What are the odds of winning the lottery v. crashing?

Research shows that most riders don’t think they’re likely to crash. In fact, they believe other riders are more likely to crash then they are. This is particularly true for those who follow the five messages of motorcycle safety: believe they ride within their limits, wear safety gear—including helmets, have been trained and licensed and ride sober. Doing the right thing, they believe, will diminish their chances of crashing— and those who consider themselves safe riders swear by their safety practices.

For example, the 2006 Scottish study, “Risk and Motorcyclists in Scotland”[i] found that riders overwhelming agreed that riding was risky—even very risky. But 42% of the participants didn’t think the risks of riding applied to themselves because they were good riders who did the right things.

Those that don’t do those things, riders and safety experts alike believe, are more likely to crash.

It’s almost as if “safe” riders think that their chance of having a crash is like their chance of winning the Powerball lottery. To win the Powerball jackpot, you have to choose 5 white ball numbers correctly and the number of the red ball.

And the odds of doing that, according to Dr. Math, are 1 in 80,089,128.

He explains it this way, “There are C(49,5) = 49!/(5! * (49-5)!) = 1,906,884 ways to pick your five numbers. And there are C(42,1) = 42 ways to pick the powerball… Thus there are 1,906,884 * 42 = 80,089,128 total number of ways that the drawing can occur… Hence the probability is 1/80,089,128.”

Powerball.com, however, gives the odds of winning the jackpot at 1 in 195,249,054.00 because it includes the chances of not picking the wrong numbers.[ii]

People pick their combinations all kinds of ways. Some play meaningful numbers like birthdays and addresses. Some play the same numbers religiously week in and out. Some play the most frequently drawn numbers. March 30, 1995, a married couple—separately—bought a ticket using the numbers suggested in a fortune cookie and both won—and so did a third person (no word whether he had gotten the same fortune cookie). A decade later. Then there are those that let bakeries do their choosing: On almost to the day, 110 people won the second largest pot in the Powerball and all of them had played the numbers they had found in a fortune cookie.

Those who are very serious about the lottery swear by their methods—they will pay off some day. And there’s just enough stories about how this method or that one did win that it encourages all the Method-players to keep buying tickets by the numbers.

Then again, there are those who are casual about it and let the computer do the picking for them. Studies show that it doesn’t matter whether you pick the numbers or the numbers pick you—neither way wins more often.

While the chance of winning the Powerball are remote, according to Powerball.com, the odds of winning $3 are 1 in 61.74. The odds of winning some prize, however, are much lower—1 in 35.11 once all the ways of winning are factored in.

If you’re an optimist those don’t seem to be bad odds considering tickets cost one buck. In fact, “safe” riders bet their lives on a helmet that has a 37 percent chance of saving their life and a 25 percent chance of eliminating injury.

But the big jackpot? You have a better chance of being in a plane crash (1 in 11  million) or being killed in a motor vehicle collision (1 in 5,000) on your way to the store.

That actually happened to Carl Atwood of Elwood, Indiana. He won $73,450 and that evening was on his way to the grocery store a block away when a pickup came around the corner and hit and killed him.

But he did win the lottery before he died despite high odds. And people do amazingly often.  Lottery expert Tino Sundin wrote, “According to the TLC television show, “The Lottery Changed My Life,” more than 1600 new lottery millionaires are created each year. That doesn’t include people that have won jackpots of, say, $100,000 because than the number would be much higher. Still, 1600 is quite a high number. If 1600 win at least a million in the lotto every year, it means that there are more than 130 each month, more than 30 each week, and more than 4 each day. That’s a lot of winners.”

Others—some would call them pessimists others would call them realists—would argue that millions of people play each week so investing in the lottery is foolishness. Sundin, who wants to win the lottery one day, would agree with them, “1600 yearly jackpot winners isn’t that big of a number when you consider how many people actually play.”

But that’s a common mistake about the lottery—that it matters how many people play. It doesn’t. The more players increase the value of the jackpot, the chance that someone will win, and the chance others will chose the same numbers you do. But it doesn’t change the odds of your ticket  winning: each set of numbers is up against the odds—not the other players.

And those odds are always millions to one for the jackpot—and still significant for the lesser prizes.

Last year, thirteen tickets beat the tens of millions to one odds and won the Powerball.

And on January 16, 2010, no one won the jackpot but there were 435,682 winning tickets for the lesser prizes—true, almost 85 percent of them won between $3.00-$4.00—but they still won something.

Iow, for a series of random drawings with enormous odds, it’s amazing that lotteries are so regularly won—and that there are so many winners of one degree or another week after week, year in and year out.

The truth is, you have a far, far, far greater chance of being crash-involved than you do of winning the Powerball jackpot.

What are your chances of being in a crash? In 2007, there were 4,758,984 motorcycle owners[iii] and 123, 306 police-reported crashes.

The chance, then, of any one motorcyclist having some kind of crash isn’t anything like the Powerball odds at 1 in over 80 million. Instead, it’s 1 in 38.59. It’s a lot more probable than you probably expected.

