8 Ball In The Wind

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Did The Data Really Say That?

Sometimes a person has to really think about the information that is being published in the name of motorcycle "safety".  I am not necessarily disputing the findings, I am concerned about how it is being presented and what is being left out.  If you should just scan over the information as you read it, you may not have noticed certain discrepancies in information released by NHTSA in its annual "motorcycle traffic safety facts" report.  The data is published in a manner to elicit shock and concern in the reader.  However, if you really pay attention, you may realize things aren't as they would first appear.

For example; "In two-vehicle crashes 73 percent of the motorcycles involved in motor vehicle traffic crashes were frontal collisions. Only 7 percent were struck in the rear."  Notice anything about that quotation from the 2014 "motorcycle traffic safety facts" report?  It is incomplete, and in more than one way.  What type of collisions made up the unmentioned 20% of collisions?  Notice how the report states that while 73 percent were "frontal collisions", and only "7 percent were struck in the rear."  The only thing it is clear about is that the front of the motorcycle was the contact point in 73 percent of the collisions.  Although the implication is that 73 percent of motorcycles struck another vehicle in the rear.  But is that what the quote actually shows?

Think about it; if someone pulls a left hand turn in front of you, or suddenly slows or stops in front of you, aren't you going to hit them with the front of your motorcycle?

Here's another quote from that same report; "Motorcycles are more frequently involved in fatal collisions with fixed objects than other vehicles. In 2014 about 25 percent of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects, compared to 19 percent for passenger cars, 14 percent for light trucks, and 4 percent for large trucks."

The  key phrase here is 'fatal collisions'.  These stats compare collisions with fixed objects (guardrails, trees, street lamps, bridges, etc.) by various types of enclosed vehicles and motorcycles.  Then seemingly can't understand why motorcyclists would suffer a higher fatality rate than occupants of passenger cars, light trucks or large trucks.  The fact that a motorcyclist doesn't have the benefit of; being inside a metal enclosure, passenger restraints, and air bags is seemingly irrelevant in having a higher fatality rate due to collisions with fixed objects.  impacts that would not result in a fatality in one of those other classes of motor vehicle, could easily be severe enough to be fatal for a motorcyclist.  Like the saying goes; "we don't have crumple zones, we have leathers."

At times it is almost as if the data is just being punched into a pre-formatted document (which in finished form it is), but without someone double checking the figures.  For example, in one paragraph the report states that; "...2,469 (53%) of the 4,694 motorcycles involved in fatal crashes were collisions with
motor vehicles in transport."  Then, just three paragraphs later it states; "In 2014 there were 2,172 two-vehicle fatal crashes involving a motorcycle and another type of vehicle."  That's a difference of 297 fatal crashes, in only three paragraphs.  Yet there is no explanation, or even apparent realization that these figures don't match.  One is left to assume that those 297 fatalities were involved in collisions involving multiple vehicles.  But then in the Navy they taught me 'never to assume'.

So when you look at data, don't just skim it.  Stop fairly regularly and go over what you just read.  Does it make sense?  Does it really say what you thought it said?  Do the figures even add up?  Sometimes using authoritative sounding figures can be convincing, but you better make sure they are complete as possible and accurate.  Or someone might just use them to beat you over the head with them.

Catch you on the road sometime..

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


There has been a great deal of debate regarding motorcycles moving forward between lanes of slow or stationary traffic on the freeways of Washington State.  While this is a basic motorcycle maneuver in virtually all the rest of the world, the concept seems quite alien to many drivers and law enforcement in the state.  I am hoping the explanations and information here will help rectify the issue of perceptions that seems to be at the core of this issue.

Imagine for a moment you are riding a motorcycle in slow moving freeway traffic.  There is a vehicle in front of you with space in front of it.  On either side of this vehicle is space enough for you to pass the vehicle in front of you.  Making certain that you are in a low enough gear to provide adequate acceleration if an emergency requires, you make your move and pass the vehicle riding along the dividing white line between the lanes.  After safely passing the vehicle you pull into the open available space.  You have just split the lanes.  Albeit while only passing one vehicle, but you have done it.  By simply keeping yourself alert and ready to respond with either brake or throttle as necessary in an emergency, you can successfully proceed safely through the congested traffic.

