Archive for the ‘Motorcycle Rights’ category

Bicycle boom has opposite result from motorcyclist boom

November 24, 2010

There’s a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal, Cycling’s New Rules of the Road, by Tom Perrotta that offers some interesting possible parallels and counterpoints to motorcycling in the USA:

According to the article, after years of “tepid growth” bicycling in New York has doubled to more than 200,000 riders a day. In a similar way, motorcycling suddenly surged in the late 1990s.

The article implies that bike lanes are at least partly responsible for the increase in bicycling.  Since 2007 NYC has built a further 200 miles of  bike lanes for a total of 482 miles with another 1,300 miles to be built by 2030. Bike lanes are promoted by a wide variety of means as the answer to bike safety like this one, NY 9th Ave Separated Bike Lane Experiment:

New York is not alone—the number of bicyclists has been rising for years in other large urban areas like Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Chicago.  This, too, is like motorcycling where urban areas have seen the greatest increases in motorcyclists. And like NYC, these cities have been putting in miles and miles of bike lanes.

There’s another unexpected parallel to the recently passed boom in motorcycling. Just like in the motorcycling boom, far more women and “elderly” people are climbing on bicycles to travel around one of the most congested cities in America.

The increase in women and elderly riders is “a sign,” said John Pucher, a professor of urban planning and public policy at Rutgers University, “that cycling is seen as safe.” And they feel safe because of the bike lanes.

A report,  Four Types of Cyclists, by Roger Geller, Bicycle Coordinator, Portland , OR Office of Transportation directly associates the increase in bicyclists with a decrease of fear because of the increase in bike lanes, “This enthused and confident demographic of cyclists are the primary reason why bicycle commuting doubled between 1990 and 2000 (U.S. Census) and why measured bicycle trips on Portland’s four main bicycle-friendly bridges across the Willamette River saw more than a 300% increase in daily bicycle trips between the early 1990’s and 2006.”

Four types of bicyclists—and motorcyclists? Geller identifies four types of Cyclists, “Survey after survey and poll after poll has found again and again that the number one reason people do not ride bicycles is because they are afraid to be in the roadway on a bicycle. They are generally not afraid of other cyclists, or pedestrians, or of injuring themselves in a bicycle-only crash. When they say they are “afraid” it is a fear of people driving automobiles. This has been documented and reported in transportation literature from studies, surveys and conversations across the US, Canada, and Europe.”

And it is fear, according to Geller, that has the most to do with whether people ride, how often they ride and where they ride. He breaks them down into four types—and I suggest that this is a possible model for motorcyclists:

The first, and smallest, group are the “Strong and Fearless” that he describes as, “These are the people who will ride in Portland regardless of roadway conditions. They are ‘bicyclists;’ riding is a strong part of their identity and they are generally undeterred by roadway conditions…”

The “Enthused and Confident” are those who are comfortable riding around cars because of bike lanes and “bike boulevards”. Both Geller and the general perception in the bicycling community suggest that riders are newer to the activity and less experienced, do not ride as often or as long—and are believed, by the Strong and Fearless group, to ride slower and get into more dangerous situations due to their inexperience or recreational nature of their ride.

The largest group is the “Interested but Concerned” who “would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.”

The last group is the “No Way No How” who are “currently not interested in bicycling at all, for reasons of topography, inability, or simply a complete and utter lack of interest.”

Based on Motorcycle Industry Council research, it’s probably that while the proportions may differ it is extremely likely that there are the same four groups in regards to motorcycling but with slightly different descriptions but sharing the same concern about safety.

Safety matters when it comes to bicycling Study after study has found that bicycling is particularly sensitive to perceptions of risk—perceived improvements in bicycle safety is followed by a corresponding rise in participation.

Bicycling, though not as objectively dangerous as motorcycling, is still far more dangerous than any other form of road transportation. Head injuries are a leading cause of fatalities and any crash is more likely to result in injury than a similar one in a passenger vehicle or truck. Fatal head or chest trauma or internal injury can occur, as with motorcycling, at 13 mph and above—just as in motorcycling. And, as in motorcycling, the cyclist gets injured in fixed object crashes (like hitting a light pole—or even curb), in multi-vehicle crashes or even a collision with a pedestrian.

In terms of control, bicycles and motorcycles are not too different. Both share the same vulnerabilities to weather, pavement and handling. Both do not lend themselves to seat belts, air bags or crush zones.

Traveling peed, then, is the main difference between bicyclists and motorcyclists in terms of safety. But bicyclists can—on the flat—reach consistent traveling speeds of up to 30 mph and, in shorter bursts, higher speeds—and, of course, on a slope. And it’s a fallacy that most motorcyclist fatalities happen at high speeds.

Given that, there’s a marked difference in what’s considered “safe” for bicyclists and “safe” for motorcyclists:

There are no mandatory training courses for adults, and, of course, no bicycling license, insurance or registration required. The bicycling community unofficially teaches road strategies including controlling your space—“take the lane”; taking full responsibility for their own behavior and safety; assuming they aren’t seen; predicting and decide on avoidance actions, etc.

