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,