Friday, March 21, 2014

Motorcycle Safety

I had lunch with some coworkers a few days ago and the question of motorcycle safety was raised at the table. One of my coworkers, a gentleman, shared that he was interested in buying a motorcycle and the group erupted in a cacophony of nay saying. "I would never let my wife get on one of those things." "I'm not a thrill-seeker." "Those things are death traps." It was obnoxious to say the very very least.  So lets look at the issue of motorcycle safety.

First, lets identify how many motorcycles are on the planet. According to the Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan, around 2006, there were around 200 million motorcycles in the world. 58% of those are in developing areas of Southern Asia. By comparison, there are 500 million cars on the road. In some places, like Taiwan for instance, have a 2 to 1 ration of motorcycles to cars, a complete flip-flop of the global trend. 

Accidents do happen out there. Motorcycle accidents are four times as likely to be fatal. The numbers of fatalities are still remarkably low, however at just 75 per 100,000. Hardly a death trap, unless your idea of a trap is something that functions only 150 times for every 200,000 times it is activated. Let's look at these fatalities. How are they happening?

75% of motorcycle accidents are caused by passenger cars. 3 out of 4 times a person is injured on a motorcycle, a car was the cause. Nearly half of the accidents that cost someone their life involved alcohol. 

So, to me. It really seems like the dangerous subject in a situation would be the one which is most destructive to other subjects. Motorcycles do not seem to be the deathtraps they are purported to be. However, it is true that people do die while operating a motorcycle. Well, the numbers for 2006 were around 4,000 motorcyclists were killed on United States roads. 

There is no doubt that there is less protection on a motorcycle than in one of the 2,000 lb. grocery haulers piloted by a distracted drivers that kill motorcycles. A collision between a car and motorcycle is extremely imbalanced in terms of likelihood of death by the operators. The real issue seems to be motorists running down motorcyclists, and a good portion of those motorists are under the influence of alcohol. Damn it. 

If automobile drivers stopped running over motorcyclists the number of casualties in 2006 would have been reduced from 4,000 to 1,000. And of those 3,000 saved lives. 1,500 of them would be saved from a drunk or intoxicated driver running them down.

So how does one stay safe on a motorcycle? Ideally, avoid all cars and don't power into your corners too hard.  In reality,

  • stay off the road between 12am-4am if you can help it. The number of inebriated drivers is radically higher, and thus the potential vehicular homicide opportunities is also increased exponentially.
  • Keep new rubber on the rims and inspect your tires for unusual wear patterns regularly. 
  • Ride with your brights on -all the time. Try to position your bike so that your headlight hits drivers ahead of you in their side mirror, not their rear-view. You don't want to piss anybody off, you just want to make sure people are aware of you at all times. 
  • Install a high decibel horn-and use it. When people change lanes in front of you without signaling, let them know that it is an inappropriate method of changing lanes. A couple of quick honks translates to "Heads up, num-nuts, get your head out of your ass and let the people around you know when you decide to slide that 2,000 lb. death machine around the highway like it was a demolition derby."
  • For personal safety, always wear a full face helmet, riding jacket with armor, gloves with leather palms and knuckle armor, jeans, at the very least, and shoes with ankle support.Wearing the appropriate gear will greatly reduce the risk of injury or death as a result of an accident. Plus, you feel like Iron Man. 
  • Another situation to avoid is unprotected left turns or turning across traffic. Try not to give people the opportunity to make a poor decision, like taking your life instead of waiting to reply to a text message.
  • The chief response to "Why the hell did you kill that motorcyclist?"  tends to be "I didn't know they were there." Make yourself seen and heard. big time. Loud pipes, hi-visibility riding gear, neon lights, loud horns- whatever it takes. Be proactive about your self-preservation. 
  • Ride with a buddy. Make some friends, go for rides. Increasing your visibility by numbers is great, unless some members of your party take to cutting off cars and generally acting like a bunch of children, then it becomes a big pain in the ass and you have to go lone wolf for a while. Generally though, the more buddies the better. Plus you'll feel like a total bad-ass when you and your friends line your bikes up in front of some back roads BBQ restaurant and go jangling and shuffling into the joint like something out of a Tarantino movie, dust from the road falling off your boots and onto the old wood floor with every heavy step. Wild ones. "What you rebelling against Johnny?" "What ya got?"
Bottom line is, to some extent there are some proactive things a motorcyclist can do to increase their chances of being part of the 99.925 riders a year that avoid getting into an accident. Then there is the thing that everyone can do. Don't drink and drive, don't let your friends drink and drive. People are drinking, driving and killing motorcyclists. Don't let our brothers and sisters die without action on our part. People that drink and drive are setting themselves up for homicide, with little chance of physical harm to themselves, and oftentimes, little political recourse. 

Stay alert, make good decisions, and keep the rubber side on the road. 

Slim Vulcan

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