Thursday, February 22, 2007

Commentary

In the last post I inserted a news release from the Transportation Secretary, Mary Peters. Here are some comments on this and government procedures in general. Like I have maintained, this blog isn't a venue for political commentary. In this case I'm making an exception because there's some things I feel need to be said.

Ms. Peters is involved in motorcycling, either as a passenger or rider. I would have to believe that since she is still advocating helmets and rider education that she is pro motorcycles. That can't be all bad. I don't know anything about whether she was a rider or a passenger in the reported crash. This new push for helmets and safety training can easily be taken as a direct reaction to the crash. The timing is a little late but things can linger until opportunity presents itself. Or she could be totally sincere and looking for something to help the worsening situation. I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt.

I passionately believe in rider education. I'm also a devout disciple of wearing protective gear. In my opinion, Ms. Peters is right when she states that helmets and training are critical to the well-being of motorcyclists. In making these things more easily within financial reach of riders, her proposal has a lot of merit. As badly as I want to, I'm not going to comment on the training offered by the Motorcycle Industry Council. This training is administered through the MSF. I'm not sure how to say what I want to say without seeming to malign the many decent, sincere, and dedicated instructors out there. So that's all on that front.

The new accident causation study also has merits. I know many riders say things haven't changed since the Hurt Study. Drivers still fail to see motorcyclists. Treacherous roadway conditions still take their toll. By the way, that's one of the reasons I believe in rider education. I fervently try to instill the idea in riders that they need to take responsibility to fill in the gaps. More on that later. Other things have changed, though. One example is the proliferation of SUV's. Due to the greater number of them on the road, more of them show up as involved in crashes with motorcycles. These SUV's have higher bumpers than vehicles had before. That means that more riders are being hit higher on the body which causes much more serious injuries. As opposed to the Hurt Study where the most common bodily injury was to the lower extremities. These kind of things can be identified and perhaps changed. But I stray.

The fact is that a lot of riders are having accidents and either becoming seriously injured or killed. That's nasty either way you look at it. The numbers are getting out of hand and something needs to be done. I don't believe that government agencies are taking the right approach by passing laws mandating safety items. I agree that vehicles need a certain amount of safety built in. When a person buys a car, for instance, they have a right to expect that there will be enough strength to offer protection from crash forces. Things like seat belts and air bags have their merits. Someone somewhere has to step in to enforce a level of quality engineering. Once past that point, though, government gets carried away.

Here's a couple of examples from here in Oregon. A number of kids have been seriously injured on ATV's in the past year or so. Now there's legislation pending that would make it illegal for anyone under twelve to ride an ATV. Period. There's also a movement to legally dictate where children can ride in a car. The last proposal I saw included a mandate that any child under 13 couldn't ride in the front seat if a back seat were available. Any child under 4'9" tall would be required to sit in a booster chair of sorts. The proposal said that none of the committee members voiced opposition to the bill. Well, who's going to take a chance of looking like they're against child safety? Even if what they might express represents common sense, the groups seem to get into frenzies. So these things pass.

Either agencies are on the wrong track or they are taking the only practical means available to them. What do I mean by that? The problem these days isn't so much equipment as it is people. People just aren't taking responsibility for themselves like they used to. Katie sees it all the time at the elementary school where she works. God forbid a child's self esteem should be damaged by telling them they did something wrong. That attitude is rubbing off more and more to where we see adults exhibiting the same behaviour. You've all seen the frivolous court cases where a plaintiff tries to convince a jury that they really didn't get burned because they did something stupid. It just has to be somebody else's fault, you know.

The trouble is that government can't really legislate character. Trying to motivate people to change their behaviour and take responsibility for themselves is a huge undertaking. So maybe the governmental agencies are taking the only course open to them. It's too large a picture for a man like me to totally comprehend. I do, however, know motorcycling and rider training. I can tell you for sure that the largest percentage of fatalities here in Oregon are due to rider error. Accidents that don't cause fatalities can be presumed to fall under the same description.

In days gone by the most common crash scenario was a rider colliding with another vehicle. Weirdly enough, 75 percent of these kinds of accidents involve a vehicle that's between 10 and 2 o'clock to the motorcyclist. Right in bloody front of them!! Sometimes crap just happens but you'd think that at least in some of those cases if the rider were well trained they would have been able to avoid it, wouldn't you? Now we're seeing the majority of our fatalities in single vehicle crashes. As in just the motorcycle by itself. With a rider on board, of course. Most of these are in corners. Riders are just flat out getting it wrong. Accident reconstruction reveals that the rider crashed in the last third of the corner. Entry speeds were too fast because the rider didn't look far enough ahead to see what was really there. Their entry speeds were based on an incomplete picture. Thus they either went off the road and hit something like a tree or crossed the center line and hit an oncoming car. Again, due to not having training or ignoring whatever training they did have. Add to that the fact that half of our fatalities have alcohol involved. Only a third of those were legally intoxicated. We're not talking drunk, we're talking impairment. How many impaired riders are out there who haven't paid the inevitable price yet?