Not one state requires adults to use a helmet and helmet use varies widely state to state.

There is protective gear—pads for elbows, knees, wrists; shorts; chest and neck protectors; and jackets—but use is mostly associated with racing or mountain biking and most are rarely seen on city streets where bicyclists dress in ordinary clothes.

Iow, the only thing that has really changed is the amount of bike lanes in NYC and other large urban areas. There’s a very low threshold for “safety” then for bicycling. Bike lanes, because they are promoted and perceived as safer, are enough to move people from  “Interested but Concerned” to the “Enthused and Confident” group.

This, then, is a difference between the motorcycle and bicycle boom—no one thinks motorcycling is safe.[i]

Still, one wonders if helmets, riding gear and training courses fulfill the same role as bike lanes for bicyclists and, as with bicycling, gave a great many “Interested but Concerned” a reason to move over to the “Enthused and Confident” group.

New York bicyclists might be right that bicycling is safer—and the risk is lower: despite this enormous increase in riding on incredibly congested streets, “the yearly number of cycling fatalities and injuries has remained flat or declined, and the percentage of riders who are injured while riding has fallen dramatically.” This is very unlike motorcycling as we well know.

Unintended consequences

Despite the video above, the reality is that the safety of bike lanes has been oversold—or rather, something that should’ve been protected space has been co-opted by other road users. Check out My Commuted Commute:

for another take on bike lanes. Other videos show the same thing—vehicles blocking the lanes, using the lanes, turning in front of bicyclists, pedestrians jaywalking in front of bikes—iow, the same behavior they do on the regular lanes. And, perhaps most troubling, cyclists being “doored”—vehicle doors being opened in front of cyclists resulting in injury or death.

Bicyclists, then share many of the same problems that motorcyclists do and I have long encouraged motorcycle rights activists to combine forces with both bicyclists and pedestrian rights groups for more effective action. That advice has been ignored, though.

Other research has found that motorists drive closer to cyclists if they are in a bike lane than if they aren’t. Iow, if bike lanes were truly respected as intended, bicycling would be safer but because they aren’t, they may be more dangerous even if cyclists are streetwise and wary.

Additionally, cyclists speak of the danger of the inexperienced or casual rider who is not street smart or rides too slowly causing other riders difficulty. In this way, also, bicyclists are similar to motorcyclists—it’s not them it’s the new guy that’s causing the problems. Yet, like motorcycling, there’s no proof of that.

Interestingly, some of the bicyclists in the video identify the problem as risk perception—it’s thinking that the bike lane is supposed to be safe, is safe, that makes it so dangerous.

The video ends with several bicyclists—including the narrator and filmmaker—saying that bike lanes dangers has them now co-opting the bus lane because they perceive the risks are lower there.

Bad behavior increases risks But, according to the WSJ article, when it comes to bicyclists the bad behavior is not one-sided. Scott Stringer, the President of the Manhattan Borough, sent out some staffers to observe and what they “recorded over three days, astounded him: 1,700 total infractions by drivers, bikers and pedestrians, many of them egregious.”

While bicyclists emphasize (as do motorcyclists) offenses against them, there’s a great deal of bad bicycle behavior that includes running red lights and stop signs, accepting too narrow gaps between moving or stationary vehicles,  following too close, too fast for conditions, etc.

Bike lanes don’t discourage much of that behavior—and may exacerbate some of it. To what degree bicyclists take on additional risk because they feel justified by the bad behavior of pedestrians or motorists or because they feel they have the street smarts/experience to handle it.

Danger increases as risk perception drops As discussed above, bicycling in NYC has been as safe or safer despite the surge in participation until this year.  “There were 19 cyclist fatalities in the city through October 31, seven more than in all of 2009. In the same period, 3,505 bikers were injured in crashes with motor vehicles, more than last year’s total and up 20% compared to the first 10 months of last year. If the current rate of injuries continues, the percentage of daily riders who sustain injuries in 2010 will rise slightly.”

Iow, the fears of the “Interested but Concerned” are founded in reality—despite the bike lanes, bicycling isn’t all that safe. And this, too, is like motorcyclists—motorists and pedestrians invade bicyclists’ space, do not yield the right-of-way, look but do not see, and so forth.[ii]

Lower death rate for bicyclists: The great difference between the booms The rise in fatalities, though, may be a blip, an anomaly in NYC this year. Comparing pedalcyclist fatalities for other bicycle-friendly states shows that although bicycling has boomed in those states the fatality rates have dropped over the years—though with occasional minor fluctuations year after year even as the numbers of riders doubled.

This is the exact opposite experience of motorcyclists where the death toll far outpaced the increase in riders.

And, amazingly, it was accomplished without formal training—let alone mandatory training, without an overarching, over-controlling corporation made up of the major manufacturers, without helmet laws or use of protective equipment. Iow, without anything that we’ve been told ad nauseum that we have to do as motorcyclists to be safe.

