8 Ball In The Wind

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Are Washington Roads Killing Bikers?

Over the past decade or so several pieces of legislation have been introduced in the Washington State Legislature that have been opposed by both the Washington State Patrol, and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.  Each time the same basic argument was brought forward; it was "dangerous", it would "cause more accidents", it would be "difficult to enforce".  Of the bills that passed from the legislature and were signed by the Governors in office at the time, none of those things have yet to come to pass.  It has long bothered me that the government of Washington State has a long held duality towards motorcyclists and the motorcycles we ride.  While clinging to the claims of increased risk to the lives of motorcyclists as reasons to oppose these efforts, the state has done little if nothing to mitigate a very significant risk placed on motorcyclists, the design of the roadways and "safety" features.

For more than 40 years, researchers from around the world have been looking at this same issue.  All seem to come to the same basic conclusion; the basic design of highways and highway safety equipment can be dangerous to motorcyclists.  Many factors in the basic design of roadways can be a key factor in motorcycle crashes, as has been shown previously.  Add to this the findings that many of the safety devices designed to keep other motor vehicles on the roadway and safe in the event of a crash, are a significant factor in serious injury and fatality among motorcyclists during a crash.

The Governor has set his 'Target Zero' and the bureaucracies of Washington State have set out to reach the goal of zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.  Yet it seems the only way the bureaucrats can envision this happening is by creating new laws and regulations.  Many of which seem aimed more at restricting the motoring public's choices while promoting the use of public transportation, than actually making the roadways safer.  Highway design features such as; rumble strips, recessed reflectors, grooved pavement, and even the types of paving on a roadway can all lead to loss of stability and control leading to a crash for a motorcycle.  Yet they all continue to be used to this day, and touted as 'safety features'.  Even cable barriers, and guardrails have been shown to contribute directly to serious injuries and fatalities for motorcyclists involved in collisions with these "safety features".

In 2006 Norway actually banned all cable barriers from their roadway systems.  Simply because of the danger they have been shown to expose motorcyclists to during collisions with the barriers.  All across Europe and even in Australia and New Zealand, efforts are being made to reduce the risk of serious or fatal injuries due to collisions with the classic "W Beam" guardrails and especially their posts.  These efforts have now been going on for a couple of decades, and have been shown to be effective.  Yet here in America, and most definitely in Washington State, the evolution of highway pavement design as well as that of safety barriers has changed little since the 1960's.  

With the House proposed Transportation Budget for Highway Maintenance of $471,595,000 for the 2017-2019 biennium, it does not appear that Washington State's highways will be evolving into safer highways in the foreseeable future.  While that may seem a great deal of money for road maintenance; and it is, that amount is only a small fraction of the billions of dollars in the Transportation budget proposed by the Washington State House of Representatives.  More money is going to the ferry budget, which serves predominantly the Puget Sound region, than to highway maintenance across the entire state ($512,839,000 proposed for ferries versus the $471,595,000 for highway maintenance).  While these are not the final budget figures, there isn't much of a likelihood of great drastic changes.

It is high time that the members of the legislature, and those leading the transportation bureaucracies in Washington State, begin to put their money where their political mouths have been for years on saving motorcyclists lives.  Stop worrying about legislation that might put riders at risk; and do something about what has repeatedly to actually contribute to the deaths of motorcyclists in Washington State, poor roads and outdated safety barriers.  Then watch the fatality numbers fall, and feel proud you actually practice what you preach.

Catch you on the road sometime...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Motorcycles Face Different Dangers On The Road Than Cars

In my last post, I spoke of the differences between motorcycles and other motor vehicles.  Motorcycles and cars differ in some very fundamental ways.  Some highway features may not affect a car at all, or even attract the attention of the highway engineers, can have disastrous effects on a motorcycle.  That is one reason why motorcyclists are involved in such a disproportionate amount of crashes and injuries.  If a car should lose control and go into a skid, that car isn't likely to turn onto its side easily, a motorcycle is very likely to do so.  Skidding out of control on a motorcycle, and the subsequent and probable roll over and slide are a collision that a modern car is not likely to experience.  But a motorcyclist is likely to do.  Unlike cars, or perhaps to a vastly greater degree than cars, motorcycles are affected by any roadway variation that could affect stability (gravel, broken/patched/irregular road surfaces, grooved pavement, rumble strips, recessed lane markers, dips, bumps, etc.).  While these variations may have no affect on an automobile or other motor vehicle, they can easily be a danger to motorcycles.  Leading to motorcyclists having such a high ratio of single vehicle crashes.

In an automobile, the basic protection concept is to enclose the occupant inside the vehicle while preventing intrusion from outside.  Generally allowing the occupants to decelerate in a relatively safe manner inside, protected from the highway environment.  Virtually the only time an automobile passenger is exposed to the highway environment, is if they are somehow ejected from the vehicle during a crash.  Whereas motorcyclists are constantly exposed to the environment.  With nothing to protect them except for their clothing.