At about this point in the conversation, usually one of a two questions are brought up.  Both are related closely enough to simply be a variation of the same question.  What happens if a car should suddenly change lanes in front of a lane sharing motorcyclist, and who is liable for the collision.  This is one of those ‘perceptions’ I had mentioned earlier.  The perception here is; that a motorcyclist who is safely and properly lane sharing is much more likely to be hit by a vehicle changing lanes than one maintaining their position in the flow of traffic.  However, the facts don’t support this perception.  One of the conclusions in Dr. James V. Ouellet’s 2011 study Lane Splitting on California Freeways was that; “Maintaining a normal lane position does nothing to eliminate sudden path encroachment by cars. Motorcyclists are vulnerable to incautious car drivers making sudden, unsignaled lane changes regardless of the motorcycle position in the lane.”  As to liability; while I am not an attorney, I would expect it to depend on the cause of that collision, not a blanket liability placed on one party or the other.  While collisions do happen while lane sharing, nearly thirty years of research and study from around the world show that those collisions are much less frequent than those involving motorcyclist who are not lane sharing.  Even the famous ‘Hurt Report’ (considered by many to be the most in-depth and complete motorcycle accident study of the 20th Century) found that lane sharing was involved in less than 1% of the 900 accidents in the study.  It may help the reader’s understanding to know that Dr. J.V. Ouellet was the co-author of the “Hurt Report”, and has more than forty years in the field of traffic safety research.

This perception of lane sharing being a dangerous activity performed by thrill seekers is totally out of touch with the reality.  While there are those who do perform the technique at high speed differentials to traffic flow, they are by far in the minority.  However, they are also the ones who are the focus of YouTube videos and television news reports.  Meanwhile, as was found in the ‘Hurt Report’, as well as other studies since, nearly 66% of motorcyclists on the California freeways partake in lane splitting, and account for less than 1% of the motorcycle fatalities.  The two studies done by Dr. Rice, of UC Berkeley in 2014 and 2015 continue to support the previous findings.  As do the findings of the 2009 MAIDS (Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study) from Europe. 

Yet the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, some in law enforcement, and others continue to disregard and denigrate these studies in lieu of (and actually perpetuating) the perceptions created by these YouTube videos.  The perception this creates is that of an conscious effort to focus on motorcycles as only a safety related concern and not as a full and integrated facet of transportation policy.  A project manager at the WTSC stated to me that since motorcycles accounted for only 4% of registered vehicles in Washington, they don’t have much of an effect on traffic.  That is the perception shared throughout the state agencies.  Yet, if only one in four motorcycles lane shared, that would take over 70,000 motorcycles out of the states traffic stream.  That wouldn’t have an effect on traffic?

Catch you on the road sometime…

Friday, June 2, 2017

Seattle's Traffic Woes Overlook A Safe, Cost-Effective Option

Seattle has the 23rd (out of 1,064 cities) worst traffic on the planet, 10th worst in the USA (according to Kirkland-based traffic data firm INRIX ).  This is even more staggering when one realizes that the Seattle metro area doesn't even crack the top 90 metropolitan areas in the world for population.  The current focus on congestion relief for the metro Seattle area are the tunnel on the north side of downtown, and the Sound Transit Light Rail.  Both are multi-billion dollar projects than will have little or no flexibility to respond to area traffic needs.  With traffic this severe, and bound to increase as the regional population increases, congestion will also increase.  Surely there is a more cost-effective measure than can be taken to aid in the reduction of this dire problem.  I believe there is.

The transportation policy planning in Washington State has been primarily focused on a two pronged approach; infrastructure, and public transit.  Once the capacity for additional freeway lanes was reached in Seattle, the policy began to shift to promote the use of public transit.  Which is not a negative policy.  However, there are further options which the transportation policy planners have come to look at merely as vehicles that represent safety concerns to be dealt with.  