But what we do to be safe hasn’t been effective while what bicyclists don’t do has been. And what’s up with that?


[i] According to a study Perceived Risk And Modal Choice: Risk Compensation In Transportation Systems,  high income people perceive the risks of a given form of transportation as lower. The author, Robert B. Noland, speculates this may be because they purchase (and use) more safety devices.  However, as noted, observed helmet use is rather low and protective gear, in cities, is almost non-existent. Males also perceive the risks of a given mode of transportation as lower than females do. Surprisingly, risk perception drops as age rises.

Iow, older, well-off men perceive less risks in a form of transportation than the younger and  poorer and females do. Needless to say, older, well-off men are the majority of those who took up motorcycling in the last boom.  Iow, the very group that perceives the least risk are the ones who were drawn to the most risky form of road transportation.

[ii] Like motorcyclists, the average age for bicyclist fatalities has risen and, in 2008, was 41 while in 1998 it was 32. In 2008 the average age for injuries was 31 while in 1998 it was 24. Yet, unlike motorcycling, NHTSA does not blame the rise on the born-again bicyclist. But those who were 41 in 2008 were 31 in 1998—iow, bicycling seems to be affected by that large Boomer cohort. Unlike motorcyclists, NHTSA makes it clear when it comes to alcohol-involvement and fatalities, it’s either the rider or the pedalcyclist—even though it’s the same situation for motorcyclists. However, there’s less alcohol-involved fatalities in bicycling than motorcycling.

Who doesn’t tell the Motorcycle Helmet Story–the manufacturers

April 27, 2010

There’s two groups that don’t tell the Helmet Story, and I don’t mean the rabid anti-helmet folks.

No, one group is the helmet manufacturers themselves. And my next guess is that many of you are strenuously objecting right now—so let’s take a look at the most popular helmets in the USA (in no particular order).

First of all, all helmets sold in the USA have to meet, at minimum, DOT standards—and that information is available on the sites. But, we’ll take a look at standards in another entry.

Arai “You could go through a bunch of cheaper helmets in the lifespan of just a single 5-year-warranty Arai – and wind up spending more in the long run. Worse, you’d miss out on Arai’s legendary comfort, fit, features, and feeling of confidence along the way. A helmet is something you’re going to spend too much time and too many miles in to not ensure that every bit of it is a pleasure. So compromise somewhere else.”[i]

Iow Arai takes the same approach L’Oreal hair color took with women: yes it’s more expensive, but you’re “worth it.” But nothing in the manufacturer’s site says safety is what the rider is buying.

Shoei doesn’t say it’s reduces injuries or prevents death either: In the section “Inside A Shoei Helmet” there’s a subsection, “SHOEI ACTIVE SAFETY”: “As opposed to “passive safety” that is ensured by compliance with Snell and DOT safety standards, “active safety” defines the further improvements made by SHOEI to ensure that maximum comfort is achieved, allowing the rider to devote all of his or her focus to riding. Advanced helmet features such as our anatomically-shaped comfort liner for optimum helmet fitment, lowest possible weight to reduce stress on the neck muscles, and effective ventilation system for temperature regulation and reduction in wind noises all serve to further improve the safety of the rider. Further development and continued improvement in the areas of safety and comfort technology are SHOEI’s primary goals.”

Shoei implies that safety is synonymous with comfort and that’s “active” safety. Safety is defined as the rider paying more attention, having a cooler head (which is only hot because they’re wearing a helmet) and is quieter (though the helmet itself is causing much of the noise which Shoei then dampens). All that is a limited truth because comfort can just as easily led to inattention. But that’s not why we buy helmets.[ii]

HJC doesn’t claim its helmets do anything either:  “With the addition of the helmet models mentioned above, it is clear that HJC continues to be a brand that is friendly to motorcyclists around the world providing safe, comfortable, stylish and affordable helmets.”

In the section “Helmet Usage” HJC comes the closet to claiming that its helmet will reduce injury or death:  “To reduce the risk of serious injury or death…” “and to help prevent damage to your helmet” …“always use your helmet correctly.” However, this doesn’t say the helmet reduces the risk. Rather, its what the rider does that will reduce the risk.

But that’s a half-truth. A rider can vastly reduce the risk of a crash by what he or she does (and that includes using the helmet correctly) but once the crash occurs, the rider can’t reduce the risk of injury or death—that’s exactly what a helmet is supposed to do. But that’s not what HJC claims.

Nolan Helmets has a truly ridiculous claim: “…since the early 1970’s, Nolan began using sophisticated materials to bring optimum performance to motorcycle riders at a competitive price.” Iow, it’s not skill or judgment that makes a rider perform as best  (but not necessarily safely) as they can. Iow, helmets are like tires or a trellis frame or a few hundred extra cc’s. Safety—or even comfort—aren’t appeals that Nolan uses in its advertising.

