Archive for the ‘Legislation’ category

What seatbelt usage can teach us about motorcycle safety, Pt. II

March 18, 2010

After four decades of “Buckle up for safety,” it may surprise you to discover seatbelts aren’t much more effective than a DOT-certified helmet. According to traffic safety expert Leonard Evans who spent years doing research for General Motors, “While theoretical considerations show that the effectiveness of occupant protection devices declines from 100% at very low crash severity to 0% at high severity….” the real effectiveness rate “averaged over all crashes, safety belts reduce driver fatality risk by (42 +/- 4).” [i]

However, people may believe that seat belts are more effective than they are—while they know that since fatalities still occur, they estimate seat belt effectiveness are about 80 percent effective in preventing fatalities—or about twice effective as they really are. But that’s not the story you’ll hear about seat belts nowadays. In fact, seat belts—when mentioned at all—are presented as highly effective.

In comparison, NHTSA estimates the effectiveness of helmets at preventing fatalities at 37 percent. Iow, not so far off from the effectiveness of seat belts. And riders can assume helmets, too, are much more effective than they are.

Whether it’s 42 percent for seat belts or 37 percent for helmets, those are significant benefits—though not nearly as effective as those who use them believe they are. The truth is—neither seat belts nor helmets live up to the expectations of either those who wear them nor those who espouse their benefits:

From 1990-2007, motorcycle registration increased over 67 percent and helmet use remained the same (63 percent).[ii] And, as we’ve examined in the past, roughly the same percent of fatalities were helmeted and unhelmeted with more being helmeted.  During these years, injuries increased 28 percent and fatalities increased 88.5 percent. Otoh, motorcycle crashes only increased by 17 percent—iow, riding a motorcycle became significantly more lethal even though helmet use remained the same.

In comparison, total passenger vehicle registrations increased a miniscule 3.17 percent and seat belt use increased 41.3% (from 58 percent to 82 percent) but fatalities had only decreased by a tiny 6.3 percent and injuries by 22 percent.

Iow, injuries decreased by almost half of what could be expected considering the increase in seat belt use while fatalities hardly decreased at all in comparison. As a  study in Maryland[iii] found that  “Belts appear more effective at preventing fatalities than at preventing injuries.” Furthermore, as those 17 years progressed, more cars on the road had driver air bags and ABS brakes and the passenger airbags, better crush zones, safety-designed bumper heights and then side window air bags.

Despite all this, total vehicle crashes decreased by only 6.9 percent—which is just about as much as fatalities decreased.

Iow, while there were extensive and drastic changes to automobiles and an enormous increase in seat belt use that made crashing safer, crashing itself didn’t significantly decrease.

As we’ve discovered over the past months, the number of trained, licensed, sober and helmeted motorcyclists has significantly increased over the same period of time that fatalities zoomed up.

Both riding and driving, then, should be safer than they are—and yet aren’t. So what’s going on?

Some researchers say at least part of it is that drivers are no different than parents with lighters and medicine bottles or who allow their kids to bicycle or in-line skate, or kids on an obstacle course or young adult in-line skaters, bicyclists—and those who drive by bicyclists—soccer players and trained boaters. [iv] Stay tuned…


[i] Evans L., Safety-belt effectiveness: the influence of crash severity and selective recruitment. Accid Anal Prev.  1996 Jul;28(4):423-33. In fact, air bags alone are only 13 percent effective in preventing fatalities and airbags plus lap-shoulder belts are only 50 percent effective. Road Injury Prevention & Litigation Journal. TranSafety, Inc..September 2, 1997.  http://www.usroads.com/journals/p/rilj/9709/ri970902.htm

[ii] Bureau of Transportation Statistics Tables 1-11, 1-16, 2-17, 2-22 and 2-30 Transportation System and Traffic Safety Data http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics

[iii] Loeb, Peter D. The effectiveness of seat belt legislation in reducing driver-involved injury rates in Maryland. Transportation Research Part E 37 (2001) 297-310.

[iv] For this section see: Morrongiello, B.A., 1997. Children’s perspectives on injury and close-call experiences:sex differences in injury-outcome processes. Journal of Pediatrics. Psychol. 22. 499–512. Morrongiello, B.A., Major, K., 2002. Influence of safety gear on parental perceptions of injury risk and tolerance or children’s risk taking. Injury Prevent. 8, 27–31. Morrongiello, B.A., Rennie, H., 1998. Why do boys engage in more risk taking than girls? The role of attributions, beliefs, and risk appraisals. J. Pediatr. Psychol. 23, 33–43.Viscusi,W., 1984. The lulling effect: the impact of child-resistant packaging on aspirin and analgesic ingestions. Am. Econ. Rev. 74, 324–327. Viscusi, W., 1985. Consumer behavior and the safety effects of product safety regulation. J. Law Econ. 28, 527–553. Viscusi, W., Cavallo, G., 1996. Safety behavior and consumer responses to cigarette lighter safety mechanisms. Managerial Dec. Econ. 17, 441–457. Braun, C., Fouts, J., 1998. Behavioral response to the presence of personal

protective equipment. Hum. Factors Ergon. Soc. 2, 1058–1063. Walker, Ian. Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender. Accident Analysis & Prevention. McCarthy, Patrick and Wayne K. Talley. Evidence on risk compensation and safety behaviour. Economics Letters 62 (1999) 91–96. Derochea, Thomas and Yannick Stephanb, Carole Castaniera, BrittonW. Brewerc, Christine Le Scanff. Social cognitive determinants of the intention to wear safety gear among adult in-line skaters. Accident Analysis and Prevention 41 (2009) 1064–1069.