Outside of the United States, in some of the most congested traffic in the world, those options are being seriously looked at as part of a comprehensive transportation policy.  Not only looked at, but actively supported and promoted by the government.  What are these options?  Powered Two-Wheelers (motorcycles and scooters).  In the US, and especially evident here in Washington State, the powered two-wheelers are looked at by transportation planners only in relation to safety of the rider.  Motorcycles and scooters are left out of the equation virtually completely when it comes to efforts to reduce traffic congestion.  This is a counterproductive way of thinking.

In the UK for example, it has been realized that this mindset created a perceived lack of motorized transportation to replace the single occupant car in traffic.  So for a long time, no few actually "thought outside the box" until about the late 1990's.  In a policy framework, Highways England stated; "Failure to consider all modes of transport, including motorcycling, denies the opportunity to create fully rounded transport policies, which are relevant to all who need to use transport for differing purposes and in widely varying circumstances.  This narrow approach to transport policy also fails to maximize the opportunities that exist to reduce urban traffic congestion and pollution-an area where motorcycles can play a significant role."

I specifically mention the UK and it's effort to support a comprehensive planning policy that includes powered motorcycles and scooters for a few reasons.  One, is that environmentally speaking, the UK is not too different from Washington State, with a similar annual precipitation spread out throughout the year.  It is also slightly cooler on average than Washington State.  Another reason is that London is even further up the congestion ranking than Seattle.  London is ranked 7th in the world for it's congestion.  Lastly; the UK, as well as most of the rest of the world, uses lane-sharing on the main freeways ad lane-filtering on the city streets to help ease congestion.  

Imagine if you will, if all the motorcycles in Washington State were given the opportunity to help ease congestion by lane-sharing as described in ESB5378.  A program manager in the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission informed me they do not believe there would be any congestion relief because only 4% of registered vehicles in Washington are motorcycles.  That is over a quarter of a million motorcycles.  Yet the WTSC doesn't believe they would have any effect on congestion.  That is a perfect example of the mindset I have spoken of.  Instead of placing motorcycles in the same category as; public transit, pedestrians, and bicycles for promotion of their use, the state doesn't even consider them as an option.  If motorcycles as an option can be of effect in the UK, as wet and rainy as it can be, imagine what removing a quarter of a million vehicles from the traffic stream would do.

As for safety, European and American studies have shown that less than 1% of motorcycle collisions involve lane-sharing motorcyclists.  Even though more than 60% of motorcyclists observed were lane sharing.  This is a safe, flexible option for easing traffic congestion.  Instead of tens of billions for infrastructure that cannot be adapted easily to changing population needs, lane-sharing would only require an initial public awareness program to educate drivers on the technique.  A public promotion campaign showing the benefits of motorcycling to work, and/or taking the light rail versus sitting in traffic in a single occupant vehicle could bring positive effects to the congestion relief effort.  Again from Highways England; "It has been contended that it would be a bad thing if people chose motorcycles over the bus or train.  Industry contends the contrary.  In many urban areas, buses and trains are already beyond sensible or comfortable passenger carrying capacity, which reduces their attractiveness to both existing and potential new users.  If a proportion of bus and train users were to switch to motorcycles, valuable capacity would be opened which would then be more attractive ti those current car users who would never consider riding a motorcycle or bicycle.  Transport usage and choices would start to balance better than at present."

Motorcycles make for a safe and cost-effective option for congestion relief if taken advantage of.  Ignoring them as a vehicle laden with risk to its rider is an outdated, and myopic point of view.

Catch ya on the road sometime...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Does Banning Lane-Sharing Cost Lives?

During discussions with legislators on Washington State's legislative bill ESB5378, there seems to be three main positions of opposition:  
1) The likelihood of some motorcyclists to violate the law and lane-split at high speeds on the freeway.
2) That allowing lane-sharing will drastically increase the motorcycle fatality rate in Washington State.
3) That motor vehicle drivers will not see a lane-sharing motorcyclists, and move into the highway space that the motorcycle is in, causing a collision.

The 2011 Study by Dr. J.V. Ouellet answers these and other concerns quite eloquently and succinctly; “The principal findings of this study are: 1) the likelihood of motorcycle lane splitting decreases as freeway speeds go up and the decline appears to be especially marked at speeds above 40 mph (66 km/hr). 2) The conditions under which splitting occurs and the frequency of lane splitting appear to be roughly the same in 2011 compared to the late 1970's. 3) lane splitting crashes appear to be a tiny portion (less than 1%) of the motorcycle accident population. 4) In the 1970's, lane splitting riders were under-represented in crashes compared to their frequency in traffic and the difference was statistically significant.”  

