Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's not them!

Since we were talking about drivers who slam into school buses and fire trucks it seemed like a good time to dig a little deeper. As motorcycle commuters we face having to deal with drivers every day. We're literally competing for a space on the roads. In this case the competition is cell phones, inattention, the inability to have divided attention, rudeness, stupidity, and the list goes on and on. In yesterday's paper under the "Court records" section, there were 12 people listed as having been sentenced to driving under the influence. Yikes! We all know what it's like out there. The real question is "Who's responsible for us out there?" To find the answer we go look in the mirror.

Maybe the fact that we ride motorcycles as alternate transportation makes us just a little bit smarter about taking our skills seriously. Maybe it just makes us smarter, period. Today I both experienced some pretty rough riding conditions and had some time to think about things.

A trip to Eugene was in order today. That's about an hour South as the Honda flies. It was pretty wet this afternoon. Due to time constraints I hit the Interstate. Have you ever noticed how much water the big trucks launch into the air? Yeah, I'm pretty sure you have! When you're in the spray it feels like the middle of a monsoon. One particular driver really riled me. There's a 16 mile stretch between the Highway 34 exit and the Highway 228 exit at Brownsville. This driver was doing 62 mph. Doesn't sound too bad until you hear the rest of it. He was in the left of the two available lanes. In the right lane was a string of other big trucks. 23 of them to be precise. They were doing about 60.5 mph. We were stuck in spray forever. I say "we" because I'm including a jackass in a white Chrysler who insisted on tailgating. My kingdom for a rear facing rocket launcher! I'd take a front facing one for that matter!

Despite the bad weather, drivers were doing exactly the same things they do all the time. Speeding, tailgating, changing positions without really being able to see, all of it. I shake my head at them so often I have a permanent sloshing sound in my brain. I even had a close call in a parking lot. I'm parked, sitting on the bike, getting ready to dismount. Still in the pouring rain. This man in a Ford minivan started backing out of his spot. And kept coming. I had my helmet in my hands and was looking for a plan. I flipped the key back into the ignition and gave him a blast ( relatively speaking ) of the horn. The brake lights came on and the van jerked like the driver had been really startled. Jeez!

Night time found me still on the bike, doing my own personal business. Here's a sort of abstract picture.

I put my point and shoot digital camera on the night setting and let it fuzz a little. Or maybe my photo just turned out badly. No, it was on purpose. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it. The photo is supposed to illustrate how we are mostly lone riders in a sea of cars. Pretty good, huh?

Back to the question of who's responsible for us. Some states have tried to educate drivers about sharing the road with motorcycles. Other states, like ours, have put a big push on to get riders trained. Training drivers just doesn't work. What it boils down to is that we're the ones who need to develop whatever mental and physical skills it takes to protect ourselves. I'm alluding to skills used in mixing it up with other traffic. In multi-vehicle accidents, our data gathering here in Oregon shows that the other driver was only at fault in 13 percent of the wrecks. I'm not saying that the drivers didn't initiate situations more often than that. What I'm saying is that the ultimate reason the rider crashed was by doing the incorrect thing or nothing at all.

I recently came across an interesting contrast between our state and another. In Oregon we concentrate on giving the riders what they need to protect themselves. In the other state ( which will remain anonymous here ) the big push has been on trying to make drivers more aware of motorcycles. Their driver's manual has sections on sharing the road with bikes and there are a lot of public awareness campaigns. It's a noble cause on the surface. How do the two states compare?

As of the end of October we had 44 motorcycle fatalities. That's 44 too many. In the other state, though, there had been 147 to date. The number of endorsements and registrations are nearly identical. Both states have similar populations and traffic congestion. The only thing we can't track is the number of miles traveled. That's the only really accurate way to measure effectively how things compare. Unfortunately, that's not easily tracked so we make do with whatever parameters we can track.

We know we're not going to change drivers. It's just going to continue to get worse. If they can't see school buses and fire trucks, how can we expect them to see motorcycles? Might as well be pissin' in the wind to reference a song by Jerry Jeff Walker.

The one thing we can improve is us. I know you all are serious about your riding. Otherwise you wouldn't be reading here, right? We can always improve. Look how your riding has improved over the last five years. And you were a competent rider then, weren't you? Ray's our Training Manager. I've mentioned him before. Ray's also a pilot. So a lot of feedback he gives me is couched in those terms. On those rare occasions when I get cocky, ( not often, I swear! ) Ray lays some pilot talk on me. He tells me that no matter how high the number is on the altimeter, it could always go a little higher. Point taken, Ray!

Where experienced riders can make a real difference is in setting expectations for newer riders. These newbies need strong mentors. We all know of someone who comes to us for riding tips or advice. By all means, reach out and share. They need all the help they can get because the deck's stacked against them. Ride safe out there. By the way, don't forget the number one rule I have for my new instructors. It applies, too, to any rider.

