Ben’s Crash:  A Perspective

While the motorcycle crash involving Ben Roethlisberger was near tragic, much will be made about his choice not to wear a helmet.  What you will not hear on most of the coverage is that the driver of the car made a left turn in front of Ben.  One notable exception:  The June 13 Patriot-News reported the left turning car and a balanced series of articles on helmet use.  This is just another crash where the driver did not see the motorcyclist.  Before we pass judgment, let’s put this in perspective.

From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website:  “An Average of 117 people died each day in motor vehicle crashes in 2004 – one every 12 minutes.”  For 2004, there were a total of 37,142 vehicle fatalities of which 4008 were motorcyclists.  Ironically, there were 4,641 pedestrian fatalities – more than motorcycle fatalities.

An article on distracted drivers that studied car crashes (American Motorcyclist, July 2006) shows how dangerous the roads are as a result of drivers performing other activities while operating a car.  Even though the participants knew they were being videotaped while driving, they did things such as dialing cell phones, reaching for objects in the car, looking somewhere other than the road or driving while being tired.  Those drivers could kill motorcyclists.  In fact, some of the drivers crashed before the cameras in the car were ready and had to be removed from the study.

The Hurt Study, conducted by researcher Harry Hurt on motorcycle crashes, has three important facts that bear repeating: 

  1. 92% of motorcyclist involved in crashes lacked formal training, such as a safety course.
  2. The most common crash scenario involving a car and a motorcycle was a car turning left in front of the motorcycle, violating the motorcyclist’s right of way.
  3. Injuries can often be prevented or minimized by wearing protective gear.

 As a motorcyclist, do I wear my gear?  You bet!  Do I want the government to dictate this?  Absolutely not!  Education works while mandates fail.

As one who has taken the motorcycle safety course many times, I am still appalled at the mistakes made by operators of automobiles.  We have every conceivable ‘safety’ device on cars, yet crashes and fatalities abound, with the perception that this is acceptable.  When are the automobile drivers going to get it?  Safety starts with an educated operator who is focused on the job of driving.  The US Army gets it, as in the Army jeep I once drove; there was a checklist.  Number One:  A good driver DOES NOT HAVE ACCIDENTS.

Insurance companies are now realizing the value of driver education; most offer insurance discounts for those who complete an approved driver safety course, and a motorcycle safety course qualifies as a driver safety course.

If we want to get serious about improving traffic safety, we need to change our attitude and perspective.  The roads have become dangerous as a result of the lack of driver training and driving distractions.  Even one fatality is one to many.  Our goal must be zero fatalities.

For the pdf from the June 13 Patriot-News, click here.

After I wrote this, news of Ben driving on an expired permit was reported, making Ben's no helmet thing moot, as he had not completed the requirements for not wearing a helmet.  Looks like he could have been dead wrong.  Gives new meaning to Honda's slogan 'Stupid Hurts!'