Let's look at those findings a bit more closely, and if they are relevant to the concerns of legislators:

1) Even though as Dr. Ouellet's study suggests, lane-sharing decreases significantly at speeds above 40 mph, isn't banning lane-sharing because a small minority may violate the law by doing so at a higher speed similar to banning speed limits because some may violate the limit?
2) In both the 1970's and 2011, lane splitting was confined primarily to heavily congested traffic, during commute hours during the work weekdays.
3) As Dr. Ouelett's study shows, both in California (in the 1970's and 2011), as well as in the European Union in 2009 lane-sharing motorcycle accidents appear to be less than 1% of all the motorcycle collision population.
4) In the 1970's 63% of motorcycles were observed lane-sharing, yet made up less than 1% motorcycle collisions.

Dr. Ouellet was a co-author of the seminal 1981 motorcycle safety study "Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures".  Or more commonly referred to as 'The Hurt Report', after it's lead author and team leader.  With over thirty years experience as a researcher in the field of traffic safety, Dr. Ouellet has been lead researcher on multiple studies during his career.  Lane Splitting On California Freeways actually builds upon the data from the 1981 Hurt report, and compares it to findings from 2011, as well as the 2009 Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study from ACEM in Europe.

Comparing the findings from the 1981 Hurt Report and the 2009 MAIDS; “The simple fact that only five of 900 crashes (0.6%) involved a motorcycle splitting lanes suggests that lane splitting is simply not a great problem in the overall population of motorcycle crashes.  Perhaps it is simply coincidence, but more than 25 years later, nearly identical results were reported in Europe for the Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study of 923 motorcycle accidents: only 4 crashes (0.4%) occurred when the motorcycle was splitting lanes. That is, lane splitting made a trivial contribution to the motorcycle accident population in both Los Angeles (late 1970s) and Europe (1999-2000). In Los Angeles, more than three times as many crashes were caused by roadway defects (n = 18) or pedestrians and animals (n = 16) than the five lane-splitting collisions.”   (Lane Splitting On California Freeways Page 11 Lines 358-365)

One would expect information like this coming from such an experienced traffic safety researcher would reduce the concerns of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, and the Washington State Patrol.  As well as the concerns of some legislators.

In Dr. Ouellet's words; "If this finding is valid..."(Which the 2014 & 2015 USC Berkeley studies would seem to confirm)"...then laws that effectively ban motorcycle lane splitting may have the unintended effect of increasing motorcycle crashes."

Kind of hits the nail on the head, doesn't it?

Catch you on the road sometime...

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Motorcycles Should Be Comprehensibly Integrated Into Transportation Planning Policy

In the first few decades of the 20th Century, motorcycles were a critical transportation mode in America.  Especially in the urban areas, motorcycles filled many of the day to day needs of business for transportation and delivery.  However, by the time of the Great Depression, motorcycles had begun to be relegated more to recreation than commercial transport and delivery.  Part of this was due to marketing of the motorcycle manufacturers in America, just trying to maintain production and sales.  With improving road systems and highways, and the mass production of automobiles and trucks the motorcycle began to lose its commercial transport identity.  By the 1960's, the motorcycle had become merely a recreational machine in the eyes of transportation planners.  The statistical over-representation of motorcycle injuries and fatalities had begun to focus safety concerns of transportation policy makers on motorcycles.  That focus has shown itself to be self-refining and exclusive.  To a majority degree in today's American transportation policy planning, motorcycles are shunted into a primarily "safety" training and education oriented planning model.

This emphasis on motorcycle safety education and training has isolated the motorcycle in the transportation planning policies of America.  Few even consider the motorcycle when considering the next step in traffic planning policies.  The safety emphasis has become so rigidly focused on motorcycles that in discussions with motorcycle safety instructors, many will not even consider any other factor to be a danger to motorcyclists beyond which training and education can deal with.  It is for this reason that many viable options for traffic modeling and congestion relief are virtually ignored, or worse, neglectfully opposed.

