bias. The methodology used in certain studies is also questionable.”

Could it be that Big Advertising, like Big Tobacco, would much rather knock off some of their customers than kill a cash cow? A more objective and credible study is available here:

http://tinyurl.com/qtznf

According to this study, entitled “External-To-Vehicle Driver Distraction” and commissioned by the Scottish Executive (the government of Scotland), “The evidence suggests that there are two specific situations where the risk factor of billboards and signs is at its highest:

at junctions [intersections], and

on long monotonous roads (such as motorways [interstates]).

There is overwhelming evidence that advertisements and signs placed near junctions can function as distractors, and that this constitutes a major threat to road safety. This is because these signs create visual ‘clutter’ thus making it harder for the driver to perceive traffic lights and other safety signs/devices. It is also likely that drivers can become distracted by lights or billboards on long ‘boring’ stretches of road. This may be because they are ‘caught by surprise’ when advertisements suddenly appear, or because they fixate on them and fail to concentrate on driving.” Wikipedia adds the following:

“[Studies] based on correlations between traffic accidents and billboards face the problem of under-reporting: drivers are unwilling to admit responsibility for a crash, so will not admit to being distracted at a crucial moment. Even given this limitation, some studies have found higher crash rates in the vicinity of advertising using variable message signs or electronic billboards.”

As I said earlier, figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Depending on whose research you choose to believe, roadside billboards may (or may not) be a major driver distraction. My personal observations and experience suggest they are. And IF they are, I think billboards are the last medium we’d want to use to convey our MSAP Motorcycle Awareness messages. After all…

WHY WOULD WE WANT TO DISTRACT DRIVERS, JUST TO TELL THEM TO PAY ATTENTION TO THEIR DRIVING?

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

NTSB Position Paper

October 2006

Submitted to the NTSB Public Forum on Motorcycle Safety:

September 2, 2006

Ms. Deborah A.P. Hersman
Forum Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
Public Forum on Motorcycle Safety
NTSB Board Room and Conference Center
429 L’Enfant Plaza
Washington, D.C. 20024

Dear Ms. Hersman:

Your stated goal for the NTSB Public Forum on Motorcycle Safety (“NTSB Forum”) scheduled for September 12-13, 2006 is “… to gather information about ongoing motorcycle safety research and initiatives, as well as safety countermeasures that may reduce the likelihood of motorcycle accidents and fatalities.” This statement suggests a serious misunderstanding of the greatest single problem in the motorcycle safety arena, as well as a discriminatorily skewed vision of where and how to approach a solution.

“Countermeasures?” What happened to measures? Do you seriously expect to devise a winning strategy based solely on defense? What happened to offense? The most serious threat facing American motorcyclists today is a killer that can only be overcome by aggressive proactivity, not feeble reaction. That killer is the negligence, distraction and inattentional blindness of automobile drivers. Quoting Motorcycle-Accidents-Lawyers-Attorneys.com:

“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.'”

If you are interested in trends in safety statistics, here is one that NHTSA shows as remaining constant for ten years: About 90% of all motorcycle fatalities occur on roads that are NOT DIVIDED or have NO MEDIAN BARRIER (as opposed to exit/entry ramps, one-way streets, or roads with median barriers). Combining this with the above yields the following:

90% of all motorcycle fatalities occur on undivided roads, where automobile drivers can most easily violate the right-of-way of motorcyclists.

75% of all motorcycle accidents involve another motor vehicle.

66% of all multi-vehicular motorcycle accidents are caused by motorists failing to yield the right-of-way to motorcycles.

50% of all motorcycle accidents are caused by the inattentional blindness of automobile drivers.

As previously stated, and as the foregoing and other statistics support, the greatest single problem in the motorcycle safety arena today is the negligence, distraction and inattentional blindness of automobile drivers. If it is truly the goal of the NTSB Forum to “…reduce the likelihood of motorcycle accidents and fatalities,” then this should be the focus of the forum and the first and foremost issue to be addressed. From that perspective, let’s evaluate your published panel agenda:

Trends and Safety Statistics
Vehicle Design (Part 1)
Vehicle Design (Part 2)
Rider Protective Equipment
Training and Licensing
Public Education/Awareness
Rider Impairment
Future Directions

Where is the session on “Mitigating Inattentional Blindness”? Where is the session on “Eliminating Cell Phones as a Source of Driver Distraction”? Where is the session on “Severe and Specific Penalties for Right-of-Way Violations”? Where is the session on “Mandating Motorcycle Awareness Training and Drivers License Testing”? And why look at “Rider Impairment” rather than “Motorist Impairment”?

