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We have found the data point, that there is about 1 fatality for every 5 million MC-VMT (MotorCycle Vehicle Miles Traveled), helpful in unwinding several of the knots in the motorcycle safety problem. That is 1 in 5 million miles; a distance too far for one person to ever ride in a long lifetime. This particular data point helps answer the questions, “If motorcycles are so dangerous, why haven’t I died on a motorcycle? Why hasn’t my particular friend died on a motorcycle?” The answer is of course, it is hard (not possible) for one person to ride more than 5 million miles. It also answers the question, “Why do all my longterm motorcycle friends know someone who has died on a motorcycle?” This is because, as a longterm motorcyclist, it is easy for my group of “all the motorcyclists I know” to travel much, much more than 5 million MC-VMT.
Also, the justification we use to claim that motorcycling is dangerous involves comparing the danger of operating a motorcycle to the danger of operating a car. As you know, the comparison results in the “40 times more dangerous” claim. We have found the “1 fatality in 5 million MC-VMT” is the root cause of the confusion surrounding the relative 40-times-more-dangerous claim. The difficulty in sorting out all the other motorcycle safety proposals that come up (e.g. bright colored clothes, helmets, training, and other so called countermeasures) is that individually, 5 million miles of riding is simply well beyond what is possible for an individual, and 5 million miles is easy to accumulate for the entire group of motorcyclists one knows. With this understanding, we concluded that if we had a much higher fatality rate than the current 1 fatality per 5 million MC-VMT result, then the effects of countermeasures would become obvious and easy to demonstrate. Individual motorcycle operators would be able to intuit the danger and the effect of countermeasures. On the other hand, if we had a much lower fatality rate than the current 1 fatality per 5 million MC-VMT result, then the danger of operating a motorcycle would become similar to the danger of operating a car, which is a level of danger that the entire population accepts. Simply put, it is chance coincidence that the danger of operating a motorcycle is high, but just out of reach of an individual operators intuition.
Another series of facts that had moved our understanding about the causal danger of motorcycling involved looking at the striking vehicle in FATAL crashes (not all motorcycle involved crashes). In FATAL motorcycle crashes, roughly half involved only a motorcycle. In the other half of the cases, the FATAL crash almost always involved the motorcycle striking another vehicle. (An aside – sometimes a fatal crash occurred when the motorcycle was struct, but ironically, often the striking vehicle was another motorcycle.)
These facts combined with our other motorcycling experiences and observations lead to the hypothesis that the cognitive demands on the motorcycle operator are much higher than the cognitive demands on the car operator. Since humans are cognitively similar as a group, the extra cognitive demands that come from having to continually balance the motorcycle, use extra controls such as manual shifting, and the environmental demands such as managing noise, wind, heat and cold, could help explain the higher crash rate of motorcycle operators compared to car operators. This higher crash rate occurs even when the motorcycle operators are paying attention (for example see discussions on Inattentional Blindness). In other words, the cognitive demand differences create the possibility that the crash involved motorcycle operator, although he/she is paying attention, may have missed something important. And, in any motorcycle crash, the chance of morbid injury is high due to the vulnerability of the motorcyclists compared to motorists. The higher crash rate combined with the higher vulnerability explains the 40 times more dangerous. This hypothesis, combined with the danger being just beyond individual motorcyclists’ intuition, helped us understand why we are currently unable to do anything to materially reduce motorcycling danger. This is why after 50 years of extremely well funded motorcycle safety efforts, the relative danger of operating motorcycles has increased compared to the danger of operating cars.
Over our decades of data collection and analysis our confidence in the hypothesis has been refined and increased. We have concluded that the “1 fatality per 5 million MC-VMT” is in the “sweet spot” for casting darkness on possible solutions to reduce the danger. It is just coincidence that the rate landed between the not-good and not-too-bad zone. However, this coincidence PREVENTS resolution of the many motorcycle safety issues by motorcyclists. We suggest to think about it this way; the “1 fatality per 5 million MC-VMT” fact being in the sweet spot is the cause of why us motorcyclists can’t intuitively understand the danger. The six member board of NMI has come to the same understanding that NMI cannot meet its mission. We have regretfully concluded to wrap up and dissolve National Motorcycle Institute.
Of course we encourage you to share any of the NMI data and analysis, but please understand that the shining light on facts and subsequent discussion about the dangers of motorcycling may be eclipsed and sent into darkness because of the 1 fatality in 5 million MC-VMT being just beyond anyone’s possible personal experience (see PS below).
All the Best to You,
Joseph Elliott, and the NMI Board of Directors
PS: The following is an analogy for the coincidence of where the 1 fatality per 5 million MC-VMT falls on the danger scale. The analogy involves solar eclipses and the two unrelated facts that our Sun is 400 times the diameter of the Moon, and our Sun is 400 times farther away from the Earth than the Moon (the chance of this happening is astronomically small, HaHa). This unexplainable coincidence has caused unresolvable mysteries and wild claims throughout the history of humans. For NMI, the 1 fatality per 5 million MC-VMT data point falling exactly in the sweet spot on the danger scale has this amazing feature of coincidence. This coincidence prevents the illumination of motorcycle safety solutions that may be of interest to us motorcyclists.
Besides Motorcyclist Fatalities (Persons) and Fatal Motorcycle Crashes (Vehicles), there are also other important statistics and analysis such as Registrations, Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), and more:
We are not taking a side on an issue. We share information that is factual. The truth does not have sides.
Where The Data Comes From
National Motorcycle Institute (NMI,MotorcycleInstitute.org) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization. This NMI Fatality Reporting System website is the data and statistics reporting system managed by National Motorcycle Institute.
Our goal is to provide scientifically meaningful data, statistics, and analysis while being an effective, transparent and professionally run 501(c)(3) public charity. We are a resource for the general public and governmental agencies, and we are purposefully independent of the motorcycling industry.
We emphasize that there are two types of fatality data to follow, one involving persons (motorcyclists) and the other involving vehicles (motorcycles). We encourage people to become familiar with the difference between fatalities (persons) and crashes (vehicles). In other words, motorcycle fatalities really means motorcyclist fatalities.