KBC comes the closest to referencing safety in terms of helmets with its slogan: “Ride Long. Ride Hard. Ride Safe.” It’s also the only manufacturer that states a direct though somewhat ambiguous warning on its website: “PLEASE NOTE: A.  No helmet can protect the user against all foreseeable impacts.”

Scorpion has a section on safety but it doesn’t say its helmets will protect you. Instead it references MSF training (without saying that will keep you safe), has a link to the MSF’s .pdf on helmets and directs readers to the Snell Foundation.

Safety seems to be the last thing on Icon’s mind—as does grammar and coherent thought. Rather, Icon courts and encourages both risk and violence: For example, it describes its new “Airframe Sacrifice” helmet as: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Some will thrive whilst others wither. The Airframe Sacrifice is the former. A warrior’s helm. A leader destined for glory amongst the disposable ranks. Legions of weaker willed troops will break upon it’s chromed brow. There will be no legends passed down to glorify their sacrifice. Only this single heroic helmet and magnificent crest will remain.”

The Airframe Predator is described as: “When this bird shows up, trust us, it’s no party. This foul predator eats your dog’s food, craps over the driveway and one day will probably carry off the cat. We’ve seen it a thousand times.” And the Airframe Death or Glory as: “Some live their life in moderation – a careful balancing act devoid of excess. And that’s fine, the world needs those people. Then there are those who are destined to leave their mark on history’s pages. Those courageous (or stupid) souls who know no such balance. For those few it’s all or nothing. A pure digital lifestyle – Zero or One, Black or White, Death or Glory.”

Icon, though, does have a section called “Survivors” where Icon purchasers relate their various crashes and attribute their well-being to Icon.

Only one manufacturer claims that its helmet saved a life—while Bell also advertises its helmets in terms of ventilation, weight and price it’s the only manufacturer that directly claims that once a helmet saved someone’s life: “In 1955 a guy named Cal Niday plowed into the retaining wall during the Indianapolis 500 and the first Bell comeback was officially underway. The impact fractured his skull, but one of our helmets saved his life.”

But from that point on it uses euphemisms to imply it saves lives without directly claiming they do: “Cal returned to racing a few months later. We’ve been engineering spectacular comebacks ever since….Bell was there when the world’s best riders went down. And with innovations like energy-absorbing liners, the first full-face motorcycle helmet, and more design patents than any helmet company in history, we’ve always been there to help them get back up again. Over the years we earned enough trust to make our name synonymous with motorcycle helmets.”

Iow, if one didn’t know the Helmet Story one would never ever guess from what those who make them that the primary purpose of helmets is to reduce injuries and prevent deaths. But then we do know the Helmet Story thanks to NHTSA and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, which is one of two organizational sister corporations to the Motorcycle Industry Council—to which all the helmet manufacturers belong.

The easy answer is that helmet manufacturers don’t say a helmet can save your life because of fear of liability suits—if they say it, and someone is hurt or dies, then they’ll get sued.

So let’s look at life jacket/vest manufacturers as a comparison. Certainly their products also are supposed to save lives and if they failed, they, too could be sued.

Like helmet manufacturers every one states their products meet standards—but, unlike helmet manufacturers they don’t stop there:

The Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association is a trade group like MIC and states on its homepage, “Most drowning victims had access to a Personal Flotation Device, but did not wear it. A wearable PFD can save your life – if you wear it!”

Float-Tech “Safety in the water is something we should all take seriously. One of the easiest things we can do is wear our life preserver, a habit that would have a significant impact on annual drowning.”

Jim BuoyModel #SO-1 – Features Jim Buoy’s remarkable new LIFE-SAVING design that enables an unconscious person to roll over, face-up, with their mouth more than 4 3/4″ above the water in LESS THAN 5 SECONDS!”

Or this from manufacturer Extrasports, “Wherever safety is needed most, rescue experts turn to Extrasport® Swiftwater® rescue PFDs. The right equipment can mean the difference between success and failure, life and death. Our accomplished Swiftwater® rescue line is often called to unexpected places and dangerous water conditions.”

Or Mustang Survival Company that states, “For more than 40 years, Mustang Survival has been committed to providing lifesaving solutions for people exposed to the most hazardous environments. Through constant innovation and application of new technologies we have established ourselves as a leading supplier of survival solutions to the most demanding military, professional, and recreational users.”

The difference between helmet manufacturers and personal flotation device manufacturers could not be more pronounced. And the latter aren’t afraid to mention the elephant in the room—that their products are meant to be used in terrible times. They aren’t afraid to say that their products can mean the difference between living and dying. In fact, they flaunt it.

Nor do they try to justify the purchase by waxing on about comfort or how side effects will make the boater safer. They know why their consumers buy their products and that’s what they sell: we save lives for a living.

The helmet manufacturers sell comfort, ventilation, comparative weight, graphics and swappable faceshields. Notice the difference?

Or how about the opposite side of the spectrum—not preventing death but preventing unwanted life? Durex condoms advertises “Durex condoms …they’re not just about protection against sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.  They’re designed to excite and enhance.”

