Measles, Lane-Splitting, and the Media of Hysteria

Measles and Lane Splitting – Hysteria vs. Logic

Two topics in the news are of interest, not so much for their content but for the manner of coverage.  As ever, the media prefer to focus on hysteria rather than logic and facts.

 Lane-splitting, which allows motorcycles to ride between lanes of cars in high density traffic, has been introduced in the Washington legislature, again. Lane splitting has been legal in California, or to be more specific not illegal, for over a decade.

Measles was eradicated in this country in 2000, but now is back, thanks to a weird movement among some groups to opt out of having their children vaccinated. The result is a growing number of cases of a disease which can be fatal. A disease that disappeared from our shores fifteen years ago.

You will note on Facebook and other media a number of polls by TV and radio stations and others seeking your response to the lane-splitting concept. Most of them are phrased to lean you toward a negative response, as in “Should this controversial concept be made law?” 

Lane-splitting is not controversial at all to the people who use it and those in charge of enforcement, as in motorcyclists in California and the California Highway Patrol.  Until recently, the CHiP had a website page recommending the practice and offering guidelines for use. That has now been taken down due to public pressure brought by non-motorcyclists who find the practice irritating or frightening, and besides, “It looks dangerous.”   

Analysis by the CHiP in the early years showed a decrease in motorcycle involved accidents and fatalities once lane-splitting was allowed, but nobody in the media wants to focus on that.

 Here is what happens. There is a traffic jam. Motorcycles are sitting for long minutes, and are hard to see by a car driver who is also texting or talking on his or her phone. The driver sees what appears to be an opening ahead and dives into it, not noticing there is a motorcycle there until it is too late. Lane splitting replaces that with a practice that appears to be more dangerous with a system that actually reduces accidents.

And what about the rain we have here?  First of all, being allowed to lane split does not mean you have to. Secondly, you will notice the number of motorcycles on the road declines precipitously (note the pun!) when it rains. 

In 13 years of leading motorcyclists aboard all brands on group rides I reached strong conclusions about who rides in the rain.  I have no data, but I can tell you that the motorcycles you are most likely to see in the rain are Harleys, Triumphs, and BMWs. I had some group rides at Cycle Barn where everyone who showed up was on a Triumph.  Over time, BMWs tended to dominate at Ride West, which makes sense, as that was the brand sold by the dealership.  HOG chapter rides take place rain or shine.  Cycle Barn sold most brands of new bikes, and almost 50% of a BMW dealership’s sales are used bikes, so there was a broad spectrum of choices.

In short (too late?) the people who ride in the rain are, almost without exception, men and women with a lot of experience on high demographic bikes with all of the latest in gear.  Those are the people who would be riding in the rain. Of that small percentage an even smaller percentage would choose to lane split.

The problem is that almost all of the “discussion” of this topic is being conducted by people who do not ride, and that includes most legislators.  Most people look at riding a motorcycle as incredibly dangerous, where many motorcyclists know it is an activity that entails risk, which is far different. Risk can be reduced by training, equipment, experience, and focus. People in cars see motorcycles moving between lanes and have no concept of the greatly improved visibility, maneuverability, and acceleration and braking capabilities found on a motorcycle. And they are not interested in that. It looks dangerous, therefore it is, and must not be allowed.  Then there is the historic aspect of people resenting someone else who appears to be having fun.

The debate in government circles will be lopsided. Motorcyclists are only about 3% of the motorized population, and their numbers will be swamped by those in opposition who are made uncomfortable by the concept.  Media will show videos of lane splitting to show how dangerous it is, to the mind of a non-motorcyclist. There are also horror stories of motorcyclists lane-splitting in the wrong place at far too high a speed.  The overall reduction in accident rates will be mentioned rarely, if at all. Tough sell.

The measles scare is even more out there.  It is not that the measles vaccination is experimental or controversial.  It has been used for almost half a century and has saved millions of lives. There is simply no question of its efficacy. That is not true for all vaccinations, perhaps, but certainly for the measles vaccination.  In other areas of the word, 400 children die every year from measles. Parents walk many miles and stand in long lines to have their children vaccinated.  Close to the horror, they understand. They get it. Americans, in our relative wealth and arrogance, have chosen to forget.

Now we see politicians such as Chris Christie and Rand Paul twisting this into some sort of parent’s right to resist government intrusion.  In the case of Rand Paul, if he were not a nationally recognized politician his words would be dismissed out of hand as those of a kook, which he surely is. But he is spectacular, so he continues to receive wide dissemination of utter inanities.

Simply requiring vaccinations as a matter of law is probably not a good idea.  One of the prices of living in a free country is that people have to be allowed to be ignorant, and to make stupid choices. Mandating vaccinations would simply foment underground resistance.  “I’ll show them,” will cry the ignorant, and then defend their parental rights while children die.

As with cigarettes, the answer lies in education.  It was never made illegal to smoke, but learning came from massive educational campaigns in the media and on cigarette packs paid for by the manufacturers as a way out of massive civil law suits. We have come, in just a few years, to where the sight of a person smoking a cigarette, in many areas, is almost shocking in its rarity.

In the fullness of time, measles will once again be eliminated. As traffic grows more congested, lane-splitting will be allowed, eventually, as it saves time and effort for both motorcyclists and drivers of cars. And saves lives, as does vaccinating for measles.

The question is, as we are spoon fed the lurid and spectacular by a media that panders to the lowest common denominator, how many people will die while we wait?


Copyright 2015                      David Preston

About david

I am a 74 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020), a 2020 Triumph Bonneville, and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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