Volume 39, Issue 2, March 2007, Pages 417-425.

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Smeed’s Law and motorcycle fatalities

February 25, 2010

We’ve looked at the various pieces of the motorcycle safety puzzle and found that they all—without exception—have failed to bring the death toll down but as more riders practice them the death and injury toll goes up.

It’s time, then to explore other things that might affect the crash rate of motorcycles in America. Some of these readers have referred to—and we’ll look at them more closely. Some of them may seem quite far-fetched and some might be rather offensive. Yet, since the usual answers haven’t solved the puzzle, it’s appropriate to explore other factors—no matter how unpalatable—in case they may in part or in concert led to safer roads for riders.

We start with R.J. Smeed’s “Law” which was first published in 1949. It states that as the number of automobiles in a country increase so do fatalities in a predictable way: the number of deaths equals .0003 times the two-thirds power of the number of people times the one-third power of the number of cars.[i] After that point, road fatalities begin to fall off and then level off at a much lower point.

Despite safer cars, Smeed’s Law is still basically true in all developing countries. For example, it held true in the USA until about 1966—and his formula for the decline of traffic fatalities is very close to what has actually happened.

His friend, the eminent physicist Freeman John Dyson, wrote, “It is remarkable that the number of deaths does not depend strongly on the size of the country, the quality of the roads, the rules and regulations governing traffic, or the safety equipment installed in cars. Smeed interpreted his law as a law of human nature. The number of deaths is determined mainly by psychological factors that are independent of material circumstances. People will drive recklessly until the number of deaths reaches the maximum they can tolerate. When the number exceeds that limit, they drive more carefully. Smeed’s Law merely defines the number of deaths that we find psychologically tolerable.”[ii]

Of course, in 1965, Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe At Any Speed, was published which both captured the general public’s growing frustration with traffic fatalities and exacerbated that frustration. From the mid-Sixties on there was a massive push for safer design, safer roads and safer crashing. Iow, Smeed was right about the linkage but assumed it would take more cars and deaths to get to the point we could no longer psychologically tolerate the death toll.

It’s true that motorcycles can’t be made as objectively safe (crush zones, front and side air bags, etc.) as cars—but then that’s true for bicyclists and pedestrians as well and their death rates have dropped in the past ten years while motorcyclist fatalities rose—and rose and rose outpacing registrations.

When it comes to automobiles and perhaps bicycles[iii], there’s not just a correlation but some kind of subconscious process at work that first allows the death toll to rise and then, eventually, lowers it.

But the key here is that drivers keep driving—they just drive safer.

The question is: does Smeed’s Law work for motorcycle registrations and rider deaths?  I’ll leave it to anyone who’s better at math than I to do the math but I do wonder: How can we as riders still “psychologically tolerate” the soaring death toll?

But here’s this—even if it does, it’s a little different when it comes to motorcycles:   The past 11 years is not the first surge in motorcycle registrations and fatalities in the USA. The most recent registration surge ended in the early 1980s and fatalities topped out in 1981. The death toll began dropping and bottomed out in 1997—even though registrations had begun to increase a few years earlier.

While 29 states either dropped or adjusted universal helmet laws during the 1970s while fatalities were rising, the laws weren’t reinstated yet fatalities dropped. From 1973-2001, 1.6 million were trained and all states began to require motorcycle licensing—and most were trained as fatalities were falling.

But the death toll did drop beginning in 1982—and so did registrations and then registrations started to go up in the early 1990s—and fatalities followed suit in 1998.

However since 2002, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation claims over 2 million have been trained—and yet fatalities have exceeded the height of the late 1970s-1981 surge in rider deaths.

Today, EMS response time is better than it ever has been, medical procedures are more effective and traffic system design has concentrated on safer roads and intersections. While this has brought about reductions in auto, bicycle and pedestrian deaths, some of that loss was simply transferred over to motorcyclist deaths.

Iow, just as with automobiles, Dyson’s words could be applied to motorcycles. It appears “the number of deaths does not depend strongly on the size of the country, the quality of the roads, the rules and regulations governing traffic, or the safety equipment.”

In this way, Smeed’s Law might be true but in a different way than with cars. When it comes to autos, people are sickened by the death rate and demand change as a nation of drivers—but they keep on driving and registrations keep on going up.

But motorcycling doesn’t behave the same way: in the past three cycles, registrations peaked before fatalities did—but unlike Smeed’s Law predicted, registrations did fall off.

Iow, while drivers either behave more safely or there are changes to design, roads or safety measures are brought to bear, this doesn’t happen with riders—yet the fatality rate still drops. But so does registrations.

It could be that individual riders no longer believe that riding is safe for them and give up motorcycling—and thus increased motorcycle “safety” is really attrition. Which doesn’t make motorcycling safer at all.


[i] Smeed, R. J. Some Statistical Aspects of Road Safety Research. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (General), Vol. 112, No. 1 (1949), pp. 1-34.

[ii] Dyson, Freeman. “Part II: A Failure of Intelligence” Technology Review

http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/17847/page5/

[iii] Hakamies-Blomqvist, Liisa and Mats Wiklund, Per Henriksson. Predicting older drivers’ accident involvement – Smeed’s law revisited. Accident Analysis and Prevention 37 (2005) 675–680.