Even though the differences in protective strategies between automobiles and motorcycles, highway systems are overwhelmingly focused and designed with the use of motor vehicles other than motorcycles in mind.  This is why the road surface and design of some 'safety' features can be a factor in some crashes.

The dip on the inside of a tight turn can in some situations lead to a stability problem for the motorcycle or its load.  This can lead to a crash while cornering.  Even though there was nothing to collide with or avoid that caused the crash.  Automobiles tend not to be affected by this sort of dip in the highway grade within the turn.

While cars have little or no issue with something as simple as a paint stripe on the highway, they can be an issue for motorcyclists.  Remember, a motorcycle only rides on about two inches of tire surface, and the difference in traction of a paint stripe can be a factor in a crash.  Especially if the bike is already trying to brake and maneuver to avoid a crash.  If the roadway is wet, the painted surface can be much slicker than the regular pavement.  Even while just changing lanes on a wet roadway motorcyclists may notice the difference in traction, an automobile won't.

Another road traction issue can be found where the road is paved in a decorative fashion with irregular pavement such as cobblestones.  These can have a serious adverse affect on the traction a motorcycle may have.  Again, when this sort of road surface is wet, the traction can be reduced even further.  A motorcycle needing to make a sudden braking action, or a turn, can easily lose traction.  This loss of traction can lead to the bike 'going down' and sliding along the irregular surface.  Which can lead to further injuries to the motorcyclist.

Automobiles passing over gravel, wet leaves, or other such debris on the roadway may have some traction issues, but they almost always have two other wheels on the pavement.  Motorcycles passing over this same type of debris have no other tires on the pavement.  Motorcycles are much more susceptible to a complete loss of traction in this type of situation.  Especially when the debris is in a curve, or at an intersection where the motorcyclist is making a turn.

With automobile occupants safely (or moderately so) enclosed within their crumple zone and air bag protected passenger compartment in a crash, motorcyclists aren't, and they experience impacts in a much different manner.  Obeying Newton's 1st Law of Motion, in a crash a motorcyclist will continue moving forward at the same speed they were traveling, while at the same time they are falling down at a speed of between 10 and 15 mph.  The downward velocity is usually low enough to only cause minor injury, but it is the forward velocity that can result in much more serious injuries (yet it is only the downward velocity that helmets are meant to withstand, but that is a discussion for another time).  A motorcyclist losing traction and stability on the roadway at say 45 mph, will impact the roadway surface with a downward force of about 10-15 mph, but if that motorcyclist strikes the guardrail or the jersey barrier, that impact will be at nearly the full speed the motorcycle was traveling.  That same impact in a car will be mitigated by the use of crumple zones, air bags, and seat belts.  Thus the occupant of a car in a similar accident will probably have a much lower level of injuries than the motorcyclist.  However, if the barrier is a cable barrier, it will stop the automobile with a less intense impact, but will act as a cheese slicer to a motorcyclists body when striking it at speed.

Roadside obstacles (fire hydrants, light poles, bus stop shelters, trees, etc.) tend to be a severe injury hazard for motorcyclists.  Because motorcyclists are not enclosed within the protective body of a car, motorcyclists tend to slide along the pavement.  With the obstacles mentioned previously right adjacent to the pavement, these obstacles can result in serious if not fatal injury to a motorcyclist.

One last highway design factor that works well in preventing automobiles and even motorcycles from leaving the roadway are the low barriers along many bridges and overpasses.  While they do a good job of preventing the motorcycle from going over the barrier, the rider can often pass right over the barrier and certain fatal fall to the surface below.  

Although government agencies have crash tested automobiles, and even buses against guardrails for decades.  The roadways and freeways use the data from those test to design the roadways and freeways.  But no such tests have ever been undertaken with motorcyclists that I have been able to uncover.  When the engineers design and build the roadways, motorcycles are looked upon the same as cars, trucks, and buses.  They aren't, and because of this, reducing the number of motorcycle fatalities and injuries on the highways will be difficult.  While there are many causes of motorcycle crashes and fatalities, the loss of stability and control of a motorcycle due to road conditions and the dangerous effects of some highway design features will continue to be a factor in the high percentage of motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes on our roadways.  If the State of Washington is to have a chance to actually reach the Governor's 'Target Zero' goal of no highway deaths or serious injuries by 2030, then we must look towards taking into account the special requirements for protection of motorcyclists.  Otherwise there will be no great reduction, and motorcyclists will continue to account for 14% of all highway fatalities.

Catch ya on the road sometime...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

State Agencies Misunderstanding Causes Their Use Of Misleading Data Comparisons In Pursuit Of 'Target Zero'

Washington State agencies involved in transportation have been using a set of comparisons to oppose many motorcycle related issues before the Legislature.  When heard as stated, this comparison does seem rather disturbing.  However if you look at the data being compared there is a fact that is not mentioned.  This unmentioned fact changes the relationship of the comparison, and brings into question the relevance if not the very reliability of the data itself.

