Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Is "good enough" really enough? Part 2

Setting the scene.

Here's the situation. Commuting on two wheels makes a lot of sense. With the rising price of fuel it makes ever more economic sense. Single track vehicles are better for our world. I think we all have a moral obligation to emulate Native Americans and others who lived ( or still live ) close to the land. Mother Earth nurtures us and we must treat this as precious. Bikes take up less room on the roads. Bikes don't wear pavement down like bigger vehicles. Parking is usually easier and more convenient. Bikes can use high occupancy vehicle lanes and save us time on our commute. There are good things to be experienced commuting on a bike. Things that cagers probably haven't even a clue as to their existence. In warm and sunny weather the pleasure's divine. Adverse weather can be handled by selecting and using good gear. Obviously, ice and snow are in a class of their own. This isn't a huge issue for a vast number of potential bike commuters. In other words, there's a ton of good reasons to commute on a bike. There are very few reasons not to. You know you want to. Why don't you?

I'll tell you why. The 900 pound gorilla that keeps jumping in the middle of things is this statement:

Riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car.

This, gang, is a true statement. Not to the degree that has been built up in people's minds and folklore. To listen to most "normal" people, it's a wonder anyone has survived any riding whatsoever. You know what I'm saying. How many times, when you've told someone you ride a bike or want to, have you had to hear them trot out their stock of "horror" stories? They've always known someone who got hurt or killed. What's conveniently left out is WHAT CAUSED the accident! The rider could have been riding drunk with their helmet on backwards so it covered their eyes, but it was always that evil motorcycle at fault!

The sad thing is that there's a lot of people who would like to commute and could be competent, safe, riders. They could actually enjoy the commute for a change. Too often they're held back by fear. I'd love to talk to such ones in person. I'd urge them to go ahead and try commuting on a bike like they'd love to do. At the same time, I'm not going to paint pretty pictures of daisies and sunshine. Yes, those things are there, but there's actual danger, too. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. The good news is that risk can be managed once we know what those risks are.

We're not going to be morbid here. I just feel it's critical to have an accurate picture of what we face. I've always believed in entering a situation with my eyes open. I want others to be able to do the same. With that in mind, consider the following.

Yes, we deal with distracted, unskilled, and downright stupid drivers out there. I just saw a government study that was released recently. This is from an Associated Press release. I've done some paraphrasing and summarizing for brevity.

Those sleep-deprived, multitasking drivers-clutching cell phones, fiddling with their radios or applying lipstick-apparently are causing lots of crashes. Distracted drivers were involved in nearly 8 out of 10 collisions or near-crashes, says a study released by the Government Thursday April 20, 2006.

Researchers reviewed thousands of hours of video and data from sensor monitors linked to more than 200 drivers, and pinpointed examples of what keeps drivers from paying close attention to the road.

"We see people on the roadways talking on the phone, checking their stocks, checking scores, fussing with their MP3 players, reading e-mails, all while driving 40, 50, 60, 70 miles per hour and sometimes even faster," said Jaqueline Glassman, acting administrator of the government's safety agency.

A driver's reaching for a moving object increased the risk of a crash or potential collision by 9 times, according to researchers at the National Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. They found that the risk of a crash increases almost threefold when a driver is dialing a cell phone. Video footage shows four different angles of the driver-the face, a view of the steering wheel and instrument panel, and front and rear views of the vehicle-and offers a look at the moments before a crash.

Researchers said the report showed the first links between crash risks and a driver's activities, from eating and talking to receiving e-mail. Data from police reports had estimated that driver inattention was a factor in about 25 percent of crashes. For many drivers, the research offered more proof of what they see on their daily commutes. ( italics mine )

For more than a year, researchers studied the behaviour of the drivers of 100 vehicles in metropolitan Washington, D.C. They tracked 241 drivers, who were involved in 82 crashes of various degrees of seriousness-15 were reported to police-and 761 near-crashes. The air bag deployed in three instances. The project analyzed nearly 2 million miles driven and more than 43,300 hours of data.

Drowsy driving increased the driver's risk of a crash or near-crash by 4 to 6 times, the study said. But the study's authors said drowsy driving is frequently underreported in police investigations. When drivers took long glances away from the road at the wrong moment, they were twice as likely to get into a crash, the report said.

Assessing cell phone use, the researchers said the number of crashes or near-crashes linked to dialing the phones was nearly identical to those tied to talking on handheld cell phones while driving. A goverment report last year found that about 10 percent of drivers are using cell phones. ( it seems they didn't look on the roads I travel )

This is my own editorial. Interestingly, the cell phone industry tries to defend itself by claiming that distraction takes many forms. Things like eating, going through papers, and inserting CD's into the stereo. I agree with their assessment without letting them off the hook. Although, to be fair, individuals can make the decision to not use the phones while driving. It's not really the cell phone companys' fault. The fact is that drivers are distracted by MANY things. It all means that they aren't paying attention to driving and that makes them a danger to us.

