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How can we really reduce motorcycle accidents in Michigan?

March 19, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Motorcycle safety advocate Dan Petterson of SMARTER says it starts with measuring motorcycle crash injuries and fatalities

motorcycle rider Michigan

It may not feel like it, but spring is almost here. That means motorcycle owners just itching all winter to get their engines revved are already hitting the road.

Today I’d like to share a guest blog post from Dan Petterson, president of the motorcycle safety group SMARTER. Dan discusses his thoughts on reducing crashes by measure motorcycle safety. He believes it starts with tracking motorcycle injuries and deaths. Dan writes:

“Are we nuts?

Let’s hope not. My everyday interactions with motorcyclist safety professionals reveals well-educated and trained individuals who have a passion for motorcycling and a desire to make riding safer. However, a commonly held definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That is pretty much what we have been doing in the world of motorcyclist safety for several decades. We train riders in the basic riding skills. We provide for and encourage riders to get properly licensed. We encourage riders not to drink and ride and we plead with drivers of other vehicles to “look twice to save a life.”

While some involved in motorcyclist safety want to judge the effectiveness of our safety program by the number of riders trained or the percent of registered owners who have a cycle endorsement, or the number of “look twice to save a life” bumper stickers distributed, that just doesn’t make sense to me. Using such data only provides us information about our delivery system. If we have added a couple more training sites and trained a few more riders, our conclusion that our program is effective is supported by the data we gather and we make a plan to do more of the same next year.

Using such data is not a true measure of effectiveness.  If our true goal is to reduce the injuries and deaths that result from motorcyclist crashes, then the only real way to judge effectiveness is to look at how many riders are injured or killed.  During the last decade, that number has varied only slightly and we haven’t changed a thing about our “safety interventions.”

Measuring results of our motorcyclist safety program

To really measure the results of our motorcyclist safety interventions, we need to begin with the per year raw data regarding the number of motorcyclist killed and injured in crashes (not the number of riders trained, the number licensed or the number of brochures we mailed out).  It is, however, not easy to interpret what the raw data mean.  There are many variables that will impact the raw numbers.

Exposures, meaning how many motorcyclists are on the road, how often they ride and how many miles they ride is the variable that has the most direct and strongest impact on the raw numbers. Weather is the number one variable that impacts exposure. Warm and dry means lots of riders, riding often and for trips of significant length. Good weather equals high exposure which will result in a high number of crashes and an associated high number of fatalities and injuries. Cold and wet weather results in just the opposite – not much riding and lower fatality and injury numbers.”

Next week, I’ll continue with Dan’s excellent post, which will focus on Michigan motorcycle accident statistics.

Related information:

Motorcycle accident deaths since Michigan’s helmet repeal

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