The minimalizing of motorcycles into this minor recreational only mode is having repercussions in Europe.  There are those in the European Union that have actively begun to push for the banning of motorcycles built before 2006 within certain zones in urban areas.  All in a effort to prioritize public transport (like a light rail system), bicycles and pedestrians. This sort of policy is a sign of how far from the mainstream transportation policy motorcycles have been excluded.  In this sort of model, the motorcycles strongest assets are completely ignored.  The number of people who ride bicycles across a metropolitan urban area may be quite limited.  As will be the number of people who walk a significant distance in an urban setting.  Unless public transportation is well within the distance those groups wish to walk or pedal, those groups are more likely to choose to take an automobile as transport across the urban center.  Public transport, such as a light rail system, will be unlikely to be integrated into every neighborhoods convenient walking or pedaling distance for many years if ever.  Transit buses can aid in the offsetting of the transportation convenience issue, but whether they are carrying 40 passengers or 1, when stuck in heavy congestion they are still emitting the same level of exhaust particulates, and burning the same level of fuel, while making little if any progress along the roadway.  

Motorcycles can easily fill the needs this sort of transportation issue opens up.  However, due to motorcycles being so safety focused for such a prolonged period, there is little in the way of expertise in both the positive and negative aspects of motorcycles as a full mode of transportation.  This lack of expertise in the transportation policy field is continuing to bring disadvantages to the entire transportation paradigm.  It is for this reason that motorcyclists are a negligible transportation mode in the mind of policy planners, and government agencies,  It has come to the point that most only see motorcycles as a safety issue to deal with while planning for ways to use and benefit other "real" modes of transportation.

There is a term used mostly to describe pedestrians and bicyclists, but it is also used to describe motorcycles with an emphasis on the risks of riding motorcycles.  That term is; "vulnerable" highway users.  With both pedestrian and bicyclists, there have long been initiatives to bring about helpful and beneficial priorities to incorporate them as "real" or full modes of transport that can be of benefit to society's transportation needs.  Motorcycles, with their ability to move through traffic relatively easily, and continue traveling actually moves people and has been shown to provide quicker commute transit times than most other modes.  However, there is little in the way of voices speaking out on the priorities that should be given for transportation policy planners to view motorcycles as a full mode of transport.  To utilize motorcycles in an integrated policy that includes all "vulnerable" users  in a combined effort.  Taking advantage and benefiting from the high degree of commonality between each mode of transport.  

The other "full" modes of transportation have all been examined fully enough that their standard transportation issues are well known.  However, the habitual limiting of motorcycle expertise and study primarily into safety and training had had the effect of leaving the majority of these standard issues unquantifiable for motorcycles.  Because these issues are not safety or training related, there has been little effort in gathering these standard data issues.  What are those standard issues that are well known for other transportation modes?  They include; traffic flow estimation, capacity usage, travel behavior,fuel consumption, emissions, vehicle operating costs, route modeling, etc.  How can transportation policy planners make objective, comprehensive integrated transportation policy when they exclude a viable transportation mode to the point there is insufficient data to analyze?  It is rather disappointing that the other "vulnerable" highway users, bicycles and pedestrians not only have a great deal more data on these issues, but are also considered "full" transportation modes in today's society, while motorcycles are considered merely a dangerous recreational vehicle.

In the United Kingdom, there seems to be a growing governmental awareness of this problem.  There, the National Police Chief's Council, Motorcycle Industry Association, and Highways England have joined forces in a project called the Motorcycle Framework.  The premise behind this project is to bring into existence a truly integrated transportation policy.  However, the British are also dealing with the problem of the motorcycle safety bias.  As this excerpt from the Motorcycle Framework website shows; "It is entirely possible that the existing unwillingness to fully incorporate motorcycling into mainstream transport policies stems from a perception that motorcycling represents nothing but a safety problem; that in a wider societal sense, motorcycling doesn't matter, that wider society would not miss motorcycles or scooters if they were removed from the roads.  This thinking needs to be reconsidered and negativity removed - at all levels."

