Rationalizing Motorcycle Fatalities
The summer of 2013 has not begun well, judging by the number of motorcycle fatalities I’ve heard about. I’ve no idea if the numbers for our northwest region are up or down over previous years, or on a national basis, but I’ve heard of more unfortunate situations than seems usual. Granted, I’m pretty well-connected to news from the microscopic niche of the motorcycle community, but still… it got me to thinking.
To reiterate, for the 57th time, I do not think motorcycles are dangerous. Motorcycles bring with them a degree of risk, which is a much different concept. Activities that carry risk are usually offer the opportunity for the risk to be reduced, quite often drastically, by the application of education, training, practice, concentration, gear, and equipment.
Danger is often just…danger. There are several areas of the world where walking down the street after 10pm is dangerous – some of them in my own country. Those streets at 10pm will be dangerous no matter what precautions you take beyond the obvious, which is not walking down that street after 10pm.
It may be a bit tenuous to argue that people enjoy motorcycling and other activities with inherent risk BECAUSE of the risk, but it has to be true to some extent for many motorcyclists. Looked at in a slightly different way, I had a friend tell me that most of my enjoyment of motorcycling came not from the risk, but from using my intellect to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. He had an excellent point, but I enjoy motorcycling for a great many reasons. I do enjoy the feeling of risk, and I do enjoy doing what I can to reduce it. Perhaps you do as well. And then there are the other 4,567 sorts motorcycle enjoyment we could list, but let’s move on instead!
Once you’ve applied education and concentration to your chosen activity, whether motorcycles or sky diving or spelunking or scuba or whatever, your personal stash of experience, equipment, and gear begins to amass. As these literal and mental piles grow, there’s a tendency to rationalize away accidents that befall others by finding a circumstance that could not include us.
When the Hurt Report first came out, I used it to persuade my wife I could not be killed on a motorcycle. The sum of the percentages of fatalities comprised of people fleeing the police, people on stolen motorcycles, people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and people in their first 6 months of riding was over 100%! Since I was not likely to ever flee the police, did not use alcohol or drugs or steal motorcycles, and since I’d been riding for several years – I was free! Of course, the flaw in the argument, which Susan grasped immediately, was that many of the people in the statistics landed in more than one category. Many of them were in all 4 at the time of their demise. Still…
Here are some barely fictional examples of the “not me” factor. A 24 year old rider on a sport bike is rocketing down the freeway at 3am, drunk beyond belief, and dies. I do not consider that to be an accident, but more of a time-release certainty. You could have started a stop watch when the hapless lad staggered out of the bar at closing, bounced the engine off the rev limiter a few times to “warm it up,” and then did a burn out and raced away into the night. He was about to die and had you been there you would have known it.
An older man has not ridden in 35 years. He comes back to motorcycling and scorns any need for training, because he “knows how to ride.” What he knows how to ride is the Honda 175 he purchased in 1976 with yard mowing money. His new $30,000 cruiser weighs 400 pounds more than the 175, and he himself weighs 125 pounds more than he did then. When he gets into a corner too hot and has no idea of what to do, he flies off the road and rams into the ditch. His wheeled 700 pound pile driver completes the scene and he is killed instantly. Is it an accident or merely a predictably tragic outcome?
The Greeks invented the dramatic form we call tragedy. The word “tragedy” is evolved from “tragos,” the Greek word for “goat.” A goat was the traditional prize for the best new play of the competition. That seems far more civilized to me that NFL football, but I digress.
An important piece of tragedy, and in fact the key ingredient, is that the hero’s demise must be created by the direct actions of him or herself. MacBeth is a tragedy because both Mr. and Mrs. Thane of Cawdor take actions to thwart the fates, with of course seals theirs. And so on.
Thus, we try to figure how what the person did to cause their problem, reassure ourselves that we would never do that, and sail on.
But… what happens when there’s no rationalization to offer comfort? A friend of mine died last week in Oregon when he struck a deer. He had been riding for decades, wore all the right gear all the time, and had a very capable Honda ST 1300 motorcycle. He struck a deer at 7am and both were killed.
Education and experience? Yes. Gear? Yes. Concentration? Yes. Drug and alcohol free? Undoubtedly.
Aha – he was probably speeding! Yes he probably was, to a degree, although I doubt that he was being ridiculous, and at 7am on a remote Oregon highway on a beautiful sunny day, almost anyone would do the same. I certainly would.
He shouldn’t be out when the deer are active. Well… Used to be that the hours right around dawn and sunset were prime time for danger from deer. However, with a lack of natural predators and the increasing population of both deer and people means that deer are now everywhere and all the time. I saw two of them on Whidbey Island last week on a group ride and it was nearly noon.
So at times our tendency to use rationalization to explain away the horrid circumstances of others will not work. If I’d been in Randy’s boots, I would probably have been riding at about the same speed on a similar bike and it would have been me. Or my friend Steve, who died the same weekend from what appears to be a massive heart attack. Same thing – lots of experience and education, excellent gear and equipment, and a capable and knowledgeable rider.
Sometimes… stuff just happens.
Should this push me away from motorcycles? Motorcycles have provided me decades of enjoyment, have taught me more about myself and other people than 7 years of college could, and have often provided a metaphoric way for me to understand various facets or a confusing world. I think the same is true for many other risk pursuits that people love. You find some activity that is “you,” and the activity actually creates a better version of yourself.
Turning away from all that motorcycles give me is not the meaning I take from the loss of my friends.
I turn it around. The thoughts they send to me are to enjoy the ride, with the application of training and thought and experience and concentration and equipment and gear – every day, every mile, and every foot.
Sooner or later, we all provide a situation for friends to rationalize.
David Preston Copyright 2013