Ride into the Danger Zone…

Motorcycle vs. passenger vehicle death chart

It’s a dangerous sport we’ve embraced, folks.  Indeed, looking at this graph, it’s hard to make any other conclusion. Motorcycle fatalities per passenger mile are 37 times higher for motorcycles than for cars.

What irks me about this report, though, is that we, as a community, don’t seem to be making it much safer.  Sure, there are cars that turn in front of us, or change lanes into us…I get it. In fact, my last crash was a guy that T-boned me after running a stop sign.

But I notice two salient facts from this report.

22% of motorcyclists that died in 2009 did not have a valid license.

If you’re riding without a license, there’s a couple of things that could be going on. You can’t ride well enough to pass the test. You don’t want to be inconvenienced with getting a license. But, I presume a significant portion of those people without licenses don’t have them because they got taken away after getting caught doing something stupid.  That doesn’t stop them, because…well…they’re stupid and/or reckless, and the odds caught up with them.

30% of fatal motorcycle crashes involved a driver with a BAC greater than .08.

Speaking of stupid and reckless.  If you tie one on and get on a bike, then you’re just a moron.

Overall, those two numbers tell us that somewhere between 30% and 52% of all motorcycle fatalities are stupidity-related. Frankly, I don’t have any sympathy for these people.  Good riddance.

Not only do they kill themselves, and cause their families pain, they make those of us who have licenses and don’t drink and ride look bad.

Just not drinking and riding would lower motorcycle fatalities by 30%. Maybe that would help stop other morons from arguing that motorcycles should be banned.

Another Helmet Myth Debunked

Ah, science! It’s so good at telling us that things we “know” are true…aren’t. In this case, it’s the idea that the extra weight of a helmet on one’s head increases the chance of a spine injury, as the extra weight snaps your whiplashing vertebrae like toothpicks.  The people who don’t like to wear helmets have all sorts of stupid pseudo-scientific reasons for why not wearing a helmet is “safer”.

A Johns Hopkins study of crash data from more than 40,000 motorcycle accidents showed that wearing a helmet was associated with a 22% reduction in cervical injuries. There was also–as if it wasn’t blindingly obvious–a 65% reduction in traumatic brain injuries at a 37% decrease in death.

Look, I, personally, don’t care if you wear a helmet or not. I certainly wouldn’t force you to wear one. But if you don’t wear one, and end up with a crack on the head that turns you into a broccoli floret, I don’t see why I have to pick up the tab for it, either.

You are invisible

Motorcycle Daily’s Dirck Edge has re-posted his “Being Invisible” post, which is full of advice on how to survive the mean streets on a motorcycle. It got me thinking.

As part of my blogging here, I have some standard Google search feeds set up, such as “Honda Motorcycles”, “Harley-Davidson Motorcycles”, “BMW Motorcycles”, etc. These feeds sometimes provide me with links to interesting stories that other motorcycle publications or bloggers haven’t found yet. A very large percentage of the time, however, they provide me with more grim headlines, of the “Motorcyclist Shredded Into Tiny Pieces Then Ground to Paste by Semi”.  There are horrific accident stories every day on those search feeds.  Every day. It really brings home to me, on a regular basis, that we are involved in a dangerous sport.

Sometimes, in these stories, the motorcyclist is clearly at fault, usually because alcohol was involved, or excessive speed.  I have no sympathy at all for the motorcyclist in the former case, and often little sympathy in the latter.If you drink and ride, you’re a complete fool. If you push the limits of your ability and something bad happens…well, those are the breaks. It’s unfortunate, but if you play dice with your skill set, sometimes the wrong card is gonna turn up. And I say that as someone who in no way could be characterized as the poster-boy for conservative riding. It’s something that could very well happen to me. This, as the Mafiosi say, is the life we’ve chosen.

But a lot of those accidents are the fault of motorists, rather than motorcyclists, with the common refrain from the motorist, standing over the broken body of a motorcyclist, is “I never saw him!”  Because, to a lot of motorists, you are, in fact invisible. My accident a couple of years ago happened when I was riding in a Hi-Vis yellow suit, with my brights on, doing about 20MPH, when a guy pulled out from the stop sign of a T-intersection. He never saw me, either. Partly, this is psychological.  Drivers are looking for cars, so they get “car tunnel vision”.  If an object doesn’t register as a car, it may not register on them at all, and then they do something that causes a Bad Thing to happen to a motorcyclist.

That highlights a fallacy of a certain class of rider who thinks that, because they have a sharply honed riding skill set, that they can avoid accidents via their madd skillz.  That’s utter BS.  Your skills are only half of the equation.  No matter how good a rider you are, drivers can always put you into a bad situation in an instant.

Chris won’t even ride pillion with me any more, because she just can’t take sitting helplessly behind me and watching drivers do the silly things they always do in the vicinity of motorcycles. The last time she rode with me, she ended up cursing a blue streak at cagers who cut us off, made irrational lane changes, followed too closely, and generally did all the things that those of us who regularly ride the streets have to get used to.

So, Dirck Edge’s advice is about as good as it’s ever going to get.  Remember that you are invisible.  Stay focused, and scan the surrounding traffic. Look for escape routes. Make yourself as visible as you can.

And, going beyond that advice, wear the proper gear.  When I had my accident, I was bumped and bruised, with a broken toe, but I didn’t have a scratch on me, because I was ATGATT. My knees, shoulders, elbows all came through with flying colors too. At the end of the day, when that car makes an unexpected lane change and slams into your bike, it’s too late to regret being clad in a half helmet, wife-beater, shorts, and tennis shoes. You are now going to experience unpleasantness.

Just some free advice. What you do with it is up to you.