Those words should strike home strongly with all motorcyclists.  The concept that "wider society would not miss motorcycles or scooters if they were removed from the roads" is no doubt partially what is behind the efforts being discussed for European urban zones.  That is a clear demonstration of how marginalized motorcycles have become in the minds of the majority of transportation policy planners.  Without having data on those standard issues that are well known and understood when dealing with other transportation modes, many planners seem to have become convinced that there are no benefits in those areas regarding motorcycles.  Thus, motorcycles are not even seriously considered in transportation system planning.

To not consider all transport modes equally, including motorcycles, is to refuse the opportunity to create a fully rounded transport policy.  What that refusal does is to deny free and fair access to users of all transport modes within the community.  By doing so, it prioritizes one mode of transport over others.  That prioritized mode of transport may have little or no real relevance to those who actually need to use transport for differing purposes or in widely varied circumstances.   Such a narrow approach to transportation policy planning minimizes some of the opportunities that may exist ti reduce urban traffic congestion, emission levels, and travel times.  All areas that motorcycles excel at, and can be of significant benefit to society.

By truly including motorcycles in transportation policy planning, it can bring the additional safety benefits of addressing a roadway environment that negatively affect the motorcycles vulnerabilities more greatly than should exist.  Doing so would have the dual benefit of additionally providing opportunities for motorcycle safety to improve.  Thus improving the overall effectiveness of transportation policy, but also improving the safety benefits for all highway users.

Catch you on the road sometime...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

In Memory Of The Mt St Helens 57

In the Spring of 1980, one of several volcanoes in Washington State began rumbling back to life.  After a small crater opened up in the ice cap with steam eruptions, it became evident that Mt St Helens was moving towards an eruption.  At the time, volcanologists and other scientists believed the eruption would be a vertical blast.  They had no suspicion that the subsequent lateral blast was even a possibility.  Thus the eventual exclusionary "Red Zone" around the mountain was limited in scope.  

Amateur Radio Operators, in conjunction with Washington State Emergency Services, volunteered to man observation posts to watch the mountain.  One of these men was an acquaintance of my father, Gerry Martin.  In the period before the eruption, Gerry was camped on Coldwater Ridge.  Some eight miles from Mt St Helens.  My father had volunteered to spend several days assisting Gerry on Coldwater Ridge, and I had agreed to take him there.  However the date they chose for my Dad to come down was Armed Forces Weekend.  My destroyer was one of two "visit ships" in Seattle for the Armed Forces Weekend, and I was unable to take Dad to Mt St Helens as they had planned.  It was decided that I would bring Dad down on the following Monday.  

When the mountain erupted, Gerry gave a description of what was happening.  When the super-heated gas, rocks and debris from the blast enveloped what is now Johnston's Ridge, Gerry described it, before saying he was going to "back out of here".  Seconds later Gerry came back on the air saying that "It's going to get me too.  I can't get out of here."  Gerry was never heard from again, and his camp trailer, vehicle, and body were never found.  Had it not been Armed Forces Weekend, my Dad and I would have been there as well, and shared Gerry's fate.

Here is a link to a website with the names and information on all 57 of the victims of Mt St Helens on May 18th.   Check it out, and you may find information you never knew about the people who died.  If you have the opportunity some time, and want to ride up to Johnston's Ridge, simply get off I-5 at exit 49 and head east.  The road you are on ends at the parking lot at the observatory.  It is one of the best motorcycle roads in Washington State.  Ride it and enjoy, and be prepared to be awestruck.  

 In 2006 Scott, a friend of mine from Astoria and I rode up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory on our motorcycles on a weekend close to the anniversary of the eruption.  Every year since then, I have organized a ride to Johnston's Ridge on motorcycles.  We go irregardless of the weather conditions.  Rain or shine, we go and pay respects to those 57 men, women, and children who were lost.  Nearly half of whose bodies were never recovered.  It has brought me great pride, to be able to bring more and more people to this incredible and awe inspiring area of Washington State in memory of the 57 victims of the eruption.