Don't forget to have fun!!

You just knew my day would end up here after shopping, didn't you? Do you see my protective strategy for this situation? Yeah, the big Givi trunk isn't mounted. Sound thinking, huh? Actually, there's three small, but expensive items secreted on the bike. I will bar you from this site if you tell, but I bought Katie diamonds. You now those things they call Journey Diamonds? A necklace and earrings make up a nice set. Katie hasn't read the blog in a long time and I'm hoping she continues the pattern for a while longer. It's just a good thing my credit card is Platinum. I hear that has a higher melting point!

Miles and smiles,



Anonymous said...

You're a luck guy to care about someone like that, especially if she feels the same about you.

I get goo0d things from your blog. Keep it up!


Conchscooter said...

I'm glad my wife doesn't read your blog either.
My pet peeve is anyone in the passing lane less than 8mph faster than the passed.Irrational of course but it is MY pet peeve.

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

"In multi-vehicle accidents, our data gathering here in Oregon shows that the other driver was only at fault in 13 percent of the wrecks."

How'd you do that?!?

Last I knew, the Hurt report & that study done in Australia (much more recently) both showed the other driver at fault about 2/3 of the time in multi-vehicle accidents. Did I misread something?

Was I a competent rider 5 years ago? I thought so, though I only had my scooter; never rode a larger bike. Was I really? No. Knowing what I know now, including the change in mindset that's needed to really be safe(r) on a bike, I'm surprised I didn't get hurt, and badly.

"You just knew my day would end up here after shopping, didn't you?"

Actually, I expected to see another Starbuck's.

Katie's lucky to have you in her life. I'll be interested to read about her reaction when she gets the pretty rocks.

ps said...

Nice post as usual. I avoid those big parking lots and when I can't I park somewhere that isn't a spot or a lane and is exceedingly unlikely to be backed into. If you weren't sitting on your bike and quick-thinking it would have been a lot worse, and the other driver could have just pretended it didn't happen and taken off.


irondad said...

I totally agree with you. Katie inspires me which speaks to the kind of gal she is. Thanks for the feedback on the blog. I would hope it is of some value to riders!

If it's your pet peeve it can be whatever you want! I wish there was a simple way to solve the passing lane problem. No matter how many lanes desecrate the landscape, the same idiot drivers will hog them all. I shudder to think of six lanes with six cars across all doing the same slow speed.

I should have been more specific. The figures I gave were for fatalities, which are very closely investigated. It's harder to be concrete with statistics for non-fatal accidents. However, it stands to reason that the fatalities are a microcosm of the larger picture.

Again, the initial situation might have been caused by the drivers. It was how the riders reacted that got the rider into trouble. These are documented figures for Oregon. Other states may differ.

I usually try to park out by myself. It's also a good excuse to get some exercise! In this case, open space was scarce. Poor Sophie if I hadn't been there to help her out, eh?

Take care,

Jeff in NY said...

School busses, firetrucks and minivans. My wife had a story along the same lines last night. She was helping my daughter into our minivan in a parking lot when another person got into her SUV directly across the isle. My wife says they actually exchanged looks and harried smiles. About the time my wife got into her van the other driver was backing up ...straight... directly towards her. Same deal as in your post; a quick horn blast brought the other driver to a lurching halt.

It apparently took the other driver 60 seconds to get lost on a cell phone or some other distraction. If I had not experienced similar things in the past I never would have beleived it. Its clear to me that even making eye contact does not necessarily mean 'brain' contact has been made.

Thanks for sharing... it reaffirms I'm not 'alone' out there :-)

Bryce said...

Diamonds are a girl's best friend.

However when two married people
have been togther as long as you two;
the question becomes, what do I give to my wife/significant other that
they will enjoy? Ditto the other way
no doubt. Yes love, caring and being
happy together are also part of the
formula. Maybe a bouquet of flowers
or similar now and then.

You could give her a Starbucks
gift certificate (or here in Canada
a Tim Horton's gift certificate) however those are nonsense gifts.

Something for both of your perhaps,
matching helmets, and Aerostich
costumes? Perhaps a non-motorcycle
trip somewhere, cruise to Alaska
or similar?

Whatever, may your time together this Christmas be a happy time.
Family appearing this year as well?


As to others also on the highways
and byways of life, they too are in their own little world often oblivious to their surroundings
and existence. This time of the
year particularly, many seem to
be in a mad rush for completion
of set and non set tasks.

I stay off the travelled roads
as much as possible; and of course
with umpteen piles of snow and
ice and snow-covered roads, motorcycle transport is not

Cheers, Happy Solstice and
Merry Christmas

Bryce Lee (I am not Asian)
Burlington, Ontario