Which all comes back to the fact that if more riders took responsibility for themselves the picture would be a lot rosier. Notice I say the rider needs to "take" responsibility. I'm not in favor of having things shoved down someone's throat by law decree. I've written this before. If we're going to ride we have the responsibility to do it right. Taking responsibility means taking training or practicing skills. Preferably both. That's why I'm all for making professional training as inexpensive as possible. No matter how cheap it is, though, it's all for naught if riders don't take advantage of it. Until we solve the problem of rider responsibility the statistics are going to keep getting worse.

In the next post I'm going to share the tale of two students that exactly illustrate what I'm saying. Stay tuned.

Miles and smiles,
Dan

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

REMARKS FOR
THE HONORABLE MARY PETERS
SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION

MOTORCYCLE INDUSTRY COUNCIL INDIANAPOLIS, IN

FEBRUARY 16, 2007 9 AM
http://www.dot.gov/affairs/peters021607.htm

I am sorry, but did I walk into the wrong room?

"The motorcycle industry means a lot to me personally, and I am glad it has your strong leadership."

THE HONORABLE MARY PETERS SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION
seems to be honoring the motorcycle helmet industry and a mention of Safety was a brief on intent.

" And motorcycle crashes are one of the main reasons our progress in increasing highway safety has stalled."

"Now there is something of a disagreement in the Peters household about who was at fault. Let’s just say we mis-communicated. I ended up clipping his front tire, and went down."

"I remember the moment I knew it was going to happen. But God is merciful, and the next memory I have, I was off the bike and lying on the pavement with a broken collar-bone."

"So as you can imagine, motorcycle safety is a subject that I take very personally and very seriously."

Let me understand these last view statements...

Ms. Peters, your outline of the accident makes me believe that your dependent on the shell on your head to make up for either your lack of experience in riding, or you are in the age bracket that you have to depend on that shell on your head, knowingly your going to have that next motorcycle accident and need the protection. Who was really at fault here?

The Banner at the top of the page I read states " U.S. Department Of Transportation "

" And so I ask you to help me find common-sense solutions that will make biking not only the freest form of transportation, but also one of the safest."

Are you in this office to represent all forms of transportation and the issues of concern in public safety? I for one thought you were.

This is a blatant dis-concern outlined in this whole statement you made on FEBRUARY 16, 2007 9 AM. Like every politician alike you have no idea of the situation we face as motorcyclist today. NOT once did you mention Motorcycle Awareness issues and education programs for the motorists we deal with on a daily bases. Sure we will share in the education of our fellow Bikers in the motorcycle issues on safety, because that is were the NTSB, MSF, NHTSA, U.S. DOT, and alike have distributed that responsibility, to each State who qualify to receive their grants. Out of the "87,000 motorcycle injuries " ( NHTSA Final Report 2005 published ) how many of those injured motorcyclist are victims, regardless of helmets or not have experienced catastrophic injuries and are able to tell us about their experiences with Distracted Drivers, or their own self inflicted injuries. Are the NTSB, NHTSA & DOT representatives in every State, along with qualified Accident Investigation teams, Police reports, Medical Hospital reports, giving their all to report to Washington the actual needs and concerns we have for all motorcyclist? I think NOT!!

By lobbying your personal experience based on your age and lack of experience on a motorcycle is not the issue to promote the Helmet, "Band=Aid" issue like you have on this day! I propose to you and every Appointed Official to make changes to your attitudes concerning this next Motorcycle Accident Causation Study, and start combining the motorist in this study also, the Distracted Driver. Impaired Drivers should have the treatment centers, Rehab centers to deal with their addictions. The Distracted Drivers should be educated about sharing the roads with Motorcyclist. As you pointed out, we are only 2% of the highway users, yet we have the highest accident rates. Doesn't that tell you something? Or are you distracted by the Cell Phone ringing in.

Truly, Helmets are a great safety Item, But I have the right to choose to wear a helmet or not, as you well know, .. you choose to wear a helmet in a no helmet above 18 years of age STATE, Arizona, were I reside also.