Beyond fatalities: motorcycle injuries and the Louisiana Experiment

February 10, 2010

The helmet story told by safety professionals also claim helmets change the equation so that those who would die without one are only injured. Injuries, then, should be important—and yet we hear little about them.  So let’s look at injuries in the Louisiana Experiment and see if the helmet story proves true:

We’ll use the data from Louisiana’s Highway Safety Research Group (LHSRG) through Louisiana State University that breaks injuries down into moderate, severe and fatal in terms of helmeted and unhelmeted riders.

What is a Severe or Moderate Injury?

LHSRG doesn’t define what comprises severe or moderate injuries but we’ll assume the KABCO injury coding scale was used[i]. If so, severe would translate to incapacitating injuries and moderate to non-incapacitating injuries. Incapacitating injuries would be those that are not fatal but prevent the victim from performing activities s/he was normally able to do before the crash—for example, fractures or concussions. Moderate injuries would then be those that are obvious at the scene but aren’t either fatal or obviously incapacitating—for example, sprains, contusions or many (but not all) lacerations.

The following graph tracks each kind of injury for both helmeted and unhelmeted riders. It should be kept in mind that riders suffer and die from a variety of injuries that do not involve the head in any way including chest trauma, internal bleeding, ruptured organs. Wearing a helmet will not prevent those.

During the repeal years, both helmeted and unhelmeted injuries are closely clustered After reinstatement there’s a huge separation. However, during this time, helmet use never dropped below 42 percent while after the reinstatement helmet use rose to 98 percent and that could explain the clustering. Even so, unhelmeted injuries of all kinds outpaced helmeted ones.

In both conditions and as one would expect, there’s more moderate injuries than severe ones and more severe injuries than fatalities.

Otoh, there’s also an increase in injuries in the reinstatement years that’s not explained by more helmeted riders . For example, in 1999 injuries totaled 512. In 2002—two full years into the repeal—the total injuries for all three kinds of crashes was 619—a 21 percent increase. In 2006—two years after the reinstatement—the total was 861. In four years, then, injury crashes had gone up 39 percent or almost double the percentage increase from the midst of the repeal years.

During the repeal years, there’s also more fluctuation between the various kinds of injuries for both helmeted and unhelmeted riders. And during the reinstatement years, the kind of injuries are more closely clustered according to helmet use/non-use. This is particularly evident for helmeted injuries. There is no apparent reason for this.

Unhelemted injuries

Let’s look more closely at each condition in terms of the actual numbers of injured riders.

Under the repeal years, unhelmeted fatalities rose for the first four years. This what the helmet story would tell us to expect as more riders chose to ride without a helmet. The uptick in severe and fatal injuries and vast increase in moderate ones could simply be the result of a huge influx of unhelmeted riders.

Severe injuries rose as well, however, in 60% of the years, there’s almost no difference between severe and fatal injury numbers. This relationship between severe and fatal injuries is much tighter after the reinstatement than before and there’s no obvious reason why that should be.

The bulk of injuries are moderate, which would be expected but there appears to be no correlation between moderate and severe injuries as there is between severe and fatal injuries.

The helmet story implies that helmets prevent fatalities and turn them into moderate or severe injuries and reduce severe injuries and turn them into moderate ones. The behavior of the three kinds of unhelmeted injuries, though, doesn’t support that even though fatalities did rise as predicted.

After the reinstatement, however, a closer relationship between moderate and severe/fatal crashes appears among the unhelmeted and the moderate injuries plummet. Why would this happen?

Helmeted injuries

So let’s examine that by looking at the relationship between injury severity and helmet use:

In some ways it’s almost the reverse image to unhelmeted fatalities: overall, there’s a closer relationship between moderate injuries and severe ones—and a closer relationship between severe and fatal injuries—during the repeal years and a looser one once the universal helmet law was reinstated. But it is basically a mirror image—and that’s something that

There are some differences: while moderate injuries zoom up under reinstatement, there’s no wild fluctuation from year to year. And, from 2007-2009, moderate and severe injuries appear to correlate very well however, this is not seen in fatalities. Three years, though, may represent a blip rather than a trend.

Moderate injuries are, by far, the preferred outcome—the increase in moderate injuries in the reinstatement years would be a positive sign if the severe and fatal injury rate was depressed as a consequence as it suggests that helmets are effective in changing outcomes in the same kind of crashes.

But we saw that moderate injuries zoomed up under the unhelmeted condition as well.

Moderate injuries are the normative outcomes of certain kinds of crashes—such as low-sides where riders don’t impact a solid, fixed object. Severe and fatal injuries are the common result of crash configurations—such as frontal impacts.

The helmet story hangs on whether helmets really do turn fatalities into serious injuries and serious injuries into moderate ones so, let’s compare apples to apples by the percentage of each kind of injury:

Unhelmeted Injuries by Percentage
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Fatal 11.5 7 9.8 12.7 13.4 11.6 11.3 6.7 10.1 15.4 14
Severe 23 18.7 16.1 23.9 17.5 18.7 13.9 13.5 22.4 21.9 27.1
Moderate 65.4 74.2 74 63.3 69.3 69.7 74.8 79.6 67.4 62.6 58.8
Helmeted Injuries by Percentage
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Fatal 6.5 10.1 6.2 5.7 7.1 8.1 8.9 10.6 8.2 7.3 10.9
Severe 13.8 12.9 11.1 17.5 17.5 16 13.8 15.7 14.4 16.9 14.8
Moderate 79.6 76.9 82.2 76.8 72.2 75.8 77.2 76.3 77.4 75.7 74.3

Overall, there’s an extremely stable relationship between all kinds of injuries: moderate ones are the overwhelming majority for both conditions followed by severe then fatal ones.