That’s roughly the chance any one ticket has of winning some prize in the Powerball lottery—something that 435,682 did last night.

In 2007, there were a total of 123,306 crashes (fatal 5,306; injury 98,000; 20,000 property-only).[iv]

Injury crashes, then, were 79.47 percent of all collisions.

Fatalities were 4.3 percent

And property-damage only crashes were 16.21 percent.

Iow, if you’re in a collision, your chance of suffering anything from a minor injury to a fatal one is 83.77 percent. This means your chance of being hurt in a crash is even higher than the percentage of winning tickets in last night’s lottery.

The early edition of the NHTSA Annual Traffic Safety Facts 2008[v] reports 5,387 motorcyclists were killed and 90,000 were injured in 2008. That translates to 103 fatalities and almost 1,730 injuries per week. Iow, more motorcyclists are injured every week than millionaire lottery winners are created in a year.

In fact, the odds of being injured in a crash are 1 in 48.56 or over 60 percent lower  than the chance of choosing one white ball number plus the Powerball correctly (1 in 123.48).

The chance of dying is 1 in 896.9—or somewhat greater than the odds of picking two correct white ball numbers and the Powerball number.

But, of course, you’re different—you follow the 5 safety messages, after all. You ride trained and licensed, ATGATT, sober and within your limits. Surely you have those Powerball jackpot odds.

Except, in 2007, that 73.86 percent of the fatalities were licensed,

64 percent were sober,

and 56.7 percent of them were helmeted.

In 2005,[vi] 56 percent of multi-vehicle crashes occurred on urban roadways that are considered within the skill level of even new riders.

And study after study showed that those who were trained were no less crash-involved than those who weren’t.

Iow, those who depend on those safety practices to keep them safe are no different than those who depend on winning the lottery to pay their rent.

No, the motorcycle safety puzzle hasn’t been solved by relying on the five safety messages promulgated by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Isn’t it time we started to look at the actual puzzle and figure out what’s really going on and what we really need to do to protect ourselves?

Or maybe we should just go out and buy a Powerball ticket and play the odds on the road.


[i] Stradling, Stephen G and Sexton, B and Hamilton, K and Baughan, C and Broughton, P (2006) Risk and motorcyclists in Scotland. Scottish Executive Research Unit .

[ii] see: http://www.molottery.com/powerball/understanding_chances.jsp

[iii] NHTSA reports 7,138,476 registered motorcycles. The Motorcycle Industry Council’s formula of 1.5 motorcycles per owner, equaling 4,758,984 owners.

[iv] Traffic Safety Facts 2007. NHTSA. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811002.PDF

[v] Traffic Safety Facts 2008, Early Edition. NHTSA.  http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811170.PDF

[vi] 2005 is the latest date for which detailed information is available. See “Fatal Two-Vehicle Motorcycle Crashes” (2007). DOT HS 810 834. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/810834.PDF

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15 Comments on “What are the odds of winning the lottery v. crashing?”

  1. Jim Says:

    Since injury is proportional to physical exposure, the two pertinent inquiries are, the delta between the number of MC accidents per mile ridden and car accidents. If they are equivalent then the safety question is how to lower the incidence for both. If MC have a higher accident rate then the question is why. Secondly, what is the delta in accident rates between those who practice the 5 safety messages and those who don’t. If the delta is not statistically significant, then why practice the safety message?

  2. wmoon Says:

    Why do you think injury is proportional to physical exposure (I assume you mean exposure in terms of mileage?). The delta is not proportional between passenger vehicles and mcs for obvious reasons. One key reason is that cars have extensive safety features that have had an enormous “impact” on reducing injuries including airbags, ABS, crush zones, seat belts, etc. Motorcycles don’t and few models come with ABS brakes (not to mention all the older mcs that don’t have them). Another is the kinetics in a crash–over 90% of the time, the rider is ejected from the mc. There’s many factors that affect what happens–the angle and height they leave the bike, the position of the limbs–and most important–if that rider impacts a solid object before the energy is dissipated, more serious injuries can result. No one has figured out your second question. In fact, the motorcycle manufacturers have worked hard to delay if not prevent a crash causation study that might have found out that information.

  3. gymnast Says:

    Jim, after reading your question, an image came to mind. Imagine an automobile where the operator and passengers of are sitting on the hood in deck chairs with foot pegs and a handlebars, and then the vehicle crashes.

  4. wmoon Says:

    Gymnast–good analogy. Jim, let me illustrate that with some hard facts. Go to p. 14 at: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/810834.PDF. Look at the chart there. Let’s just use 2005 (as the latest year). In all the collisions between motorcycles and passenger vehicles, 1,792 operators and 143 passengers were killed and only 17 drivers and 11 occupants. That demonstrates just how vulnerable riders are and how safe America has insisted automobiles become.
    W.