Or Trojan: “TROJAN® Ultra Thin Spermicidal Lubricant Condoms…

  • Thinnest TROJAN® Latex Condom-Designed for ultra sensation
  • The Strength of a Regular TROJAN® Latex Condom
  • Made from Premium Quality Latex-To help reduce the risk
  • Nonoxynol-9 Spermicide Is On This Condom for extra protection against pregnancy ONLY – NOT for extra protection against AIDS and other STDs
  • Special Reservoir End – For extra safety
  • Each Condom is Electronically Tested – To ensure reliability

CAUTION: Spermicidal lubricants are for extra protection against pregnancy. Spermicidal lubricants are not for rectal use or more-than-once-a-day vaginal use.”

Or, on the feminine side of sexual protection, here’s what Meyer Labs says about Today’s Sponge: “Today Sponge provides effective birth control without “pill” side effects. It is a proven contraceptive with over 150 million sponges sold…”

So if it’s liability that’s the concern, there’s a far greater chance that pregnancy or disease would result trip for trip, so to speak, than a rider has of sustaining a head injury or dying from one. Yet there’s absolutely no doubt about what condom manufacturers are selling—and it’s not reduction but prevention. Comfort and pleasure are added values and not the main benefit when it comes to birth control.

To put this into perspective, then, if helmet manufacturers advertised condoms, it would be all about comfort and pleasure they give without the slightest hint that they’re supposed to prevent pregnancy or disease. Iow, rather like Arai and Shoei advertise helmets.  Personally, I doubt comfort or pleasure are why people buy condoms.

Yet we’ve certainly heard of situations where condoms break or were defective and pregnancy or disease resulted yet that doesn’t stop these manufacturers from stating what their products are meant to do.

Iow, while fear of consumer liability lawsuits is a reasonable explanation for the startling omission of any reference to what helmets are supposed to do, it’s not a very good answer.

Or maybe it’s just a different type lawsuit they fear. Stay tuned…


[i] Arai really does spend a great deal of time justifying its cost: “In the end, what are your comfort and confidence are worth to you? Can you really put a “price” on them? An Arai helmet isn’t inexpensive. It isn’t made to be.” “And when you wear one, it isn’t made to feel good for just an hour or two. It’s made to feel good all day, every day – and to keep feeling good for years, long after cheap helmets have become loose and shabby (and probably had to be replaced more than once).” Notice that the only benefits Arai claims have to do with comfort and not safety:” “You can’t always see the reasons why an Arai feels better, but they’re there: lower weight from aerospace fiberglass-based construction; a lower center of gravity for better balance and less strain; softer single-piece multiple-density liners (whose technology still hasn’t been able to be copied in almost 20 years). Ventilation systems that work in the real world, not just in drawings. A helmet with no “minor” parts. And the result is major: you just feel good. You want to keep riding.”

“That’s why we build our helmets the way we do. Because it’s not about what you pay, it’s about what you get.” “Few of us can afford to own the very best of most things. But with an Arai helmet, you truly can own the very best of something.”

[ii] However, Shoei disagrees with the true experts in helmet’s effectiveness like the late Harry Hurt: “Very thick, soft padding provided good wearing comfort, but it did not hold well at high speeds, leading to helmet buffeting and instability.” http://www.shoei-helmets.com/Safety_ActiveSafety.aspx Hurt, the foremost advocate of helmets and truly effective standards, was very clear:  very thick soft padding absorbs more kinetic energy and is thus safer for the reason we wear helmets: reducing injuries and preventing deaths.

More motorcycle commercials you’ll never see in the USA

March 10, 2010

Here’s another THINK! commercial–this one aimed at riders “The Day You Went to Work

TAC Shock Motorcycle Oct 2009 which has some critical video responses (check the side bar at the youtube.com site).

TAC Motorcycle safety video “Put yourself in their shoes”

This next THINK! one might be a little too cerebral for Americans “Give motorcyclists a second thought

And a different version of the naked rider one. And another.

The next one “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see you” clearly isn’t aimed at cagers feeling more friendly and aware of us–rather, it expresses the anger and frustration riders feel–and that’s legitimate though the action isn’t but this is meant to be funny and not serious.

Great motorcycle safety commercials

March 7, 2010

Remember the fantastic motorist awareness commercial that came out a few years ago–the Think Bike one with the cager that pulls out in front of a rider and the one about road hazards? The Brits have done it again–and again. OK, well add in the Aussies from down under and the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation.   Three more terrific commercials on motorcycle safety. The first two–brought to my attention by Young Dai–are directed towards UK troops–but the powerful message powerfully told is one that applies to all motorcyclists.

You’re an accident waiting to happen.

British Troops-Debris

The next one isn’t about motorcycles–but it is about how even a few miles per hour make a huge difference in avoiding injury crashes. And it’s amazingly cool in the way it’s put together. This video will change your mind about speed.