Moderate injuries under both conditions over the entire time span averaged between 69 percent (unhelmeted) and 76 percent (helmeted)—but in both conditions, the average percentage dropped slightly after reinstatement.

However, helmeted moderate injuries averaged out, over the eleven years to be 7.76 percent lower than unhelmeted ones. Averaged helmeted severe injuries were 4.76 lower and fatalities were 4.75 lower than unhelmeted averages.

The helmet story, then, held up in that regard: if all things were equal and helmets were the only variable—which they may not be—then helmets appear to have made a small difference when it came to severe and fatal injuries. Otoh, less than a 5 percent difference is not seen to be statistically significant. But, as one reader points out, if you’re the one it made a difference for, it matters a lot. Even so, this presumes that the injuries that killed or wounded the extra five percent were head injuries—and that may or may not be true.

However, there’s less difference between the percentage of severe and fatal crashes than we may have expected. The following chart presents the difference between fatal and severe injuries for each condition:

The difference between severe injuries and fatalities in Louisiana
1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Helmeted 7.3 2.8 4.9 11.8 10.4 7.9 4.9 5.1 6.2 9.6 3.9
Unhelmeted 11.5 11.7 6.3 11.2 4.1 7.1 2.6 6.8 12.3 6.5 13.1

In eight out of eleven years (72.7%) there was a greater difference between unhelmeted severe and fatalities and helmeted severe and fatalities. Which is something the helmet story wouldn’t have predicted.

The helmet story in Louisiana appears to be like rider training and licensing: it should be true that helmets save lives—they just don’t save then in statistically provable ways.

However, if we break down the averages into repeal and reinstatement years, helmeted fatalities went up almost 2 percentage points under reinstatement while severe injuries remained almost the same and moderate injuries went down. In terms of helmeted injuries, the increase was entirely in fatalities.

Otoh, the percentages of unhelmeted injuries remained almost identical during repeal and reinstatement years. Whatever is driving the difference in helmeted deaths, either it’s not having the same effect on those who do not wear helmets or it’s negating the helmet benefit in some ways.

Although 2 percent is tiny—it’s still an alarming development simply because, over several years, that increase was solely in helmeted fatalities and not in severe injuries.

Since we see the same pattern with moderate-fatal injuries (though more exaggerated under the unhelmeted condition) it raises the obvious possibility that the differences are more attributable to the number of different crashes that varied from year to year that drove injury rates rather than helmet use.

In addition, we see that while helmeted statistics performed slightly better overall but worse in reinstatement years while unhelmeted statistics were the same it also points to some other factor that’s operating. It could be that a certain number of crashes themselves are becoming more severe and negate the helmet’s safety benefit to the same state as riding helmetless.

Otoh, we could be seeing off-setting or risk-compensation or risk homeostasis occurring or adverse recruitment among helmeted but not unhelmeted riders. More on that in the future.

In the next entry, we’ll briefly compare injuries to registrations.


[i] The KABCO coding scale: K=Killed; A=Incapacitating Injury; B=Non-Incapacitating Injury; C=Possible Injury; O=No Injury; and U=Injured, severity unknown.

Distracted/cellphone-using driver risk isn’t the only thing NHTSA has covered up

July 23, 2009

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, “Driven to Distraction:  U.S. Withheld Data Showing Risks of Distracted Driving” NHTSA researchers in 2003 estimated that 6% of all daylight hours on USA roads were spent talking on the phone. Today, the Transportation Department estimates that figure has nearly doubled.

Cellphone use has been found by extensive research to be equivalent to driving drunk and have a 4x greater chance of crashing. Iow, up to 12% of all daylight hours on US roads are filled with drunk drivers.

The researchers estimated that 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents in 2002 were cellphone-involved, and the  talking points memo said that NHTSA estimates 25% of crashes are caused by distracted driving.

The article quotes, Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, “We’re looking at a problem that could be as bad as drunk driving, and the government has covered it up.”

Otoh, how likely is it unlikely that 12 percent of all daylight drivers are over the legal blood alcohol limit? The problem may be far worse then than drunk driving.

Since more motorcyclists are killed in multi-vehicle crashes and distracted driving means drivers aren’t paying attention and visibility is one of the main reasons drivers cite for causing crashes with motorcyclists, this should be—but isn’t—a major issue with motorcycle rights activists with the notable exception of Bruce Arnold.

But it’s what else the article claims—that NHTSA deliberately withheld how dangerous cellphone use was from the American public—that led me to see a correlation with the languishing motorcycle accident causation study:

The  NHTSA researchers who investigated and reported on distracted driving prepared that talking points memo at the end of  a 266 page report that laid out all the research and evidence of the growing and lethal problem. That report and the memo was not released until six years later—and only because of the Freedom of Information Act request by the Center for Auto Safety.

As most if not all my readers know, the federal government set aside money for a new comprehensive motorcycle accident causation study to update the famous Hurt Study—and yet years later it’s dogged with delays and only recently has the tiny pilot study been launched that will look at less than 100 accidents.

So it was ironic, in a way, to discover that the NHTSA researchers “proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel. They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America’s roadways.”

Instead, NHTSA, under Dr. Jeffrey Runge, “rather than commissioning a study with 10,000 drivers, handled one involving 100 cars,” It’s starting to sound awfully familiar, isn’t it?

