Fabricating Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes

Fabricating Trends in Fatal Motorcycle CrashesFabricatingTrends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashesby Warren Woodward, Chair, State Legislative CommitteeStreet Bikers UnitedHawaiiRecent Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes: An Update (http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/Rpts/2006/810606.pdf) is 72 pages of charts and analysis from The National Highway TrafficSafety Administration (NHTSA) based on the 10 years from 1995 to 2004.It should have been called Fabricating Trends in Fatal MotorcycleCrashes. Here’s why:Cherry Picking – NHTSA is cherry picking data. In the opening summary,motorcycle fatalities are presented as a crisis: “Since 1997motorcycle rider fatalities have increased 89%.” Wow, sounds bad,but over the years I have received many solicitations from investmentnewsletters. As a result I’ve learned how easy it is to pick certaintime frames to make profits look good. It’s called cherry picking andit’s what NHTSA is doing here. Go back 15 years, since 1990, andfatalities have only increased 24%. If you go back 25 years, from 1980to 2004, the fatalities actually decrease 22%. From the graph below ofyearly rider fatalities you can see what I mean:Clickto enlargeSo instead of starting out the report with a horrifying 89% increase infatalities, NHTSA could have begun by saying that since 1980 motorcyclefatalities have dropped 22%. But then there’s no crisis, and we wouldn’tneed to be saved, or at least not by them.Helmets – A chart on page 36 of the report shows that the helmet userate in fatal crashes was basically unchanged over the 10 years, 1995 to2004. If helmets “save lives”, shouldn’t more of the dead be helmet less,especially as fatalities rose 89%? Yet helmeted riders consistentlycomprise the dead majority at around 54% of fatalities every year. Ofcourse that doesn’t stop NHTSA from calling for mandatory helmet laws.Ultimately, the helmet numbers are useless because they do not reflectanything except how many were wearing and how many were not at time ofdeath. NHTSA might as well have a chart showing how many riders were orwere not wearing wristwatches. How can anyone tell if a helmet wouldhave helped or not? Just because someone died without a helmet does notmean they would have lived with a helmet. And how many of the helmeteddead had snapped necks or basal skull fracture? NHTSA doesn’t say.A similar trick was played here inHawaiijust recently by the state Department of Transportation. They emphasizedthat two thirds of the riders who died inHawaiilast year were not wearing helmets. Of course the implication is thathad they been wearing helmets they would not be dead. But we don’t knowthat. The fact is that helmets have not changed the death to accidentratio in any state where they have been mandated ( see Helmet Law Factsat http://www.sbumaui.org/).I think fatalities went up over the 10 years for the same reason theywent down over the 25 years. And if you find that reason be sure andtell me. My point is there is no one reason. All I know is the moreexperience and training a rider has the better, but even that won’t saveyou when you’re time is up.VMT – Much of the report is simply invalid since it is based on NHTSA’sfictitious Vehicle Miles Traveled. In NHTSA’s National Agenda forMotorcycle Safety they actually admit: “Unfortunately, vehiclemiles of travel (VMT) data for motorcycles are not reported directly andmust be estimated.” Fabricated would be a more accurate word thanestimated ( see addendum 2, Helmet Law Facts, at http://www.sbumaui.org/). When it comes to VMT, NHTSA is winging it.Speed & Alcohol – According to NHTSA, over the 10 years, speedrelated deaths decreased 6% and alcohol related deaths decreased 8%.That’s great, but I always question the accuracy of those numbers. Forexample, we had a rider here onMauicross the double yellow line while going up Haleakala. Cars coming downthe other way are usually doing at least 60. The Maui News said theaccident may have been speed related. Sorry, from where I sit it wasintelligence related (and he was wearing a helmet).Engine Displacement – One of the more troubling aspects of the report isNHTSA’s fixation on engine displacement. There are 23 different charts,almost 1/3 of the report’s total charts, concerning engine displacementand fatalities–engine displacement and speed, engine displacement andtype of crash, engine displacement and type of road, there’s even onethat compares engine displacement with the days people died!We all know that motorcycle engine displacement has increased over theyears and that a 750, for example, is no longer a “big bike”.Somehow though, a popular myth is being created, and NHTSA is fuelingit, that increased displacement = increased fatality, especially amongstinexperienced riders. Having got into plenty of accidents when I wasuneducated and inexperienced on my first bike which displaced 175cc, Ihave never bought into this myth.There is so much more to a motorcycle than displacement. Power to weightratio has a lot more to do with speed. There are plenty of 600cc rocketsthat can smoke a bagger with more than twice that displacement. Weight,seat height, rider position, center of gravity, tires, brakingcapability, and rider experience all play a role in how well a machinecan be handled. Yet NHTSA has not figured out how to quantify those sothey are not part of the mix. And NHTSA will never be able to quantifykarma.Looking long term, I see NHTSA’s displacement fixation leading to a pushfor graduated licensing whereby riders would be prohibited from owninglarger displacement bikes until they passed certain exams over a certainnumber of years. Outrageous? It’s already happening inEurope. NHTSA is laying the groundwork now–creating the problem by cherrypicking the displacement data–and the solution will be a graduatedlicense system. I’d bet on it.Blame the Rider – The undercurrent running throughout NHTSA’s report isblame the rider. We are either too young, too old, too fast, too drunk,or the motor’s too big. Certainly riders do die because of one or acombination of those. However, there are 75 charts in this 72 pagereport and not one showing rider fatalities caused by the Right Of Wayviolations of other road users.NHTSA is as blind as a Right Of Way violator. What’s worse is that, astaxpayers, we pay their undeserved salariesIf you liked what Steel Horse News has to say pass it on Clickhere to email this to a friend.Amazon.com WidgetsCopyright© Steel Horse MotorcycleNews.  May 15, 2012.

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