The data comparison is one that has been used for many years, and is used by agencies at both state and federal levels.  This comparison is simply taking all registered motor vehicles, and then isolating only the percentage of all fatalities on motorcycles.  Example; in Washington State, motorcycles make up 4% of registered vehicles, but 14.8% of fatalities.  Sounds quite severe and dangerous.  But look closer at that comparison, and the data becomes less reliable.

There are (as of 2013 according to the US Federal Highway Administration) 6,392,840 motor vehicles registered in Washington State.  Of that number, 227,073 were motorcycles.  Many owners of motor vehicles have more than one.  Some have several they own.  Yet they aren't all being driven simultaneously.  Some of these same people also own multiple motorcycles.  Again, not all of them are ridden on the road concurrently.  Not to mention the many fleets of trucks, buses and both corporate and government motor pools that are filled with registered vehicles that are driven by people while their personal vehicles sit at work. 

When you look at the number of fatalities, and things look a little different.  In 2015, there were 568 fatalities (according to NHTSA) in Washington State.  Of those, 77 were motorcyclists.  That is 13.5% of the total fatalities.  

Since not all of the nearly 6.4 million registered vehicles are even consistently on the road, and rarely at the same time, comparing their numbers to the to percentage of fatalities is misleading.  It is the old 'apples and oranges' comparison.  The problem would seem to be the way motorcycles are looked at by the government transportation bureaucracies.  They are viewed as the same as cars in many ways.  Yet the differences are ignored.  It is those very differences that create the relatively high percentage of motorcyclists to motor vehicle occupant ratio.

 Just look at these two photos. The cars in this photo, just like all the other motor vehicles other than motorcycles on the road, enclose the occupant and protect them.  Motorcyclists have what we are wearing.  Instead of sitting inside the frame of the vehicle, motorcyclists straddle it.  We do not have, nor would it be safe to have seat belts.  Only a very fractionally small number of motorcycles even have air bags.  Motorcyclists 'straddle' their bikes, while other motor vehicle occupants sit inside their vehicles.  Without that protective shell around us, motorcyclists are more susceptible to injury, and of a greater severity than other highway users.  It is as simple as that.  

While the state's transportation bureaucracy grinds on towards their goal of 'Target Zero' at any cost; until they learn to look upon motorcycles and motorcyclists as a different animal than regular motor vehicles, they will continue to misunderstand the complexity of the motorcycles role in the transportation universe.  Because of this institutional misunderstanding, they will continue to use misleading, inaccurate and irrelevant data in the search for a problem they can not even properly understand.  

Think about it, and let me know what your perspective is.

Catch you on the road sometime...

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Highway Head Injury Argument Data Disregarded By Legislators?

A lot has been written on the subject of head injury prevention for highway users in Washington State.  Going through the thorough data from the Washington State Dept. of Transportation; we can learn the gender of collision victims, their age, their race, and many other demographic factors.  As well as what level of influences such as alcohol or speeding may have resulted in collisions.  What is much more difficult to discover, is the number of head injuries resulting from collisions.  For that information, one has to go to other data bases.  Such as the Washington State Dept. of Health's online resources.  When we look at the head injuries between 2009 and 2013; it is quite apparent that the Head Injury Prevention Act of 1990 may well have been aimed at the wrong demographic.

If only the data and graphs from Washington St. DOT are used, it would appear that the three most dangerous categories of road users are; bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians.  But the Dept. of Health data show something quite different.  When looking at the data for non-fatal head injury, it turns out that automobile occupants actually accounted for more non-fatal head injuries than bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians, combined.  The data for fatal head injuries also shows that automobile occupants suffer significantly more fatal head injuries than the other three groups combined.  Sadly, that pattern continues for our youngest citizens, with more head injuries among automobile occupants under 18 than the other three groups combined.

Even with; seat belts and shoulder restraints, child booster seats, baby car seats, and air bags, more people receive head injuries as occupants of motor vehicles.  Yet we have heard the hue and cry for mandatory bicycle helmets come and go.  We live under a mandatory motorcycle helmet use law, even though the vast majority of fatal motorcycle injuries are not head related (according to NHTSA 81% of helmeted motorcyclist fatalities are due to injuries other than to the head, and 64% of non-helmeted motorcyclists fatalities are not head related).  There have even been calls for requiring pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists to wear bright colored clothing for protection against being struck by automobile drivers.  Yet the one group that even with all the current safety devices, and metal shell and crumple zone protection around them, still receives the most number of head injuries is not required to comply with the Head Injury Prevention Act of 1990.

Is it because the paternalistic need for some in the legislature to 'protect' some citizens from themselves does not extend to a majority that has the power to vote them all out of office?  Is that the reason that even suggesting requiring automobile occupants to wear a helmet to protect them from head injuries is openly laughed at in the legislature.  Yet they currently oppose any amendment to offer 'choice' in the wearing of a helmet while riding a motorcycle.  Somehow linking the act of not wearing a helmet to more collisions occurring.  As if helmet use somehow reduced the risk of being involved in a collision.  Think about that.

Catch you on the road sometime...