8 Ball In The Wind

Sunday, December 11, 2016

NHTSA Using Irrelevant And Misleading Facts

As I go through numerous publications from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) I come to notice a pattern that is used to support their desire for Universal Helmet Laws.  NHTSA uses information that has nothing to do with their position that motorcycle helmets are useful as safety devices.  Instead, they offer up obvious facts that have nothing to do with helmet safety, but are at the same time difficult to dispute.  This is an old technique, and one that tends to be successful unless you are aware of the pattern. By providing several facts that are obvious, it tends to place those reading the information into a subconscious mindset that they accept all the facts.  Becoming less objective in their reading and understanding of the facts presented. It is a technique that works, and perhaps that is why NHTSA uses it in their reports.

What are some of these obvious facts that are so difficult to dispute?  I'll show you, and let you decide if they have anything to do with the effectiveness of motorcycle helmet use.

1. All helmets sold in the US must meet FMVSS-218.
2. Universal Helmet Laws significantly increase helmet use and are easily enforced because of the riders high visibility.
3. Repeal of state helmet laws results in fewer riders wearing helmets.
4. Public support for motorcycle helmet use laws in the US is strong.
5. Helmet use in 2014 continued to be significantly higher in states with mandatory helmet laws than in other states.

 Padding reports with obvious facts tends to create a pattern in the readers mind that begins to accept all the facts as correct.  It also seems that while NHTSA tends to report facts, little effort is made to suggest options or strategies to reduce motorcycle crashes, injuries and fatalities beyond helmet use.  Not one of the facts listed above demonstrates anything beyond NHTSA's desire for universal helmet laws.

Another tactic that NHTSA uses is to state statistical facts that are "weighted" against motorcyclists.  For example quoting a statistic that per 100,000 vehicles registered motorcyclists are "6 times more likely to be involved" in a fatal accident than automobile occupants.  While this does sound rather severe, and by the way the formula is figured it may be true.  However, that statistic does not allow for the fact that, for example, in Washington State in 2014 there were almost 12 times as many automobiles registered in the state than motorcycles (2,748,938 automobiles versus 229,823 motorcycles).  When comparing the number of registered vehicles in both groups, and the number of fatalities in both groups, the numbers show that "likelihood" of being involved in a fatal crash in 2014, in Washington State is very low for both groups.  Approximately one in ten thousand for automobile occupants, and about three in ten thousand for motorcyclists.  Without critical and thoughtful observation of these "sound bites" of data, the reader of these NHTSA publications could be convinced that our highways are filled with motorcycle carnage.  

The fact that NHTSA is so myopically focused on universal helmet laws when it comes to motorcycles is even more confusing when NHTSA's own data states that 81% of helmeted motorcycle fatalities, and 64% of unhelmeted motorcycle fatalities die from injuries other than to their heads.  It is the same for seat belts and airbags in automobiles.  The knee jerk response in NHTSA publications for automobile safety is continued seat belt and air bag use.  With no other strategies to lower the very high head injury rates among automobile passengers.

A further example of a bias against motorcycles, is how NHTSA does not differentiate between types and sizes of motorcycles in the majority of its data sets.  However passenger vehicles are separated into four separate categories; passenger vehicles, SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans.  By deliberately dividing automobiles into multiple categories while not dividing motorcycles helps to skew the statistics even further.  What does seem to make me question further whether NHTSA is truly concerned about safety, or just control, is the fact that while NHTSA has pushed for universal helmet laws the majority of fatalities among motorcyclists since 1993 has been those wearing helmets.  Over the twenty-one years, the percentage of that helmeted majority of fatalities has grown!  It is as if the only goal is to have 100% of motorcyclists wearing helmets, regardless of any other consideration.

Catch you on the road sometime...

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