As does its stated goal, the published panel agenda for the NTSB Forum suggests a serious misunderstanding of the greatest single problem in the motorcycle safety arena, as well as a discriminatorily skewed vision of where and how to approach a solution. The primary directive of any motorcycle safety initiative should be to reduce the probability of a motorcyclist being involved in an accident, i.e., crash prevention. The objective should be to develop and apply remedies which mitigate the major causal factors. Your published panel agenda suggests a near complete abrogation of this directive, as if you are conceding the probability of crash occurrence and focusing merely on crash survival:

If motorcycle accidents are a sickness, then your agenda treats the symptoms rather than the disease. If the NTSB were charged with treating a gunshot wound, would you remove the bullet, or just put a band-aid over the hole?

If motorcycle accidents are a crime, then your agenda blames the victim. If the NTSB were charged with reducing the number of people shot in downtown Detroit, would you round up the shooters, or simply mandate Kevlar vests?

America may be democratically governed, but it is celebrity driven. Every day, hard-working tax-paying citizens riding motorcycles are maimed and killed by inattentive and negligent automobile drivers, while calls for increased measures to mitigate inattentional blindness go unheeded. But let that injured rider be a star football player, and everything changes: The media reports he wasn’t wearing a helmet–as if wearing a helmet would have prevented the guilty driver from turning in front of him–fueling a public frenzy that compels politicians and bureaucrats alike to act or risk losing position and paycheck.

Despite your statement to the contrary, many believe that the NTSB Forum was triggered by the recent accident involving Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger … and no one will be surprised if at your forum the helmet law issue takes center stage. And more’s the pity:

Over the years, an appalling amount of time, money and energy has been wasted by parties on both sides of the helmet law debate. On one side, we have biker advocates who have difficulty differentiating safety factors from rights issues, and who consequently and erroneously assail the effectiveness of helmets rather than the (in)equity of the laws mandating their use. To these well-meaning but ill-advised activists, I offer the following challenge:

I will tie you in a chair, then stand in front of you with a 22-ounce framing hammer in one hand, and a helmet in the other. Before I bring the hammer down claws first, aimed squarely at your coronal suture, I will offer you the helmet. If you accept the helmet, I expect you to go home and never spew anti-helmet hogwash again. If you don’t accept the helmet, I’ll make certain your conviction to your beliefs is noted in your eulogy.

One the other side, we have expedience-minded politicos, profit-seeking charlatans and a myopic media trying to convince the populace that helmets and helmet laws are the motorcycle safety cure-all, when in fact neither wearing a helmet nor mandatory helmet laws do anything to prevent motorcycle accidents. To this quick-blame, quick-fix, quick-buck consortium I ask the following questions:

If Big Ben had been wearing a helmet, would that have prevented the negligent driver of the car he hit from turning in front of him? When has the wearing of a helmet by a motorcyclist ever kept a weaving SUV driven by a soccer mom on a cell phone from running the biker off the road? And how often has a mandatory helmet law deterred a distracted driver from plowing through a motorcyclist waiting for a light change?

Specious helmet arguments and ceaseless helmet law debates drain us of precious resources better spent on motorcycle awareness … better spent on addressing the fact that two-thirds of all multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents are caused by the negligence, distraction and inattentional blindness of automobile drivers.

Helmets may save lives, but focusing on crash survival (by mandating helmets for motorcyclists only), rather than crash prevention (through severe, specific right-of-way violation penalties, restricting the use of cell phones while driving, mandatory driver education and testing, and motorcycle awareness programs to mitigate inattentional blindness), is not only an ineffective public policy and a waste of public resources, but also blatantly discriminatory.

Few rational people will argue that in most situations a helmet offers some degree of protection to the head it covers. And since ALL Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law, a case could be made for mandating helmets for ALL motor vehicle operators and passengers. That line of reasoning might easily be extended to include bicyclists and pedestrians, and from there it is a short leap to the addition of boxers, bladers, boaters, bathers and babies.

There can be no logical argument to the assertion that the best way to reduce the probability of motorcycle injuries and fatalities is to reduce the probability of motorcycle accidents. But even a sweeping reversal of years of discrimination against motorcyclists by mandating a helmet for the head of every man, woman and child in America would have no impact on that statistic.

In 25 words or less, the position this paper is intended to convey is this:

Helmets and other defensive measures cannot prevent or lower the probability of motorcycle accidents. Proactive ABATEment of negligent, distracted, impaired and inattentive motorists can.