And here’s an extremely powerful commercial on why you should wear a helmet: Wear a helmet-No Excuse

Why can’t we in the USA produce powerful ads like this?

What seat belt usage can teach us about motorcycle safety

February 28, 2010

As we’ve been told again and again, far more drivers wear seat belts than riders wear helmets. The National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) estimates seat belt use at 83 percent in 2008 while helmet use at 67 percent in 2009. Statistics like that increase the perception motorcyclists don’t care much about personal safety. But seat belt history offers some insight into helmet use—and a different look helmet use history might change our perception about motorcyclists’ choice:

Manufacturers get the first mandate Seat belts were invented in the mid 1890s just as automobiles hit American streets, but it wasn’t until 1949 that Volvo and Nash first put seat belts in cars.[i] Few other manufacturers followed suit though and few people wore them.

State legislators, convinced of seat belt efficacy first demanded manufacturers put them in cars. By 1964 only half the states had the first seat belt laws—but that’s all it took; a year later all car manufacturers offered seat belts as standard equipment in every state. In 1972 the National Highway Safety Foundation (NHTSA) made it a federal requirement. But usage was extremely low—less than 11 percent.

Education fails Before and during this, though, a huge marketing effort (including the famous Buckle Up For Safety commercials) and an enormous public relations/media campaign to tout seat belt use was flooding the nation. And arguments raged about whether seat belts really were safe or more dangerous, which also happened with helmets.

More regulation In 1974 NHTSA required a buzzer/light reminder system or ignition locks to make it harder not to use seat belts. Ignition locks were more effective than the annoying sound/light that is still with us today. One study with a small number of drivers  found that usage rose to 67 percent but decreased over time as many owners disconnected the system or left them belted to circumvent the light/buzzer or lock.[ii] Studies using rental cars found that there was an insignificant difference in use between cars with or without the warning system.

Legislation not education Seat belts in cars and positive publicity was ineffective: usage was in the low teens through the 1970s. Iow, the public responded to seat belts as we’ve been led to believe riders responded to helmets.

It was only when mandatory seat belt laws were passed that use began to rise by 17-26 percent.[iii] California is a prime example: Before the mandatory seat belt law was passed in 1986 use was 26 percent. After the law it rose to 45 percent and crept up to 73 percent by 1993. After a primary enforcement law (meaning law enforcement could stop a driver solely for seat belt use) was passed in 1993 it rose to 83 percent and to 91 percent by 2002.[iv] Even so, by 2002, national usage was only 75 percent (and has since risen to 83 percent).

Negatives drive seat belt use And even recent studies find it’s only that high because of a combination of factors: use is higher in a primary enforcement states than in secondary enforcement state (where they have to have another reason to stop you). Use is higher among those who have a higher fear of getting a ticket than those who don’t think they at risk of a traffic stop. It’s higher when the ticket has a higher financial penalty. And studies have found that family and friends’ seat belt behavior matter and their pressure to buckle up matters and a general public attitude matter in influencing a driver’s behavior.

Otoh, programs educating drivers as to the risk and nature of injuries, offering incentives or raising fear of injuries weren’t very effective and had high recidivism. Once seat belt use becomes habitual, though, it tends to be self-maintaining.

Iow it’s the negative that drives seat belt usage until habit takes over and the decision is mindless. This attitude is so entrenched that the Committee for the Safety Belt Technology Study for the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies state that those who always wear belts, “… simply follow rules they have developed on the basis of experience, rather than continuously comparing risks against benefits in deciding whether to buckle up.”[v]

Part-time belt users gave these reasons for not wearing a belt included: driving a short distance (59 percent), forgetting to buckle up (53 percent); being in a rush (41 percent); and discomfort from the seat belt (33 percent). These are also reasons that some riders give for not wearing a helmet.

Non-users were by far the smallest percentage of the survey and gave some of the same reasons—laziness, short distances, forgetting, low speeds, short distances but also, “Many hard-core nonusers object to being forced to buckle up, believing that belt use should be a matter of personal choice.” This reason is the same argument anti-helmet law activists give for resisting helmet laws.[vi] Iow, we’re not so different than drivers when it comes to not wearing safety gear.

More of the same only tougher However the safety community is convinced that even habit is not enough; the Committee stated, “Strong enforcement is a necessary component of effective seat belt use laws. Motorists must be convinced that violators will be ticketed and nontrivial penalties exacted.”

The Prevention Institute article referred to a report published in 2000, in which  Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead stated, “Unless additional states enact and enforce primary laws, which are the most effective means of increasing seatbelt use, we see no credible basis to forecast increases in excess of the recent trend,” Mead stated in the report.

Iow, when it comes to helmets and belts traffic safety experts reject education as an effective tool when it comes to wearing safety equipment. Ever-tougher legislation is seen as the only way to force compliance.

Riders, though, don’t behave as drivers However for much of the past 30-some years, helmet use has been higher than seat belt use in states that don’t have helmet laws but do have seat belt ones. And helmet use in universal helmet law states has been higher than seat belt use in those same states before seat belt laws were passed.