NHTSA did the same to motorcyclists

Actually, NHTSA went farther when it came to a danger to motorcyclists and other road users. In 1997, NHTSA produced a report, DOT HS 808 570 “Relationships between vehicle Size and Fatality Risk in Model Year 1985-93 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks”.
”[A] draft of the report was peer-reviewed by a panel of experts under the auspices of the Transportation Research Boardof the National Academy of Sciences” and then “revised in response to the panel’s recommendations.” Iow, the researchers knew the results were controversial and were making sure readers knew it had been vetted by the best of the best.  If you’re looking for the hot link to that report–keep on reading as it’s exactly the point.

NHTSA researchers studied the effects on just a 100 lb. decrease in weight for SUVs, pickups and other light trucks and found that in 1993—long before SUV sales took off and so did the motorcyclist death toll—that out of the 2,217 motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists hit by light trucks in 1993, the fatality rate would’ve dropped by 2.03% or a net fatality change of -45 percent. In contrast, a similar reduction in the weight of passenger cars would’ve resulted in a change of – 0.46 percent or a net change of -19 percent.

They stated, “…downsizing of light trucks would significantly reduce harm to pedestrians, motorcyclists and, above all, passenger car occupants,” with a minimal effect on increasing rollovers. It went on to say, “The benefits of truck downsizing for pedestrians and car occupants could more than offset the fatality increase for light truck occupants.” And concluded, “Continued growth in the number and weight of light trucks is likely to increase the hazard in collisions between the trucks and smaller road users (cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians), while a reduction in the weight of the trucks is likely to reduce harm in such collisions.”

Iow, 12 years ago NHTSA found light truck vehicles (LTVs) are extremely dangerous to other road users and were so sure of it that they didn’t recommend a larger study but a reduction in weight of a mere 100 lbs. NHTSA did nothing about this.

Further research confirmed this finding. A 2002 Dynamic Research, Inc. study, “An Assessment Of The Effects Of Vehicle Weight On Fatality Risk In Model Year 1985-98 Passenger Cars And 1985-97 Light Trucks Volume I: Executive Summary DRI-TR-02-02” examined 1999 fatality statistics and confirmed the 1997 NHTSA document.

A year later, in 2003, Dr. Michelle J. White, professor of economics at the University of San Diego, published the paper, “The Arms Race” on American Roads: The Effect of SUV’s and Pickup Trucks on Traffic Safety”. In it she concluded, “For each one million light trucks that replace cars, between 34 and 93 additional car occupants, pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists are killed per year and the value of the lives lost is between $242 and 652 million per year.”  She went on to say that for each fatal crash the occupants of light truck vehicles themselves avoid, “at least 4.3 additional fatal crashes involving other occur. Iow, the drivers of SUVs make others pay for their selfish self-interest at an unconsciously high price.

Her study found that if a light truck hits a motorcyclist, specifically, the probability of dying rose by 56 percent but the probability of only being seriously injured rose to 26%. While pedestrians/bicyclists’ probabilities also rose (45% fatality, 11% serious injury), motorcyclists, then, are particularly at risk from LTVs.

But just as NHTSA had ignored its own study, it continued to ignore further studies. And, rather than weight decreasing, the weight of  SUVs, at least, increased: For example, in 1993 Ford Explorer’s curb weight was 3, 679 lbs. In 2009, the Expedition weighs 5,578 lbs—a weight increase of 52%.

And NHTSA ignored easily accessible information such as the survey by Roy Morgan Research one of over 24,000 SUV drivers. While “[L]arge 4WD” owners were determined survey to be such things that don’t necessarily affect driving such as male SUV drivers are  more likely to be overweight and  more likely to prefer beer and femial SUV drivers are more materialistic and more likely to say, “I was born to shop.”

It also found that they were: more aggressive; less tolerant; more likely to suffer road rage; less charitable; more likely to use force to get their way—and much more importantly—more likely to be involved in accidents that kill or maim people in other vehicles.

It also ignored research, such as this study that found that “Evidence suggests that because [SUV owners] sit higher, drivers of SUVs (and vans and pickups) are less able to judge speed accurately.”

While SUVs bloated like a fat lady with PMS—with a huge financial boon to the American auto industry, the motorcyclist death toll soared—and particularly in terms of LTV collisions.

In 1994 (the earliest date available), FARS reports 376 fatal LTV/motorcycle crashes. In 2006, FARS reported 1,083 fatal LTV/motorcycle crashes—a 188% increase. Meanwhile, passenger car/motorcycle fatalities went from 595 to 943—a 58% increase.

And, in another parallel to the Distracted Driver research, the original NHTSA document disappeared from the Internet: In 2004 (when I found it on line and printed it out) this document could be easily found on the Internet, today, a Google search leads one to Summaries of Published Evaluation Reports–and it’s one of a handful of NHTSA documents that are not accessible through a hot link. Curiously, it’s the only one without a hot link that does not include the information it has been superceded by a later report. The url that worked in 2004 no longer works. It is, though, cited in numerous other papers. However, you can find the summary of the peer review—which criticizes the report before­ it was changed in response to the review—here http://onlinepubs.trb.org/Onlinepubs/reports/letrept.html

Van and SUV drivers more likely to be on the cell phone than other drivers

Not only that—and to tie it back into the NYT’s articles, NHTSA’s 2001 DOT HS 809 293 reveals it also knew that Van and SUV drivers were more likely (4.8) to use cell phones while driving than passenger car drivers (2.6). Interestingly, it also found that particularly female rather than male and rural rather than urban Van and SUV drivers were more likely to use their cellphones while driving than female or urban passenger car drivers. Equally interesting–it found pickup drivers were less likely to use cellphones (1.9).