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
Premiere Member, Iron Butt Association
Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation
Member and Elite Legislative Supporter, American Motorcyclist Association

Live to Tow … Tow to Live

September 2006

Trailers May Succeed Where Helmets Fail

The 66th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is just a fond memory for me now … as is the positive bank balance I had before attending it. It’s another rainy Sunday here in South Florida, so with no sun and no mon’ to have any fun, I decided to take another look at NHTSA’s June 2006 DOT HS 810 606 Technical Report:

Recent Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes: An Update

If NHTSA’s thinking was that valuable conclusions regarding motorcycle safety could be drawn from isolating and analyzing motorcycle crash fatality statistics, then this entire report is based on a faulty premise. And no, I’m not talking about the problems with their vehicle miles traveled (“VMT”) data. What I’m referring to is the lack of a complete statistical context. Where, for example, are the numbers on non-fatal crashes, and non-fatal injuries? In analyzing how any given factor impacts the overall safety of a motorcycle rider, a complete statistical context would tell us whether:

(a) it increased or decreased the probability of a crash;

(b) in case of a crash, it increased or decreased the probability of injury;

(c) in case of injury, it increased or decreased the probability of recovery; and

(d) in case of non-recoverable injury, it increased or decreased the probability of fatality.

Yes, in a perfect world, these are the kinds of statistics we’d be getting from NHTSA. But the world ain’t perfect (and neither is NHTSA). Consequently, the section of this report intended to show the relationship of motorcycle rider helmet usage to crash survivability is lacking in context and provides no basis for reliable conclusions. And even if it did, the numbers offer just enough ambiguity to encourage parties on both sides of the helmet law issue to continue their specious debates.

Nevertheless, crunching the numbers contained in this report did support some of their conclusions and lead to some interesting observations. One is that motorcycling in America is undergoing what sociologists call a paradigm shift, and it wasn’t in the direction that I expected. Graying Baby Boomer Bikers are not being supplanted by Gen X Crotch Rocketeers. Instead, between 1998 and 2003:

(a) the number of registered motorcycles in the U.S. increased from 3.9 to 5.4 million;

(b) the percentage of motorcycle owners aged 40 and over increased from 43 to 53, a gain of 23%; and

(c) the 40-plus percentage share of crash fatalities increased from 33 to 46, a gain of 39%.
The trend indicated is that the number of motorcycles on the road is increasing … the proportion of those bikes owned by older riders is increasing … and the percentage of those older riders able to avoid fatal accidents is decreasing.

Unless you just landed on Earth or awoke from a long coma, this is probably not a mind-blowing revelation for you. The challenge to all of our collective neurons, however, is what to do about the problem. The perennial solution offered up by NHTSA, the American Automobile Association, the Heads Up Coalition and other cager-centric collaborations is, of course, mandatory helmet laws. But should we really expect lid laws to make a difference? Both logic and NHTSA’s own numbers tell us the answer is NO. Let’s break it down point by point:

Do mandatory helmet laws reduce the number of motorcycles on the road?

You bet they do, as is evidenced by the increase in motorcycle sales each time a state is liberated from its lid law. But can they reduce them enough to significantly decrease the number of fatalities among 40-plus riders nationwide? I’d say NO, they can’t.

Do mandatory helmet laws reduce the proportion of bikes owned by older riders?

I have no statistics relevant to this question, but logic and observation suggest that lid laws have no significant impact on motorcycle ownership by age.

Do mandatory helmet laws increase the percentage of older riders able to avoid fatal accidents?

NHTSA’s numbers suggest that helmeted riders are more likely to be involved in a fatal accident, but those numbers may be more reflective of the state where the accident occurred (free state vs. lid state) than anything else. The reality is that we have no reliable statistics suggesting any correlation–positive or negative–between helmet usage and crash fatalities.

Biker Patches: Towaposa TribeHelmets are not now, and never will be, the silver bullets of motorcycle safety. But where helmets fail, trailers may succeed. Especially with the 40-plus age group, where the greatest increase in motorcycle crash fatalities seems to be occurring. Again, let’s break it down point by point:

Do trailers reduce the number of motorcycles on the road?

Of course they do! Every motorcycle towed is one less bike on the road.

Do trailers reduce the proportion of bikes owned by older riders?

Who cares? If the bike is being trailered, there is an extremely high probability there will be no rider in the saddle. And regardless of age, if there’s no rider, there can be no motorcycle fatality!