Once again, we look at California: According to the Highway Loss Data Institute unit of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), helmet use before the universal law was passed was 50 percent. Iow, it was already 24 percent higher than seat belt use was before the mandatory seat belt law was passed.

Immediately after California instituted a universal helmet law in 1992, use surged to 99 percent.[vii] In comparison, it took 16 years and a harsh primary enforcement law to achieve slightly less when it came to drivers.

While it’s true that helmet compliance is more obvious than shoulder/lap belt use,[viii] voluntary helmet use was already almost twice as high when the law was passed as voluntary seat belt use was before the seat belt law was passed. And driver compliance only achieved rider compliance after a strict primary enforcement law was instituted.

This is a significant and positive safety difference between drivers and riders that has been unobserved and unstudied.

But it is seat belts we’re talking about and they are provided in every car sold and  require little effort or discomfort to use and have overwhelming social approval attached to their use.

Otoh, even the lightest helmet is a distinct weight on the head, it’s hot to wear at times and the snug fit that’s required for effectiveness is uncomfortable for many. It can catch the wind causing neck strain and some feel that it obstructs their vision. And unlike seatbelts, a helmet must be replaced if it comes in violent contact with a hard surface. To top it off,[ix] even cheap ones are expensive and require additional  effort (compared to seatbelts) to obtain.

Riders’ performance actually better Despite all that, nationally, helmet use is still 67 percent even though only 20 states have universal helmet laws while seatbelt use is finally 83 percent 45 years after seatbelts were standard equipment in cars sold in the USA—even though 49 states have a mandatory seatbelt laws. And that’s a profound safety difference between drivers and riders that has been unobserved, unstudied and unappreciated.

While traffic experts bemoan the low rate of helmet use an equally valid case could be made for the high use of helmets in states without mandatory laws and in states prior to the passage of universal helmet laws. Considering the history of seat belt use, it’s rather extraordinary that so many riders choose on their own to purchase expensive, heavy and uncomfortable helmets and wear them when they aren’t required by law or receive any immediate benefit or incentive for doing so.

In fact, it suggests that riders who choose to wear helmets without a mandate are the opposite of extraordinary risk-takers. Instead it suggests that they are more aware of the risks inherent in motorcycling, believe that their odds of crashing are higher and take steps to mitigate harm.

Iow, it suggests that a significant proportion of motorcyclists take more personal responsibility for their own safety than drivers do.

And that’s a very different view of motorcyclists.


[i] Coincidentally, 1949 was the year Smeed published his “law”.

[ii] Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use — Special Report 278. Transportation Research Board (TRB). 2004.

[iii] Curtisa, Kevin M. and Scott W. Rodia and Maria Grau Sepulveda. The lack of an adult seat belt law in New Hampshire: Live free and die? Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 39, Issue 2, March 2007, Pages 380-383.

[iv] Gantz, Toni and Gretchen Henkle. Seatbelts: Current Issues. Prevention Institute. October 2002. http://ww.preventioninstitute.org/traffic_seatbelt.html. Highway Loss Data Institute, Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Q&As: Motorcycle helmet use laws. January 2009. http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda/helmet_use.html.

[v] Committee for the Safety Belt Technology Study. Buckling Up: Technologies to Increase Seat Belt Use, Special Report 278. Transportation Research Board. 2004. http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10832&page=R1

[vi] It would be interesting if someone did a study to find out if those who didn’t wear helmets also didn’t wear seat belts.

[vii] Highway Loss Data Institute, Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Q&As: Motorcycle helmet use laws. January 2009. http://www.iihs.org/research/qanda/helmet_use.html.

[viii] Though whether the helmet is DOT-certified is not as easy to determine.

[ix] All plays on words in the article are intentional.

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

January 18, 2010

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

Motorcycle safety puzzle piece: training

January 8, 2010

I apologize for formatting errors in the chart–for some reason, wordpress.com changes the font size part way through and won’t allow me to fix it.

Training is the next piece that’s supposed to solve the motorcycle safety puzzle. It’s the most important piece in this way: while helmets have their fervent and often vehement supporters and detractors, everyone agrees that training is axiomatic as an effective solution to the motorcycle safety puzzle.

As motorcycle rights organizations are fond of saying–don’t legislate, educate. Training (and to an extent licensing), it’s believed, keeps one out of situations that could lead to crashes.

Training in some form or another has been around since the earliest days. One of the first how-to-ride manuals,  Boy Scouts on Motorcycles, was copyrighted in 1912, and the earliest official course, the British Metropolitan Police Hendon Training System began in 1934 with a civilian version taught by the 1950s.  By the time the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) began in 1973 there were over 30 different courses, curriculum  and manuals–including Montgomery Ward.

In 1974, MSF claims it trained 15,000 students. Today it claims that “5,422,315 students have graduated from MSF RiderCourses since 1974. 400,000 motorcyclists enroll in our courses each year.”