As a motorcyclist/motorist yourself, representing Public Safety issues for motorist and motorcyclist, I feel you have mis-represented every BIKERS concern in this matter, Ms Peters, you DO NOT speak for every BIKER concerning HELMET USE. If you felt that you were, you should have ask us first before making your statement. Instead you based your statement on your own mishap, description of your inexperianced riding skills,

How can you represent the good of all motorist and motorcyclist Ms Peters, when you read the cover of these issues and NOT read the content of our concerns.

What is the root cause? As you stated, “perhaps preventing the crash altogether.”

We need to emphasize the importance of Motorcycle Awareness, Motorcycle Safety and create stonger laws for Distracted Drivers, ROWVs.

This is not about Helmet Safety, It's about Helmets !!

Let Those Who Ride Decide.

Ms Peters, I call for your retraction of this statement based on your inattentive awareness and lack of concern for ALL motorcyclist.

Garry Van Kirk
Bullhead City, Arizona
Bikers Accident Survivor Forum
Owner of www.bacsuv.com

irondad said...

Please note that this comment from Mr. Van Kirk does not necessarily reflect my own views. I do not endorse any insult to Ms. Peters. However, she is a public official and the public is free to express their opinions of such ones.

I am chosing to leave this comment for the purposes of stimulating people to think and talk about motorcycle safety issues. Since I opened the door to political commentary in this post, I will allow it to happen to the extent it doesn't take on a life of its own.

Dan

balisada said...

I wanted to give a thoughtful response to the previous post "Not Gone Yet", but I find that it still relates.

Helmets are a hotly debated issue.

Here in Oregon, the debate is rather academic, because helmets are required by law.

The responsible part of me agrees that helmets should be worn by all because they are safer. I don't know if giving them away free will entice people to wear them, though. It's that leading a horse to water thing.

But, it is my constitutional right to be an idiot.

The libertarian part of me is annoyed that a law is passed that restricts my freedom. That same part of me says that the law should allow insurance companies to restrict damages payouts if the rider was found to be lacking in safety measures.

I was on my way to Salem, Oregon for a 600 mile checkup for my motorcycle and I saw a guy and his girlfriend on a motorcycle. They were both wearing helmets, but they were also wearing flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts. Actually, her shirt was this little strappy thingy.

But at least they had their helmets on.

If they got into an accident, they would probably have minor injuries to the head, but the rest of them would be a giant scab. I think they wore helmets only because of the helmet law.

Perhaps insurance companies could offer incentives for those who wear helmets and safety gear. If people are not safe so they can continue riding for a long time, then perhaps they will be safe because there is an insurance discount.

Steve Williams said...

Excellent post Dan. It will take me some time to absorb and process it all. When it comes to safety, training, and clear thinking about these kinds of issues you always provide the vehicle to understand things.

Glad you kept the anonymous comment in too. I like to see varied opinions.

Thanks!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Giest said...

amazing, Dan. really couldn't have said it better myself. you are dead on by saying that we need to take responsibility in our own actions. if we don't, the government will just step in and conjure up a way to "keep us safe". we can't complain about rules and regulations if we aren't taking steps to keep ourselves safe.

irondad said...

balisada,
It all comes down to that difference between compliance and alignment. There can be incentives and laws, but the real key to success is to get folks to buy into taking care of themselves.

steve,
Thanks for the encouragement. I'd almost gotten to the point of closing the blog due to time restrictions. Leave it to you to supply the fuel to feed the spark!

giest,
We can regulate ourselves or be regulated. I'd much prefer the former.


P.S. In an interesting coincidence, I saw a picture of Ms. Peters in the newspaper. It was in an article about the Transportation Department allowing Mexican trucks to come farther into the U.S. for deliveries.

R Johnston said...

My only thought here is that including either a helmet or a course will increase the cost of bikes (nothing is free afterall).

I own 6 bikes, and already own 3 helmets, so I don't really need to be forced to buy 6 more helmets with my bikes. I have also taken the course, so likewise I wouldn't need that (although a refresher once in a while might be a good idea).

Including something with a purchase is also not any kind of guarantee that the item will be used. Take a look at seatbelts - every car has them but some folks refuse to wear them. That is why air bags were originaly conceived.

When I purchase a bike, the dealer would not let me take it home without seeing my license. Despite the fact that I trailered it home. Why not expand this idea to include proof of a helmet and/or MSF Course. That way I can choose my helmet, rather than accept a cheap piece of crap, which is what they would "give" me with my bike.

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