Iow, NHTSA hasn’t just ignored the cellphone issue that literally impacts so many motorcyclists’ lives—it’s the LTV issue as well–and the LTV owner talking on his or her cellphone issue. So why would NHTSA ignore so much research in various ways that have lethal consequences to the most vulnerable of road users—motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists?

Fear of fiscal retaliation

According to the NYT, NHTSA deep-sixed the report because of fears that stakeholders would be upset at the findings—and any subsequent laws against cellphone use that may result—and that would result in loss of appropriations.

“Those stakeholders, Dr. Runge said, were the House Appropriations Committee and groups that might influence it, notably voters who multitask while driving and, to a much smaller degree, the cellphone industry.”

The article went on to say, “Mr. Monk and Mike Goodman, a division head at the safety agency who led the research project, theorize that the agency might have felt pressure from the cellphone industry. Mr. Goodman said the industry frequently checked in with him about the project and his progress. (He said the industry knew about the research because he had worked with it to gather some data).”

“Can you hear me now?” Money talks–but we get the dead zone

That wouldn’t surprise us; powerful interests are powerful and there is nowhere in America that money speaks louder than in Washington. And the telecommunications sure knows how to talk Washingtonian: AT&T tops opensecrets.org’s

http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php All-Time Donors List. It’s spent over $43 million in lobbying from 1989-2008. The Communications Workers of America is no. 12 and Verizon comes in at 32—just behind the AFL-CIO and beating out such heavy-hitters as FedEx, Lockheed Martin, General Electric and the NRA. The Cellular Telecom & Internet Association—which is the wireless/Internet industry’s MIC—spent $1,790,000 million last year alone on lobbying and spent an additional $395,000 on several other lobbying firms.

And then there’s the campaign contributions—AT&T donated almost $4.5 million, Verizon $2.5 million,  the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn $1.5 million, Qwest just over $1 million—and that’s just some of them and that’s just the contributions to federal Congressional candidates and doesn’t count Presidential elections (overall, the industry gave Obama almost a million, Clinton over half a million and poor John McCain just over a third of a million—but then Democratic candidates for Congress get, by far, much more money than Republican ones).

In a similar way, LTVs were already becoming a juggernaut in the economy back in 1997: LTV registration had doubled from 1985-1997, passenger car population had remained relatively stable but LTV registration had doubled. For example, in 1994 passenger cars were 67% and LTVs were 18%. of all registered vehicles.

In 2006, passenger car registration had dropped to 55% (-27%) and LTVs had become 31% of all vehicles registered (+73%). SUV registration, alone, had gone up 400% since 1994.

Meanwhile, the automobile industry was spending up to $71 million a year in lobbying alone and giving up to $21 million to candidates (in ’04—in ’08 it dropped to about $18 million).

Even if MRF and AMA were lobbying on these issues, there’s no way they could even come close in spending for political influence.

Vox populi are the ones doing the talking—and voting

But, as Runge said, there’s an awful lot of voters with cellphones in their hands. According to CTIA, 82.4% of Americans have some kind of cellphone plan. And it’s the voice of the people who are talking on the phones while driving.

And, of course, there’s those 74,797,241 LTV owners.  And that alone is a powerful voting block.  Put the two together–the chatty Van and SUV owners–who also tend to be married, adults 25-54 48% male and 52% female, college educated, professional/managerial and affluent (HHI $40k+). Iow, the kind of people who tend to give campaign donations.

It’s very believable, then, that pressure was exerted and fears were created and NHTSA succumbed.

The motorcycle industry has acted similarly when it comes to NHTSA research

That the motorcycle industry, in particular, influences NHTSA in a similar way is no stretch at all:

As we know, Tim Buche said that the new accident causation study would be done “over his dead body”. We also know the motorcycle manufacturers have put up most of the money for the new accident causation study—but that money came with stipulations and it’s unknown if we now what all of them are. But one of those stipulations we do know is that that no conclusions nor recommendations be drawn at the end of the study by those that do it.

Plausible deniability

The NYT’s article points out, “…[Goodman] could offer no proof of the industry’s influence. Mr. Flaherty said he was not contacted or influenced by the industry.”

Nor can anyone prove that the automobile industry pressured NHTSA nor can riders  prove that the motorcycle industry is preventing the accident causation study from moving forward and influencing the design of the study to protect its self-interest over our well-being.

But the facts remain: NHTSA has long known that more motorcyclists and other vulnerable road users would die if LTVs even remained at their 1993 weights let alone got heavier. And it knew that more people would die if cellphones were used while driving. And it knew that SUV and van drivers talking on the phone weren’t just equivalent to the ordinary drunk–they were extremely care-less and careless drivers driving every day at all hours as if they were four sheets to the wind drunk.  Iow, NHTSA has time and time again valued the lives of LTV owners over the lives of riders.

And why? So their appropriations are safe, which means their jobs are safe while riders suffer and die.

And for what? So they can do a little good? Well, it seems like they’re doing precious little good. But there are always those who don’t care what damage they do as long as their self-interest is served. That shouldn’t surprise us either. Then again, it doesn’t mean we should continue to let those more concerned with their jobs than our lives continue to ignore what raises our risk.

NHTSA responded by dedicating itself to safety—not the safety of vulnerable road users—and specifically motorcyclists—but the safety of those who spend the most lobbying and give the most to campaigns.