We’re going to look at training in more than one entry. The first uses MSF documentation to show how the range section has changed from MSF’s Motorcycle Rider Course through the Basic RiderCourse.

The second entry will be as comprehensive a list and summary of twenty-one studies I’ve tracked down on training and licensing.

Thirty-something years of MSF basic training curriculum

MSF produced a chart for the state administrators who were invited to a private preview of the Basic RiderCourse in the summer of 2000. It outlines what was taught in the range portion in the Motorcycle Rider Course, the MRC: RSS and the then-new BRC.

Comparing the curriculums, the MRC taught 43 skills, the MRC:RSS taught 22 skills with 8 optional skills and the BRC taught 16 skills. The MRC tested  8 skills, the RSS tested 5 and the BRC tests 4.

The course went from 22 hours to 15 during these years.

Some of the skills listed separately in the MRC were clumped in the RSS and BRC so there’s not as much disparity as it appears—however, some of the skills are not included in the clumped skill exercises. A skill test for swerving was added in the RSS (and kept in the BRC) however swerving itself was taught in the MRC.

There are those who argue that some skills previously taught but not mentioned in the BRC portion of the chart are still taught—like the sharp turn. However, there is no portion of the BRC range cards that teach students how to do a sharp turn or a sharp turn from a stop. All we can go on is what is actually in the range cards and this MSF-produced chart to compare the curriculums.

Also, even if some of the skills are still taught, the shorter course length means they’re taught (and practiced) for a shorter time.

Please note that there are differences in the order of the BRC exercises between what MSF planned to do in the summer of 2000 and the current order.

MRC MRC: RSS BRC
1 Mount/Dismount Getting Familiar with the motorcycle Motorcycle Familiarization
2 Posture Moving the Motorcycle Using the Friction Zone
3 Controls Starting and Stopping the Engine Starting and Stopping Drill
4 Start/Stop Engine Riding in a Straight Line Shifting and Stopping
5 Walking Motorcycle Riding the Perimeter and Large

Circles

Adjusting Speed and Turning
6 Buddy Push Weaving (30’) Control-skills Practice
7 Friction Point Turning on Different Curves and

Weaving (20’)

Pressing to Initiate Lean
8 Straight Line Riding Riding Slowly Cornering
9 Rectangle Making Sharp Turns Matching Gears to Speed
10 Large Circles Shifting in a Straight Line Stopping Quickly
11 Medium Circles Shifting and Turning on Different

Curves

Limited-Space Maneuvers
12 Cone Weave (20’) Shifting and Making Sharp Turns Cornering Judgment
13 Sharp Turns Stopping with Both Brakes Negotiating Curves
14 Shifting in a Straight Line Stopping Quickly on Command Stopping Quickly in a Curve
15 Turning at Higher Speeds Stopping on a Curve Lane Change and Obstacles
16 Riding Slowly Level 1 Evaluation: 1.

1. Stalling

2.Shifting/Turning/Stopping

3. Sharp Turns

4. Stopping on Command.

Avoiding Hazards
17 Principles of Braking Gap Selection Skills Practice
18 Stopping at a Designated Point Turning from a Stop and

Changing Lanes

Skills Test:1. U-turns

2. Swerve

3. Quick Stop

4. Cornering

19 Figure 8-Turning and Adjusting Speed Controlling Rear-Wheel Skids
20 Turning in Tight Circles Stopping in the Shortest Distance (maximum braking)
21 Weaving Between Cones(20’ X 10’) Swerving to Avoid Obstacles
22 Shifting and Acceleratingin a Turn Stopping Quickly on a Curve
23 Stopping Quickly withBoth Brakes Selecting a Safe Turning Speed
24 Sharp Turns and Shifting Optional Exercises: Offset Weaving, Shifting

and Turning on Different Curves

and Weaving,

Stopping Quickly on Command,

Tight U-Turns

and Stop-and-Go, Counterbalancing

in Decreasing-Radius Turns,

Surmounting Obstacles

25 Simulated Traffic Situations Level Two Skills Test:

1. Cone Weave

2.Sharp Turns,

3. Quick Stop,

4. Turning Speed Selection

5. Quick Lane Change (swerving).

26 Passing
27 Turning Speed Adjustment
28 Circuit Training
29 Starting on a Hill
30 Stop and Go
31 Staggered Serpentine
32 One-hand controls
33 Engine Braking
34 Controlling Rear-Wheel Skids
35 Quick Stops
36 Stopping in a Curve
37 Riding on the Pegs
38 Crossing Obstacles
39 Countersteering
40 Quick Lane Change (swerve)
41 Carrying Passengers
42 Pre-Ride Inspection
43 Maintaining Your Motorcycle
Skill Test:

1.Stalling,

2.Shifting and Stop (in a circle),

3.Operating Controls (in a circle),

4. Straight Line Balance,

5. S-Turn,

6.U-turn,

7. Stopping,

8.Weaving.