According to a 2010 Virginia Tech-Wake Forst University study; between 2003 and 2008 there were 1,604 motorcyclist fatalities from a collision with barriers in the United States, accounting for approximately 5.8% of all motorcycle fatalities. While over this same period only approximately 1.6% of all automobile fatalities were barrier related. Motorcycles make up about 3% of all registered vehicles in the US. But, according to this study, motorcyclists account for nearly half of all guardrail fatalities, and 22% of the fatalities involving concrete barriers. During this same time frame, there were 1,723 fatalities among automobile passengers involving barriers. In other words, nearly half of all barrier related fatalities in the US were motorcyclists.
The video above demonstrates clearly why half of all guardrail related fatalities are motorcyclists. It also demonstrates the mindset that highway safety features are in place to protect automobile and larger vehicle occupants. Not motorcyclists. The posts are not the only area that provides a high risk of injury to motorcyclists that are not likely to affect occupants of other vehicles. The top of "W-Beam" guardrails also provide a serious hazard to motorcyclists. The sharp edges can slice open the motorcyclist as they travel along the top of the metal rail. All while the top of the posts deliver repeated blows to the rider traveling at highway speeds along the path of the rail. Concrete "jersey barriers", signposts, cable barriers, and more all constitute dangerous and often fatal "fixed obstacles" to motorcyclists in a crash.
A 2004 study compiled for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) entitled; "Improving the Compatibility of Vehicles and Roadside Safety Hardware" would seem to be a possible step in the right direction. In the first paragraph of chapter 2 of the report entitled "Analysis of Real Worl Crash Information" on page 7 reads as follows; "It was found that the different classes of vehicles had different compatibility issues with roadside hardware systems." Even with that line in mind, which would seem to indicate the report would investigate the "different compatibility issues" of all vehicles, nowhere in the 262 pages of the report are motorcycles even mentioned. However, vehicles are broken down into categories within the report. The categories are; car, truck, SUV, and van. Again it appears that even the NCHRP tends; whether consciously or not, to exclude motorcycles from highway transportation policy thinking.
In 2008, the NCHRP did release another report, part of the NCHRP Report 500. This was volume 22 of the NCHRP 500 Report; "A Guidance for Addressing Collisions Involving Motorcycles". Was this finally a transportation policy actually concerned about motorcycle safety? Not really, if one takes the opportunity to read it. Section IV is entitled; "Index of Strategies by Implementation Timeframe and Relative Cost". It is this section of the report that shows how little motorcycle transportation safety means to policy planners. The same failed strategies such as increasing awareness of impaired motorcyclists, the benefits of wearing high-visibility clothing, and increasing the use o FMVSS-218 compliant helmets are all listed as low cost to implement and operate. Does it seem strange that these low-cost strategies are virtually the only ones the transportation bureaucrats tend to implement? The report also lists such strategies as; considering motorcycles in the selection of roadside barriers, including motorcycle attributes into vehicle exposure data collection programs, and developing a set of analysis tools for motorcycle crashes. However, each of these strategies, which seem like common sense to motorcyclists, is listed as being of "moderate to high cost" to maintain and operate. This could well be some of the best and most effective strategy options, but because the NCHRP lists them as they have, it would seem to have the effect of these strategies being completely ignored. Even the simple act of forming "strategic alliances with the motorcycle user community " to promote motorcycle safety is listed as a "moderate" cost. These categorizations of strategies may well explain the virtually complete lack of motorcycle policy in transportation planning in Washington State.
This Washington State DOT's video provides a fine example of the total failure to consider motorcycles in transportation policy. Watch the video closely and see how many motorcycles are used in testing and demonstrating safety benefits of cable barriers, or how first responders can extricate motorcyclists from cable barriers after a crash. Also, notice that vehicles weighing many times greater than a motorcycle are used in testing, but motorcycles are not used to demonstrate cable deflection.
As long as there is no legislative pressure to change, policies that place virtually all the focus of motorcycle safety on impairment awareness, Hi-Viz clothing, and helmet use, nothing will change. If motorcycles are to be considered when designing roadways and roadside barriers, the owners of approximately one-quarter million motorcycles in Washington state need to demand their legislators pressure the WSDOT to begin seriously developing a set of analysis tools for motorcycle crashes, and including motorcycle attributes into vehicle exposure data collection programs. Only by pressuring legislators across the state can motorcycles possibly even begin to be considered worthy of the "high cost" of implementing these strategies by the WSDOT.
With Washington State repeatedly using the goal of "Target Zero" in transportation planning policy, shouldn't motorcycles actually be included in the data sets WSDOT, and other state agencies use concerning highway infrastructure and roadside safety barriers? Or has the low cost of failed strategies kept them in place even though they have had little effect on reducing motorcycle fatalities in Washington State? By not including motorcycles into vehicle exposure data, or creating analysis tools for motorcycle crashes, is WSDOT and other agencies saying that even working toward effectively analyzing motorcycle crash data too "high cost" to implement in order to reach 'Target Zero'? Or is the cost in human lives each year through lack of actually including data from this mode of transportation not already enough of a "high cost"?
Catch you on the road sometime...