Do trailers increase the percentage of older riders able to avoid fatal motorcycle accidents?

Absolutely. I can think of no more reliable way for older riders to avoid fatal motorcycle accidents than to have their bikes towed rather than rode!

Wake up, people. It’s only a matter of time before NHTSA, the AAA and all of the ACS Trauma Surgeons figure out that trailers can save a lot more lives than helmets ever could. So unless the American Motorcyclist Association steps up to the plate and starts swinging, get ready for a new biker t-shirt slogan:

LIVE TO TOW … TOW TO LIVE

Fight Smarter … Not Harder

August 2006

Riding and Racing Mean Nothing Without Rights

Even before the Big Ben Incident and the veto of Michigan’s helmet law repeal, the number of media-sponsored online polls regarding helmet laws and other motorcycle issues was steadily increasing. You can expect that trend to continue, but don’t think for a moment that the media’s motivation is to inspire democratic debate or express altruistic concern for the greater good. It’s not about the cause, my brothers and sisters, it’s about the cash.

Television producers give us free infotainment programming because advertisers pay them big bucks to run their ads during commercial breaks. How big those bucks are depends on how many viewers those shows get (which is what the Neilsen ratings are all about). A similar business model is maturing on the Web: Most TV, radio, newspaper, magazine and other media operations offer free access to some or all of their online content, and sell ad space on their web pages to generate revenues. How much they can charge for those ads is a function of how many visitors they can attract to their site.

When a talking head at KRAP TV invites you to log onto their website to participate in a motorcycle safety survey, or a DJ at KRUD FM tells you to surf on over to their opinion poll page and vote on a proposed helmet law, understand that what they are really doing is herding sheeple to their website to increase visitor counts and profit potential. YOU ARE BEING USED. But don’t let that bother you too much. After all, they are providing you with free information and entertainment, and everybody’s gotta make a living, right? Besides, it is important that our votes be counted and voices be heard in all motorcycle-related online polls and surveys. Why? Because if the vote goes against us, rest assured that the results will come back to bite us. If we flip the script, however, we turn that potential liability into a political asset.

So whenever you get the call to vote for our interests in some online poll or survey, please click through as soon as you can. BUT, don’t sit there and click away once you do. Every time I read some email or posting where someone boasts about clicking YES or NO hundreds or thousands of times in order to turn the tide of some poll, I cringe at the waste of effort. Why is that a waste? Because most–not all, but most–website survey and poll software can easily detect and block or delete duplicate votes. All they need to do is assign a cookie to your session, or monitor your IP address. It may appear that your repeated clicks are changing the numbers, but it is likely that any changes you see are coming from activity elsewhere, and that in the end your redundancies will be deleted from the tally.

FIGHT SMARTER … NOT HARDER. If you’re going to work up a good case of carpal tunnel syndrome anyway, why not make it count for something?!? Log onto the online survey or poll page, and place your vote. Once. Then email the survey link (web page address or URL) to every biker-friendly address in your Contacts list, asking them to not only go there and vote, but also to forward your call-to-action to every biker in their Contacts list. Next, email your call to every state, regional and local officer and director of your SMRO, asking them to do the same thing. Then, there are four very special people to whom you should email your call-to-action:

Dal Smilie (dsmilie@mt.gov)
Chairman of the Board, American Motorcyclist Association

Robert Rasor (rrasor@ama-cycle.org)
President, American Motorcyclist Association

Ed Moreland (emoreland@ama-cycle.org)
VP for Government Relations, American Motorcyclist Association

Terry Lee Cook (tcook@ama-cycle.org)
Grassroots Manager, American Motorcyclist Association

RIGHTS. RIDING. RACING. The American Motorcyclist Association (“AMA”) is certainly the largest and potentially the most influential motorcyclists’ rights organization in the country. Here is a quote from page 59 of the July 2006 issue of AMA’s American Motorcyclist magazine:

“When our government relations staff members sit down to talk to the sponsor of some anti-motorcycling bill, they can casually point out that they’re speaking for 273,000 enthusiasts who care very much about this issue. And that makes a big difference.”

Perhaps that last sentence should read “And that could make a big difference.” Why do I say that? Because the AMA didn’t do much to check the flood of misdirected media spin from the Big Ben Incident … and if they’re doing anything at all to counter the American Automobile Association’s aggressive helmet law lobby–that recently won in Michigan and is threatening to reinstate lid laws in Pennsylvania and elsewhere–I haven’t seen much evidence of it.

