8 Ball In The Wind

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Did The Data Really Say That?

Sometimes a person has to really think about the information that is being published in the name of motorcycle "safety".  I am not necessarily disputing the findings, I am concerned about how it is being presented and what is being left out.  If you should just scan over the information as you read it, you may not have noticed certain discrepancies in information released by NHTSA in its annual "motorcycle traffic safety facts" report.  The data is published in a manner to elicit shock and concern in the reader.  However, if you really pay attention, you may realize things aren't as they would first appear.

For example; "In two-vehicle crashes 73 percent of the motorcycles involved in motor vehicle traffic crashes were frontal collisions. Only 7 percent were struck in the rear."  Notice anything about that quotation from the 2014 "motorcycle traffic safety facts" report?  It is incomplete, and in more than one way.  What type of collisions made up the unmentioned 20% of collisions?  Notice how the report states that while 73 percent were "frontal collisions", and only "7 percent were struck in the rear."  The only thing it is clear about is that the front of the motorcycle was the contact point in 73 percent of the collisions.  Although the implication is that 73 percent of motorcycles struck another vehicle in the rear.  But is that what the quote actually shows?

Think about it; if someone pulls a left hand turn in front of you, or suddenly slows or stops in front of you, aren't you going to hit them with the front of your motorcycle?

Here's another quote from that same report; "Motorcycles are more frequently involved in fatal collisions with fixed objects than other vehicles. In 2014 about 25 percent of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects, compared to 19 percent for passenger cars, 14 percent for light trucks, and 4 percent for large trucks."

The  key phrase here is 'fatal collisions'.  These stats compare collisions with fixed objects (guardrails, trees, street lamps, bridges, etc.) by various types of enclosed vehicles and motorcycles.  Then seemingly can't understand why motorcyclists would suffer a higher fatality rate than occupants of passenger cars, light trucks or large trucks.  The fact that a motorcyclist doesn't have the benefit of; being inside a metal enclosure, passenger restraints, and air bags is seemingly irrelevant in having a higher fatality rate due to collisions with fixed objects.  impacts that would not result in a fatality in one of those other classes of motor vehicle, could easily be severe enough to be fatal for a motorcyclist.  Like the saying goes; "we don't have crumple zones, we have leathers."

At times it is almost as if the data is just being punched into a pre-formatted document (which in finished form it is), but without someone double checking the figures.  For example, in one paragraph the report states that; "...2,469 (53%) of the 4,694 motorcycles involved in fatal crashes were collisions with
motor vehicles in transport."  Then, just three paragraphs later it states; "In 2014 there were 2,172 two-vehicle fatal crashes involving a motorcycle and another type of vehicle."  That's a difference of 297 fatal crashes, in only three paragraphs.  Yet there is no explanation, or even apparent realization that these figures don't match.  One is left to assume that those 297 fatalities were involved in collisions involving multiple vehicles.  But then in the Navy they taught me 'never to assume'.

So when you look at data, don't just skim it.  Stop fairly regularly and go over what you just read.  Does it make sense?  Does it really say what you thought it said?  Do the figures even add up?  Sometimes using authoritative sounding figures can be convincing, but you better make sure they are complete as possible and accurate.  Or someone might just use them to beat you over the head with them.

Catch you on the road sometime..

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


There has been a great deal of debate regarding motorcycles moving forward between lanes of slow or stationary traffic on the freeways of Washington State.  While this is a basic motorcycle maneuver in virtually all the rest of the world, the concept seems quite alien to many drivers and law enforcement in the state.  I am hoping the explanations and information here will help rectify the issue of perceptions that seems to be at the core of this issue.

Imagine for a moment you are riding a motorcycle in slow moving freeway traffic.  There is a vehicle in front of you with space in front of it.  On either side of this vehicle is space enough for you to pass the vehicle in front of you.  Making certain that you are in a low enough gear to provide adequate acceleration if an emergency requires, you make your move and pass the vehicle riding along the dividing white line between the lanes.  After safely passing the vehicle you pull into the open available space.  You have just split the lanes.  Albeit while only passing one vehicle, but you have done it.  By simply keeping yourself alert and ready to respond with either brake or throttle as necessary in an emergency, you can successfully proceed safely through the congested traffic.

At about this point in the conversation, usually one of a two questions are brought up.  Both are related closely enough to simply be a variation of the same question.  What happens if a car should suddenly change lanes in front of a lane sharing motorcyclist, and who is liable for the collision.  This is one of those ‘perceptions’ I had mentioned earlier.  The perception here is; that a motorcyclist who is safely and properly lane sharing is much more likely to be hit by a vehicle changing lanes than one maintaining their position in the flow of traffic.  However, the facts don’t support this perception.  One of the conclusions in Dr. James V. Ouellet’s 2011 study Lane Splitting on California Freeways was that; “Maintaining a normal lane position does nothing to eliminate sudden path encroachment by cars. Motorcyclists are vulnerable to incautious car drivers making sudden, unsignaled lane changes regardless of the motorcycle position in the lane.”  As to liability; while I am not an attorney, I would expect it to depend on the cause of that collision, not a blanket liability placed on one party or the other.  While collisions do happen while lane sharing, nearly thirty years of research and study from around the world show that those collisions are much less frequent than those involving motorcyclist who are not lane sharing.  Even the famous ‘Hurt Report’ (considered by many to be the most in-depth and complete motorcycle accident study of the 20th Century) found that lane sharing was involved in less than 1% of the 900 accidents in the study.  It may help the reader’s understanding to know that Dr. J.V. Ouellet was the co-author of the “Hurt Report”, and has more than forty years in the field of traffic safety research.

This perception of lane sharing being a dangerous activity performed by thrill seekers is totally out of touch with the reality.  While there are those who do perform the technique at high speed differentials to traffic flow, they are by far in the minority.  However, they are also the ones who are the focus of YouTube videos and television news reports.  Meanwhile, as was found in the ‘Hurt Report’, as well as other studies since, nearly 66% of motorcyclists on the California freeways partake in lane splitting, and account for less than 1% of the motorcycle fatalities.  The two studies done by Dr. Rice, of UC Berkeley in 2014 and 2015 continue to support the previous findings.  As do the findings of the 2009 MAIDS (Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study) from Europe. 

Yet the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, some in law enforcement, and others continue to disregard and denigrate these studies in lieu of (and actually perpetuating) the perceptions created by these YouTube videos.  The perception this creates is that of an conscious effort to focus on motorcycles as only a safety related concern and not as a full and integrated facet of transportation policy.  A project manager at the WTSC stated to me that since motorcycles accounted for only 4% of registered vehicles in Washington, they don’t have much of an effect on traffic.  That is the perception shared throughout the state agencies.  Yet, if only one in four motorcycles lane shared, that would take over 70,000 motorcycles out of the states traffic stream.  That wouldn’t have an effect on traffic?

Catch you on the road sometime…