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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Using Stats Like a Gumby Doll

On a New Hampshire Jaunt.

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey 

For reasons that still astound me, the admission that I ride a motorcycle nearly always sparks the same response.  The other person dives into a terrible and tragic story of someone they knew who was seriously injured or killed in a motorcycle accident.  I get that there may be an on-going macabre fascination with violent death.  But there are, at last accounting, 10.4 million motorcycles in the United States, a number that increased 58 percent since 1998.  Statistics show that the average rider is a responsible adult who rides straight and sober, has insurance, and rides responsibly.  Yes, I know about the squids.  Despite their high visibility however, riders who actually engage in riding stupid are well in the minority.
 
But that doesn’t stop people from taking pot shots.
 
Fox News Latino published on November 28, an article which reported on a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that tallied up the costs of death and injuries from motorcycle accidents.  Deftly weaving numbers in and through what was a thinly-veiled hit piece on the motorcycling community, the fair and balanced journalists (who went nameless in the byline) painted a grim picture.  82,000 injuries.  4,502 deaths.  $16.2 billion in direct costs.  
 
The tone and tenor of the writing implicated the motorcyclists themselves as being the sole cause of the entire tragedy.
 
But in this journalistic dance, the authors completely side-stepped what continues to be the most important source of motorcycle accidents.
 
Other drivers.
 
I looked through reports authored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Insurance Institute of America, and some state-centric statistical studies.  They all point the finger at the operators of cars, trucks, busses, even riding lawn mowers.  Numbers vary from report to report, but between 66% and 75% of all motorcycle accidents are caused by vehicle operators who either failed to yield the right of way (turning left across the bike’s path, pulling out of parking lots and driveways), or who blew by traffic control signals (stop signs and traffic lights) bursting into intersections.
 
This is not news to anyone who rides.  Every day of our commute, or joyriding in the country contains at least one, if not more tales of motorcyclists narrowly avoiding disaster.  The problem has gotten worse in recent years, due to the explosion of cell phones.  People who used to focus solely on the road now find their attentions divided by talking, texting, checking email, or any of the plethora of tasks now performed by even budget-priced cell phones.
 
The article went on to preach about helmet laws, which I suspect was the real reason for this production.
 
Just so you know, I’ve been riding for over 20 years and I’ve always worn a helmet.  That is my choice.  I respect the rights of others to not wear a helmet, even though I know that they’d be safer.  The old arguments that the weight of a helmet would make cervical injuries more likely were blown up last year when Johns Hopkins published a study which proved that modern helmets with their lighter and stronger materials actually prevent broken necks.

Besides, no helmet ever made is going to protect you at 60 miles per hour when T-boning the bonehead who pulls out from the country lane without looking.

But there are those among us who insist on being our mothers forever.  Oddly, they same demographic that supports Pro Choice in women’s issues is Anti-Choice where helmet laws are concerned.  Some other day we’ll talk about how abortion has killed almost 40 million African-Americans since Roe v. Wade.
 
As far as costs are concerned, $16 billion dollars is a chunk of change.  What the article didn’t point out was that nearly all of that was covered by insurance.  What is also being ignored continually is that 2 million times a year people show up at emergency rooms across the country suffering from “unintended drug overdoses.”  The direct cost associated with the treatment of those patients is $193 billion per year. 
 
And how many stoners do you think have health insurance?
 
There are risks to life inherent in living.  As Al Pacino once said, “You can get killed walkin’ your doggie!”  But hand-wringing never changed a dad-blamed thing.  If people are seriously interested in reducing the incidence of motorcycle death on the streets and highways, do two things:
 
1. Hang up the phone.
 
2. Pay attention.
 
After all, whether on two wheels or four, we’re all travelers just trying to get home. 
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