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Sunday, January 22, 2017

After Motorcycles

Best figures indicate that last year, 5010 motorcyclists died on American roads.
That represented about 13 percent of all traffic deaths; which was a slight percentage decrease over the previous two years when motorcycle fatalities amounted to about 14 percent of all traffic deaths.
According to the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System 424 more bikers died last year than in 2014. Exact statistics are difficult to find but the National Safety Council loudly thinks that 38.300 people died on the roads last year and “4.4 million were seriously injured.” In 2002 43.500 people died on the roads and 3,270 of them were motorcyclists. And, at the risk of overloading readers with numbers, it might lend context to know that in 1990, 44,599 people died in highway accidents and 3,244 of them were sitting on motorcycles.
All of that, undeniably, represents far too many buckets of blood. So yesterday a coalition of concerned bureaucracies including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Safety Council announced the launching of a hot air balloon called the “Road to Zero Initiative” which proposes to end all road fatalities within 30 years.

Creamy Filling

From far off, the idea tastes great. The devil is in the smooth, creamy filling. As Wayne Allard, who is vice president of government relations for the American Motorcyclist Association, noticed in a press release yesterday, “During the announcement of this major initiative, no mention was made of motorcycles or motorcyclists, even though the safety of other vulnerable road users – including pedestrians, bicyclists, even joggers – was specifically highlighted.”
Wonder why? Anyone? Bueller? Anyone? Raise your hands when you get it.
Don’t panic if you are quick. So far this initiative only has $3 million with which to experiment. Initially, your federal government hopes to increase seat belt use, install rumble strips, develop more effective ways to spy on truck drivers and keep them from speeding.  The Road to Zero Initiative will also implement “behavior change campaigns” and support “data driven enforcement.”
The strategies enclosed in quotes may need some explanation.

Behavior Change Campaign

A behavior change campaign is a propaganda blitz that is something more than standard public service announcements. Like, imagine a commercial that starts with sunny film footage of a Bobo, a member of the bohemian bourgeoisie – Harley-Davidson’s emerging core demographic – sedately riding a Harley Street 500 to the grocery store while a voice over announcer intones: “Brad Brandywine, a beloved husband, father, raconteur and philanthropist should have lived!”
Next, a stripper in a darkened club explains: “He helped me pay off my student loans.”
Then several, small, multicultural children weep: “He bought us a dog.”
After a quick edit, viewers see a very angry pitbull going: “Snarl. Muff! Fuff! Bark! Bark!”
That is quickly followed by a medium wide shot of many grieving people intercut with a lock off of a mangled Harley-Davidson Street 500 spotted with either red paint or blood: “But he had to get on that damn motorcycle!”
Concerned policemen: “Motorcycle!”
Doctor: “Bad!”
Then quick cuts of many, pretty, stupid, television newz casters saying: “motorcycle…bad…motorcycle…risk…motorcycle…stupid risk…motorcycle…common sense…motorcycle.”
Imagine you, your woman, your children, your dog and your elderly parents all seeing that 400 times a day. A behavior change campaign bombards everybody with a television, a computer, a tablet or a smart phone with many messages like that.


Data driven enforcement would be the bastard child of  “Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS)” which  “is a law enforcement operational model supported by a partnership among the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and two agencies of the Department of Justice: the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Justice.”
“Using geo-mapping to identify “hot spots” – areas of high incidence of crimes and crashes – DDACTS uses targeted traffic enforcement strategies that play two roles in fighting crime and reducing crashes and traffic violations. The model responds to the competing demands for police services that law enforcement executives face every day.”
The government boilerplate seems to be an oblique way of saying “more speed traps,” “more sobriety checkpoints near entertainment districts,” and “more courtesy motorcycle safety inspections.” It might mean more business for the companies that make, install and monitor traffic enforcement cameras.


The heart of the plan to end all traffic deaths is the proliferation of self driving cars and trucks. Towards the goal of keeping everything the government does as obtuse as possible, the U.S. Department of Transportation calls them “Highly Automated Vehicles” or “HAVs.”
HAVs, get used to hearing that, will eliminate crashes caused by fallible humans who drink and drive, exceed the posted speed limit, talk on the phone and glance at the Google map on the little television screen built into their dashboard. Don’t blame Google. Google is working on its own autonomous vehicle. Blame human beings.
The AMA seems to be the only organization in America which has questions about this inevitable march of progress that will transform America into a risk-free Borg hive.


In yesterday’s testy press release, the AMA’s Allard said, “The questions we have for the coalition and the DOT are ‘Was the exclusion of motorcycles intentional?’ and ‘Is a ban on motorcycles part of the plan to get to zero road deaths? It is hard to imagine how you could eliminate all human decision making from the operation of a vehicle, especially a motorcycle. If autonomous motorcycles were ever developed, no one would ride them. We also are particularly concerned that highly automated vehicles are not being developed in a manner that takes into account the detection of motorcycles.”
“Motorcyclists should have been included in this project from the beginning, either through direct interaction with the AMA or through the Motorcycle Advisory Council,” the AMA groused. “Let’s not let another moment slip by without considering the safety of this important segment of road users and taking steps to secure the future of this popular form of transportation.”
Virtually all national print-news outlets covered the announcement of the “Road to Zero Initiative.” None of them seemed to care what motorcyclists thought about it. It wasn’t much of a TV story. At least not yet. Not until it’s time to introduce America to poor Brad Brandywine.