Texas mandatory training bill specifically targets sport bike riders

May 1, 2009

According to “’High-performance’ bill focuses on motorcyclists” on the elpasotimesonline.com site, Texas joins North Carolina and Missouri with a mandatory helmet law up before its legislature this year. The Lone Star state has a particularly diabolical one, however—and a pretty damn near useless one as well.

Texas, if you recall, is one of the four states where MSF is establishing a regional “campus”. And, apropos of nothing, Texas has 20 Rider’s Edge sites as well.

The bill would require training for all who buys or operates a “high performance” motorcycle on or after September 1, 2009. The law would only apply to those particular kind of motorcycles.

The article doesn’t really define what a ‘high-performance’ motorcycle is—for that you have to go to the bill text: “”High-performance motorcycle” means any motorcycle referred to, called, labeled, or described as a “sports bike”, “sports motorcycle”, “high performance motorcycle”, or other similar term, in any materials given to an original purchaser at the time of purchase from any dealership or retail seller of such motorcycle, or contained in the owners manual or guides from the manufacturer of such motorcycle, whether or not actually delivered to the purchaser.”

Iow, those who ride street bikes, sport-tourers, touring bikes, adventure, dual-sport, cruisers or choppers aren’t required to take training.

And it applies to “all owners and operators” who buy or operate that specific kind of motorcycle on or after September 1, 2009. There’s no provision for the already licensed and no provision for age. There’s no grandfathering clause at all.

AND, they have to take that training within 180 days (6 mos)—

AND carry proof that they have taken training (and passed, I presume) with them at all times they are riding the motorcycle—

AND if they don’t, it’s not less than a $500 or more than a $1,000 fine.

The justification the article gives for the bill is that a 20 year-old, Myles Anderson, was killed in a crash “only weeks” after buying his motorcycle. But had this law been in effect, Anderson could still have been legally riding that bike for up to 6 mos—and therefore, this law wouldn’t have saved him.

If the law passes then it makes a legal judgment that a particular style of motorcycle is particularly dangerous.

Yet sport bike riders are far more likely to wear helmets and protective gear than street, cruiser or touring bike riders. Factors associated with safety and safe riding.

So why is this bill fairly useless (beyond the fact that NHTSA says that no study has found training to be effective in reducing crashes)? Because the article says that the Texas Department of Public safety 41,500 riders took the course and 7,000 got their licenses without taking training. Which suggests that about 86% already got their licenses through taking the learn-to-operate course offered in the state.

Iow, the vast majority of Texans already take training no matter what kind of motorcycle they ride. This law, then would only apply to that portion of the 14% that own or operate specifically sport bikes. Not to mention the grave injustice that those who already have their endorsement would have to take the course if they had the gall to ride someone’s sport bike or buy one of their own.

But let’s dig a little deeper here: According to what was submitted to the SMSA, 88% of BRC students passed the course in 2007. And that means that, according to Texas law, they don’t have to wear a helmet. When it comes to what we’re told makes us safer, the law giveth and the law taketh away…

So if more riders took training, more riders would be legally allowed not to wear helmets…

But helmets are held up as the most effective safety equipment there is—and are supposed to save so many lives…

Texas has the third highest rate of motorcycle deaths in the USAFlorida was first in 2007 and Texas barely trailed California. In Florida, 52% of the fatalities were helmeted and 48% weren’t.

But in Texas of 375 riders killed in 2007, 87% were, in fact, helmeted and only 13% weren’t.

Hmmmm…86% were trained in 2008 and 87% of the fatalities were helmeted. So the two things that are supposed to be THE panacea for all that ails us–doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job.

And the vast majority of Texan motorcyclists aren’t sport bike riders…

And the training bill would only affect the small proportion of that 14% that didn’t get training to get their license…

Not to mention that NHTSA says that they don’t even know what good or effective training would be and no study has shown that training is effective in reducing crashes. But they’re really big on helmets because they’re 37% effective for preventing death.

And now we’re back to Myles Anderson who bought a bike and was killed within a few weeks–and that’s so bad all of Texas needs a bill. As if no cruiser or chopper or touring bike or street bike rider had ever died within a few weeks of buying a bike–with or without training. So, without absolutely any proof that this would work–and if it passes would make it legal for graduates to ride without helmets–the good legislators in Texas are thinking about voting for this bill?

And they call California the land of fruits and nuts.

PA SB530 could change almost everything in state motorcycle safety program

April 9, 2009

In the last entry, I discussed HB1189 which some may think would be a good law. But sometimes the effect of one law can dramatically change based on one or more that passes.

In Pennsylvania, there’s a bill in the senate could change what the property owner liability bill would do if both bills pass. Senate Bill No. 530, the “Free Enterprise and Taxpayer Protection Act”, is sponsored by a total of 10 sponsors. The primary one is Patrick Browne (R) but there’s nine others listed as co-sponsoring the bill. Who is behind the political face of the bill isn’t known—Verizon swears it isn’t—but there are a number of corporations that could have an interest.

One version or another of this bill has been introduced since 2004 so, if history is any indication, it may very well not pass. However the focus of it has changed over the years and perhaps one day they might get it right—or have enough power to pass it. As written now, the bill could apply to such things as broadband/wireless systems, nursing homes—or the state motorcycle safety program.

Currently, in Pennsylvania training is conducted by the state which contracts the administration to a contractor—in this case the trade group, Motorcycle Safety Foundation. The basic training program is free to students and range space is provided without cost to the program by state-owned agencies and educational institutions and, in three cases, by the military.

