8 Ball In The Wind

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...


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