The AMA says they are in favor of voluntary helmet usage and consequently oppose mandatory helmet laws. The fact that the statistics in their official helmet usage position statement have not been updated since 2001, however, suggests that this issue may not be the ball that Dal Smilie and company are keeping their eyes on:

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

It might be that the AMA is merely giving lip service to the helmet law issue in order to keep membership dues rolling in from those of you who are concerned about bikers’ rights. If that is the case, then YOU ARE BEING USED. But note that I say “might,” so let’s find out the truth before we let it bother us too much. Here is one way to do that:

When you email your online survey call-to-action to Dal, Robert, Ed and Terry, explain to them why it is important that we prevail on the issue, and ask them to leverage their formidable political resources to assure that we do. Specifically, ask them to forward your call-to-action to all of their 273,000+ members. Granted, many of them won’t respond, but a small percentage of a large number is still a large number. And sure, they may not all live in the state where the issue is being raised … but AAA is crossing state lines, and so must we … and most online survey and poll software is NOT capable of filtering out-of-state “voters.”

If the AMA responds to your request, then we are almost certain to prevail on the poll or survey. If they do not, then don’t bother sending them a nasty email expressing your disappointment. If you do, they’ll probably just filter you out. Instead, when you get your next AMA dues reminder, break out your notepad instead of your checkbook … and let them know that RIDING and RACING mean nothing without RIGHTS.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

Forget About Motorcycle Safety

July 2006

Forget about Motorcycle Safety?!? In order to understand why I say that, and to fully appreciate the rest of this article, I suggest you first acquaint yourself with the following:

MRO: A Strategic Framework

Mining Political Gold from Motorcycle Awareness Month
by Splatt

Motorcycle Awareness Efforts Must be Year-Round
by Madd Ray Henke

As I observed last month, “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. I include it as one of the four major arenas of my MRO Strategic Framework, but I also emphasize that the target of motorcycle safety initiatives should be motorcyclists, and not government or the public.

Motorcycle Safety is an Individual Responsibility

Motorcycle Safety is (or should be) about rider training and responsible riding. It is first and foremost an individual responsibility:

If you take a three-day motorcycle “crash” course, then go buy a 180-mph crotch rocket and ram your ass into a telephone poll on your first curve, whose fault is that?

If an uncontrolled skid rips off your surfer shorts, Oaxacan sandals and all the skin on your mangled arms and legs because you don’t ride the custom chopper you had trailered to Daytona enough to know how to slow down on a rain-slick road, whose fault is that?

If your drunken, helmetless head gets mushed into bloody oatmeal by the concrete wall you slammed into while speeding down a dark road after half a dozen body shots at your favorite strip joint, whose fault is that?
Your fault! That’s whose fault it is. Not NHTSA’s, the DMV’s or your MRO’s.

Motorcycle Safety is a Commodity

Many MROs that speak about Motorcycle Safety as a cause actually sell it as a commodity. I am okay with that so long as everything is above board, and the proceeds of the selling efforts are applied in the Motorcyclists’ Rights and Motorcycle Awareness arenas. I am not okay with that if the true underlying mission of the organization is simply to sell training and t-shirts, and rights and awareness issues receive nothing more than lip service.

Motorcycle Safety is a Travesty

50% of all motorcycle accidents are the result of inattentional blindness on the part of cagers. This is a Motorcycle Awareness issue, not a Motorcycle Safety issue. All the helmet laws, rider training and responsible riding in the world will not mitigate IB … yet we continue to allow the government to perpetuate a travesty, telling us the victim is responsible for the crime … as if there should be no penalty for shooting someone if they aren’t wearing a Kevlar vest!

Forget About Motorcycle Safety

We need to tell the state and federal government to forget about Motorcycle Safety. Motorcycle Safety is an individual responsibility, our responsibility, and we don’t need NHTSA or the DMV to tell us how to deal with it. The sooner we get this point across, the sooner the helmet law issue will cease to be an issue, and the sooner we can shift our political mode from defense to offense.

We must demand that May no longer be referred to as “Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month”. From now on, as Splatt and Madd Ray suggested, May should be referred to as “Motorcycle Awareness Month”, and all of the Mayors’ and Governors’ proclamations should be rewritten to focus not on putting riders in clown suits, but on getting the attention of the careless cagers who are killing us.

Politically, it is time we focus on Motorcycle Awareness … and forget about Motorcycle Safety.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!

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):

http://pub42.bravenet.com/forum/3562429698/fetch/693565/1

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!