PAMSP couldn’t offer for free what private enterprise could charge for

In brief: If SB350 passed, it would prohibit the government from competing with private enterprise except in very limited areas. As a result, all training would have to happen by private enterprises such as Harley-Davidson’s Rider’s Edge while the administration of the program could still be carried on by the MSF.

At best, the state program would severely restricted in its ability to conduct training, would have to charge similar rates to private enterprise, entities would no longer be able to make pavement available at no cost and the PAMSP would be required to make a good faith effort to find private enterprises to take over training until it was fully out of business.

In the best case scenario, it would limit state program courses to offer no more courses and not anywhere near those locations where for-profit businesses offer training courses and the state could charge no less than they do.

Pits belief in private enterprise against the belief that training is a public service

It begins with something most—if not all—of us can whole-heartedly affirm: “Private enterprise is necessary to the health, wealth and prosperity of the Commonwealth.” It goes on to state that the government competes with private enterprise when it provides goods and services to the public beyond its government function.

It then clarifies that the “act is intended to protect economic opportunities for private enterprises against unfair competition by government agencies and to enhance the effective provision of goods or services to the public.”

The entire premise of the state motorcycle system, though was to make training as cheap as possible so more students will take it. There’s nothing, however, to prevent dealerships from offering the same training for free—and indeed, 12 do as part of the program.

Any competition from government is inherently unfair

“Government competition” is defined as the provision of goods or services to the public by government agencies that are essentially the same offered by private enterprises.”

The bill sets forth that the existence of government goods and services apart from necessary services and that which only the government can do (“government functions”) is inherently unfair by its existence as long as there are at least two persons or entities engaged in offering similar goods or services for profit (“private enterprise”).

For example, the rider training program offered by the state is essentially the same as offered by Harley-Davidson’s Rider’s Edge. Or, for example, if other dealerships started offering their own MSF-approved course for a price, they would be offering “essentially the same course.”

Under the provisions of this act, because PAMSP conducts training it’s “unfair” competition for private enterprises such as Rider’s Edge (or if Stayin’ Safe wanted to offer basic training) to compete since the PAMSP course is free and dealership courses in Pennsylvania cost $275-$295.

No more free pavement

Government agencies, as the act specifies, includes not just agencies like the Department of Transportation and so forth but the local Department of Motor Vehicle office or police department and every kind of school from university down to the local elementary school. Later, the bill stipulates federal government facilities such as military bases are included in the prohibition if they had an inter-governmental agreement with a state agency. Currently, 78% of PAMSP range courses are conducted on “government agencies” or have civilian training on military-owned sites. The rest of the current training sites are a consortium of Harley dealers (4) and multi-brand dealerships (8).

Government agencies and “all universities, community colleges, school districts and public authorities” would be “prohibited from competing against public enterprise, including intergovernmental or interagency agreement, and are prohibited from funding, capitalizing, securing the indebtedness of, or leasing the obligation of, or subsidizing, any charitable or not-for-profit institutions which would use such support to compete against private enterprise.” Currently, MSF—a not-for-profit institution—is not charged for the ranges or classroom space at “government agencies” as defined in this act. Even under the severely limited conditions the state program could continue, the sites could not offer free pavement.

Limited provisions for continued training

There are two provisions that could allow the PAMSP to continue to exist. Section 6 states, “General rule.—In cases of government competition against private enterprises that exist on the effective date of this act, the government agency or authority may continue to engage in the competition but may not exceed the scope of the competition.” In short, the PAMSP can be no bigger than the number of its frankly named competitors nor, it appears, charge less than they do.

Under Section 6 (3) if the PAMSP was seen as a “vital service” it could continue where private enterprise doesn’t exist—but would have to make “good faith efforts” to get private enterprise to offer that service instead. MSF would have to try to convince its manufacturer members to offer programs like Riders Edge through the dealerships who offer their goods for sale.

Iow, the days of free rider courses in Pennsylvania could be numbered—and that number could be up during this year’s training season. In 50% of the states that MSF has administered for the past several years, the cost of training has doubled—but that’s nothing to what would happen to the cost of training in Pennsylvania.

The bill, if passed into law, would go into effect 60 days after signing.

Turning PA into an independent contractor state?

If this bill passes, the state could become like other states where training is provided by independent contractors. But further legislation would have to be passed to do so—and any attempt to put a price cap on (as in CA and NY) would have SB530 to consider.

Legal remedies available to private enterprise

If such government competition does exist, any “affected person or entity” can file a complaint and get a hearing within 30 days at which time a preliminary injunctive relief” against the offending government agency.

Unlike other cases of this nature, there’s no need to show the lack of an adequate remedy at law or irreplaceable harm or any other common law element applicable to obtaining preliminary injunctive relief. All the person or entity has to show is “threat to private enterprise or public moneys is imminent.” All it would take is one Harley dealership who offers Rider’s Edge—or one multi-brand dealership who wants to offer training to file the complaint. And one prelimary injunction is enough to take down the entire PAMSP.

That preliminary injunction can turn into a permanent one—and monetary damages and recovery of costs are provided for if the state can’t prove its case, which in the case of the PAMSP, it couldn’t—it is free and by giving pavement away, it subsidizes MSF.

Won’t affect MSF’s contract

Strangely enough, it won’t affect MSF at all. In fact, the act specifically says that it doesn’t prevent the government from hiring entities such as MSF to provide “vital services or necessary services”. MSF is hired to run the state program—but nowhere in the language of Title 75, section 7911 that lays out what the state program is does it say that the administrator of the program has to conduct training. Rather it says that the department will certify schools to conduct approved motorcycle safety courses, will review course material, certify instructors, etc.