The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released their annual Traffic Safety Assessment for 2006 (.pdf file) today, and motorcycle deaths have unfortunately increased for the ninth straight year.a
Yesterday I had a reminder that while you can move the odds in your favor, you still accept an element of risk when you ride.
I was on the way to work when something fell out of the bed of a truck ahead of me. All I saw was a brown whirling blur. It hit the front fairing of my Buell with such force that it shattered the aluminum fairing bracket. The grips were almost ripped from my hands and I had to fight to retain control of the bike.
I think it was a piece of rebar. I don't know, but it cut into the front plastic of the fairing, smashed the top of the fairing bracket (and cracked the base) and almost sent me off the bike. I pulled over to survey the damage and kept an eye on the remaining parts of the fairing bracket to see if I could limp the rest of the way to work.
Once there I took the mirrors off to reduce weight, epoxied on some steel to reinforce the remaining pieces of the fairing bracket and was able to limp home that evening.
I didn't get the plate number of the truck. I was too busy at the time...
The point of this? I don't see how I could have avoided what happened to me. Regardless, I accept the risk inherent in riding. What would have been an inconvenience to the driver of a car could have proven fatal to me if the steel (?) hit me at the right angle.
The more people who ride (and registrations are up) the more people who accept these "off book" risks.
NHTSA statistics show many clues to why the US may have a higher (percentage wise) fatality rate than many other parts of the world. The number of fatalities involving alcohol has remained relatively static- roughly 25%.
Alcohol enforcement certainly varies between countries. This works in other- more subtle- ways. How many people in vehicles (other than motorcycles) who strike and injure/kill a motorcyclist have alcohol in their systems?
Another point is the fact that just about every slob with a pulse has a driver's license in the US. Car fatalities would certainly be higher without the continual improvement in vehicle "safety" (or for the more cynical of us "occupant safety"). Has the average skill level of the US driver improved over, say, ten years ago?
Again, there are higher barriers to getting a license in other countries- not the least of which is financial. Further, there is a difference in attitudes about distracted driving (cell phone use, etc.).
All this does impact the number of motorcycle fatalities, even if the effect would be an "indirect" one for statistical reasons.
I wear my helmet, ride sober, ride [reasonably] responsibly/defensively, wear all my gear, keep up on my bike's maintenance schedule, and yet...I accept the risk that comes with riding. Rebar off the port bow, Captain!
Some of the people who work with me were surprised at the damage to my bike. They asked me (for the upteenth time) if I wear a [magic!] helmet. They certainly didn't understand my attitude- and acceptance- that riding involves risk.
I am pretty sure they are waiting for me to jump Snake River Canyon in Idaho.
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