We will be riding once again from Castle Rock along Highway 504 up to Johnston's Ridge Observatory on May 20th, 2017.  In the 52 mile length of the ride, we will change from approximately 150 feet elevation to eventually 4,300 feet.  With part of the road actually built on top of the landslide and mud flows between Coldwater Ridge and Johnston's Ridge.  To give some idea of the changes the eruption has created in this area; the old highway is now under two hundred feet or more of debris, and the bottom of Spirit Lake is now two hundred feet higher in elevation than the surface of the lake was prior to the eruption.

What follows are only a few photo's from previous Mt St Helens Memorial Rides.  I hope you feel the desire to come and if not join us for the ride, explore the area for yourself, and experience the awe that the devastation left even after 37 years brings to people.

Catch you on the road sometime...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Washington Motorcycle Fatality Data Unreliable

There is a need for accurate data regarding motorcycle safety and the part motorcycles play in the states transportation policies.  Currently not even the annual motorcycle fatality rate is accurately tracked.  Different agencies within state government whose data is used by legislators and transportation policy planners varies by up to 20%.  This means there is a knowledge deficiency growing in state government.  Normally fatality rates would be considered indisputable, but with at least three significantly different counts published by state agencies, it leaves room for error and unreliability in the data. However, when the Departments of Licensing, Transportation, and the Washington State Patrol all use widely differing numbers for their annual fatality counts it brings about policies based on conflicting and contradictory data.  When basic data such as fatality becomes consistently in error, the policies based on that data is unlikely to bring about the desired result.  When different agencies within the state government report such wide ranging differences in basic information such as motorcycle fatalities, how are legislators and policy planners to understand the true image of what is actually transpiring on Washington's roadways?  The Washington State Patrol reports its findings to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's FARS.  As can be seen below, there is a significant difference between FARS, the Motorcycle Safety Advisory Board, and the Washington Dept. of Transportation.  The data points only close to matching once in a ten year span in 2012.  How can cogent motorcycle transportation policy be arrived at when based on such varied data?

It seems clear that government needs to more effectively integrate motorcycle thinking into throughout Departmental and agency thinking.  A broader view of motorcycling beyond strictly motorcycle safety and education is needed to fully take advantage of the benefits motorcycles can bring to society as a whole.  Similarly to how bicycling has been integrated into the mainstream transportation planning paradigm.  Many of the current issues with motorcycling would seem to extend from a lack of direct experience with that mode of transport.  This creates a deficit of real knowledge that begins to be filled with anecdotal opinions, and these can become departmental policies.

This has tended to result in the main focus of governmental thought towards motorcycles to be merely safety and minor public awareness focused.  While not in and of itself a bad thing, this focus has again had input limited in practice to those directly involved in the safety and training arenas.  With the result that anything outside of that box is often deemed dangerous or irrelevant.  The mindset that only through rider education and skills training, enforcement of DUI and endorsement requirements, will limit motorcyclist fatalities and are worthy avenues to be pursued.  This mindset has become so entrenched, that I was even told by several motorcycle safety instructors that the dangers of roadside safety barriers to motorcyclists was a non-issue, because only objects on the roadway are worth avoiding.  If a motorcyclist collides with something off the road, they have already failed to avoid a crash.  The concept of roadside barriers being a danger to motorcyclists isn't even worth considering.  That is, until they are shown the studies and data that show otherwise.  Still, with at least three wide ranging data points for fatalities in Washington State each year, it clearly points to a disconnect somewhere between Departments and their agencies.

The state needs to look at motorcycles as more than just risky vehicles.  Until the state can at least come to a unified concept of how many motorcyclists are killed each year on Washington's roadways at least.  In the mean time, it may be quite beneficial to look at the ways motorcycles can be of greater good to society as a whole.  Some of the ways are as simple as; the extremely low effect motorcycles have on the degradation to infrastructure, the greater maneuverability and acceleration, smaller size, and the ability to help reduce greenhouse emissions from commuter traffic.  Motorcycles can be of great benefit to society, and the environment as a part of a unified and comprehensive transportation plan in Washington State.  But until the state can grasp key facts as basic as the number of motorcyclists that are killed on the roadways each year, how can the state promote new policies that restrict or promote motorcycle use on Washington's highways.

Catch you on the road sometime...