8 Ball In The Wind

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...

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