The dangers are real. Nobody is immune. You'd think that trained professionals would be much better off than us run-of-the-mill commuters. You'd be wrong.

In a study posted on, it states that more than half of all law enforcement agencies allow motorcycle officers to take their bikes home and commute for free. This is one of the advantages, some agencies cite, of motor officer duty and makes the job more attractive. But get this.

In this study and one done by the California Highway Patrol, it was found that motorcycle police were more at-risk and had more commuting accidents than they did while on the job. Also, the accidents off-duty motorcycle officers had on their bikes were more severe and cost more than those on the job. The officers also log more miles commuting than they do on duty. The CHP study found that half the 208 million miles logged by CHP officers were in commuting with an average round trip of 58 miles vs. an average of 47 miles ridden on the job. The inference is that there's more exposure in terms of mileage. Bear in mind that a lot of accidents happened on the way home. You can imagine the exhausted and stressed condition of the riders.

All right, you say, I've put the fear into you. Is this supposed to help me decide to commute? Sounds like I'm trying to scare you away. Just the opposite, actually.

Now you've met the enemy. There are things we can do as riders to put ourselves in a position to achieve victory. Things like mental strategies and physical skills. Here's the thing, though.

It's not enough to be "good enough".

Go back to that statement I made. Riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car. A bike is smaller which makes us less Visible. The small size and being out in the open makes us more Vulnerable. A rider's Judgement is critical. It's certainly important to make good decisions no matter what vehicle we're piloting. It's critical on a bike because a BAD decision can have much worse consequences for us.

It's not enough to just "match" the opponent. A bike undeniably has a better power to weight ratio and is more nimble than a car. In many other ways we start out at a disadvantage, though. This means, that as riders, we need to be technologically and intellectually SUPERIOR to them. How can we accomplish this and what tools do we have at our disposal?

Stay tuned for part 3.

Miles and smiles,



Steve Williams said...

Great topic. You're exactly right about people dredging up horror stories. The perception of the risks in riding by non-riders is distorted to say the least. Riders don't do themselves of the riding community any favors either bragging about near misses and hairy situations they've been in.

Lack of attention is everywhere. Riding tunes me in not only to vehicles but to the drivers. I see what they are doing and whether they are looking at me. I am still amazed at how many people are leaning against the window with their cell phones on their ear. They seem absolutely bored.

My 70 year old father-in-law is purchasing a 2003 Vespa ET4 today from a friend of mine. He has ridden my scooter around the neighborhood a few times and just loves it. Now that he is actually going to get one I'm a bit nervous about it. I suggested a few months ago that he take the MSF course but he never signed up and now the courses are full until the end of July. I've offered to give him a little training myself but that's not the same.

So off in the world comes another inexperienced rider. He's physically in good shape and has been a bicyclist for years so he is somewhat familar with two wheels.

But still....

Thanks again for this post. I should be required reading for any rider. I'll make sure pappy sees it.


Art said...

Hey Dan you are right with this rising cost of fuel commuting on bike is the answer. Not only that it save you money on gas it also save the most important of them all TIME. Time to spend more with the ones that really matters your family. Yes there is danger but with enough skills, preparation and anticipation the level of danger can be minimize.
Have a great weekend

Art B

irondad said...

Pass on a couple of things to your father-in-law. Classes often have "no-shows". If he wants to show up on the first night of class they fill them from "walk-ins". The other thing is that most programs allow scooters. If it's under 300cc it can be used in the new riders class.

Hi! Wondered if you were still out there. Still have the Ninja? If I remember correctly you're in the Seattle area riding 60 miles one way. Can see how you could save some time. You're right. Skills and preparation are the key. Part 3 will address that. Take care.


Art said...

Yes I still have it and still getting 70mpg. With this rising cost of fuel the number looks wonderful. So far I have 19000 miles on my Ninja and I am still commuting 120 round trip. I will see if this bike can keep up with the rest of my vehicle as far as mileage go...

1994 honda civic 148000 miles
1991 honda accord 310000 miles
1990 Chrysler voyager 166000 miles

Take care


Mad said...

I think car drivers forget that the stuff that happens to us can happen to them too. People die in cars suprisingly easily, it's just that the consequences of a small bump are relatively minor for them and can be very painful for us. If they drove with more regard for the possible consequences of poor skills/judgement I think the roads would be a better place.

I've heard it said that rather than surrounding drivers with air bags etc that there should be a large spike on the centre of the steering wheel causing a higher level of focus...