  5. Dave B Says:

    Wendy:

    Thanks for putting all this info out there. We sure don’t get it from the MSF or the AMA.

    I strongly believe that training is better than no training. The more you know about something, the better.

    I think trained riders ride more often than untrained riders and ride more aggressively. Maybe trained riders believe they can handle any situation that comes up.

    One issue that no one has looked at is how many accidents have been avoided as a result of taking some kind of training? I have never seen a study or survey done on this.

    Personally, I’ve had many students come back to visit me and tell me that what they learned in the course helped them avoid an accident. So the course helps in some way.

    I also strongly believe that students need more training than the BRC or better training than the BRC. I always refer to the BRC as Motorcycling 101.

    Based on what I read in the last study you posted, on-road and off-road training would seem to help develop better riding skills and reduce accidents.

    But there is no magic bullet. Even Mr. Grodsky became a statistic.

    Wendy, play with this question; Based on all the research you’ve done, if you were the President of the MSF, what training would you like to see offered and how would it be tied to licensing?

  6. wmoon Says:

    Dave, I, too, want to believe that training helps–but as you’ve seen, the evidence just isn’t there. Of course, the Discovery Project has been extended a year (and don’t you wonder if it’s because Tim didn’t get the results he wanted?) maybe it will find out that MSF training works–of course MSF is paying for more than half of the study on its own products and provided the raw data that it came up with on its own and controls the project…It’s like Phillip Morris (now Altria) running studies on whether smoking cigarettes is safe…

    As for your question, since I am utterly convinced that no one can serve two masters, I am utterly convinced that the President of MSF cannot do what needs to be done to produce safe, capable and effective riders and still make sure it will sell as many motorcycles as possible.

    As a rider and researcher, I’d like to see someone develop a course that’s untainted by the need to sell as many people on riding as possible. That program would be longer, have much more on street strategies, risk assessment/perception and hazard awareness and much more practice on the range with more skills (like handling too hot into the corner) and would involve on-street as part of the basic training. To graduate, one would involve having to do all the tested skills in one pass (rather than one at a time) and do them successfully more than once.
    W.

  7. Jim Says:

    By injury being proportional to exposure I’m not referring to mileage ridden/driven, but the simple fact that a rider is in the impact zone while a driver is cosseted by seat belts airbags, surrounded by a few thousand pounds of vehicle, with crush zones a distance from the point of impact.

  8. wmoon Says:

    Jim, If that’s the case, then the answer to your question seems to be self-evident. But, in point of fact, the major causes of death for passenger vehicle occupants are the exact same ones as motorcyclists: head and chest trauma. Riders experience more lower-extremity and pelvic fractures.

  9. Dave B Says:

    Got to agree 100% with your course. Hope the “training experts” take note.

  10. Dave B Says:

    Curious….What would you suggest for street strategies, risk assessment/perception and hazard awareness?

    I may start working on that kind of course.

  11. Jeff Brenton Says:

    To graduate, one would involve having to do all the tested skills in one pass (rather than one at a time) and do them successfully more than once.

    Something along the lines of Hough’s Proficient Motorcycling Cornering Range, which incorporates both accurate and quick stops, and corners of both increasing and decreasing radius? (page 121 of More Proficient Motorcycling)

    The problem with stringing together existing skills tests is that they contain so much verbosity about what you’ll get dinged for that it occupies the thoughts of the rider, pushing out the sequence of events. Something like Hough’s range is simpler, in that it’s kind of hard to lose track of where you’re going or what you’re expected to do – just stay inside the lines, use appropriate speeds, and stop where the stop marks are. It would also be a good way to weed out the lesser riders, prior to an on-street evaluation.

  12. wmoon Says:

    Dave, a good start would be to use David Hough’s books–with his permission. I’d also like to see a video shot by helmet cam of a real rider navigating real roads in a variety of situations with a voice over by the rider pointing out hazards, risks, explaining his/her choices. And then another video shown to the students–helmet cam shot–without the voice over where they have to perceive, identify and explain the same things. Yes, that would add a lot of time to the course.

    But then I believe that students today take the course because they want to be safe and not just because they want a waiver. And if they believe a longer course will better prepare them, they’ll take it.
    W.

  13. Dave B Says:

    Like it. Good ideas. Time to do some R&D in my area.

  14. ryde4ever Says:

    Curious thing about statistics. You can make things look the way you want, depending on what gets factored in. The article said things like 56.7% were helmeted. But how many of those helmeted were not sober or had not taken a safety class. Of the fatalities, how many had followed all 5 of you safe riding items?
    Statistically you have only listed them out one item at a time.
    Also, how many of the atgatt riders survived due to having on the safety equipment?
    Another factor that hasn’t been considered is rider experience. Less experienced riders are more likely to have an accident. What percentage of the helmeted riders had been riding less than a year?
    Riding does present more risk. But think about how many more injuries and fatalities there would be if all riders ignored the 5 messages that you list.

  15. naybanana Says:

    Thanks for any good article.


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