Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Forest For The Trees

Wisdom comes with age, I always say, but then wisdom also comes with learning and life is just one big learning experience. Why is it the young who have not lived long are the ones who proclaim to "know everything"? Is it because they haven't lived long enough to understand that they don't?

Some of us prefer to learn the hard way, taking our bumps in the road with glee. Rather like riding your dirt bike through moguls, whooping and grinning through every foot of airspace we can get. We take our knocks when we get them because we've determined the trade-off is worth it. In these situations, we have the control, and the risk is carefully thought out (usually).

Far more boring, but with fewer knocks, some prefer to take the extra, and sometimes tedious, time researching for all the angles before making a decision. I do this sometimes, especially when I recognize that a subject cannot be inherently understood or learned without it. Those who don't are merely spouting groundless opinion.

In my opinion.

And still some sit in their armchairs waiting for others to "do something" about their problems for them. They cannot see the forrest for the trees. Apathy will be their downfall.

Often an opinion or belief comes from witnessing a horrific event and blinds us to other facts. We keep those blinders on so we don't have to feel guilty for believing otherwise, even when the facts sit right in front of our glazed over eyes.

I can fully understand why some bikers want to wear a helmet. I wear one. Do I think a helmet will prevent my death? No. I've said so before. It may prevent my head or face from being smeared all over the road, should some event cause me to go asphalt surfing. When my time comes, I'd like my daughters to be able to say good-bye to something other than hamburger meat. But if I didn't care about what my daughters would see? Well, I can also understand why some Bikers don't wear a helmet. Either way, when that Ford Explorer pulls out into your path, it is likely not going to make a difference.

When I was 18 years old, I saw a guy on a motorcycle T-bone a car late one night while I was pumping gas. He flew over the hood and landed on his head and left half his skull and brain on the road before he stopped sliding. A brick retaining wall stopped him, effectively breaking his neck.

I was first on the scene, and as I bent down to check for a pulse, I saw that he was still breathing, for his breath caused bubbles in the blood leaking from his mouth, and just a moment later, he was gone. I remember thinking that this was probably a good thing, for he would have been brain-dead after such an injury. The woman got out of her car, babbling about "not seeing him coming". I stayed with her until the Police came. He was not wearing a helmet. She was not charged.

What I didn't understand back then was that a helmet would not have saved him. Nor would a helmet have stopped the driver of the car from pulling out before looking to see if he was coming. Yep, I saw that too, but it didn't really register until many years later.

There I was, standing at a gas station filling my tank, and watching the intersection (there was nothing else to watch at 3:00 AM). I saw this woman screech to a halt at the stop sign, rolling through it as Californians do, then stand on the gas pedal to cross this busy street running through our medium sized town.

The man on the bike was not speeding, but he never had a chance. He struck the car (an El Camino I think) at the left front wheel, at about 45 mph. Besides me, they were the only two moving objects out at that time of night. Since he was not traveling on the wrong side of the road, it was clear he was within just feet of the car when it pulled out. I know, I saw it, yet she was not charged. With anything.

Now some of you may instantly say, "Well he might have survived if he'd had a helmet on." And you may be right, there might be a snowball's-chance-in-hell of that. Not. The fact that his neck was broken from hitting another solid object after being bulleted through the air (at probably 45 mph) makes me believe otherwise. For sure, only God knows the answer to that one. But his missing helmet is not the debate here. And if I were you, I would not make such a rash and ignorant statement.

One thing that is certain, unarguably, is that he would have lived another day had the driver of that vehicle stopped long enough to LOOK and see him coming. I saw him, from further away than she was, with the glaring overhead florescent lights, and other obstacles in my way. I heard him too. She never looked. As long as I live, I will never forget the senseless and gruesome sight of that man lying in the road.

We all expect other drivers to obey traffic laws, just as we all expect to live another day when we get on our scooters and ride. What is also glaringly apparent, every time I ride, is that these expectations are akin to expecting you'll win the lottery on Saturday when the winnings are the highest. And actually, the probability that you'll be killed or injured by another driver, through no fault of your own, is much more likely than winning any game of chance.

My mother always admonished me to see the bright side of things. The glass is half full, not half empty. Be positive. Expect the best and you'll get the best. So I try to use this philosophy in my life as much as possible. But when I ride my bike, I ride with just the opposite attitude. I ride like every vehicle is secretly scheming in hundreds of ways to make me crash. How could I not? After all the people I see on cell phones, weaving in and out of traffic. And the people who run stops signs in an effort to beat that truck coming so they won't have to drive behind it. Or the ones who ignore the solid white line that means, "stay in your lane". So they bump another car, have a fender-bender, so what? Bumping into me on my bike is almost certain death, and certainly catastrophic injury.

Recently the wife of a man I know rolled her car. She was changing a music CD and drifted to the shoulder and lost control. She could have just as easily drifted across the center line and hit head-on whoever was coming in the opposite direction. There have been countless motorcycle deaths for exactly this reason.

Am I more afraid of hitting my head, should I fall off my bike when navigating my driveway? Hell no! I'm afraid of all of the above, the majority of automobile drivers. Do they care? Some do, but most don't. After all, using a cell phone is more important to some than assuring the safety of others around them on the road, and there's no punishment beyond a traffic violation for killing someone on a motorcycle.

With all the knowledge I have of crashes and the things I see drivers do every day, whether it's in my auto or on my bike, I have to have a "half empty" attitude if I still want to enjoy my motorcycle. And live. Even then, it's still that "game of chance".

What I am still astonished to hear is when other bikers tell me, with conviction mind you, that helmets are the answer to reducing motorcycle deaths. Are they blind? Right-of-way violators account for 3/4 of motorcycle deaths every year. The other 1/4 are mostly alcohol related, and I have no sympathy for those who choose to drink and ride, and end up killing themselves. Sadness for their loved one's loss, yes, but it's no secret that alcohol impairs your riding and driving ability. You make a conscious decision to ride when you know your ability may be impaired. But I don't know anyone who makes a conscious decision to slam into some vehicle that shouldn't be in the way.

Yes, I was one of those, who for years held the opinion that a helmet would save my life in the event of an accident on my bike. So believed because of the accident I witnessed all those years ago. Then one day I had an accident on my horse and broke my back. I flew through the air after being ejected from the saddle while going over a 4 foot jump, and hit the sandy arena floor. I estimate that I reached about a 10 foot height, and was traveling about 10 miles per hour. I was wearing a helmet which had not a scratch on it. I was lucky that day. Two of my vertebra were broken, but I had no spinal cord damage.

What ran through my mind, however, was imagining if I had been on a motorcycle, traveling much faster, and hitting something much less forgiving than sand. Would I be paralyzed? Would I even be alive? Wasn't that helmet supposed to save me from injury? What a naive thought!

And yet, this is what our government and the media wants us to believe. Even when they know an automobile is a much bigger, heavier object controlled by a human being who ignores traffic laws? Surely they know and acknowledge that a motorcycle never wins in a contest with a 4000 lb vehicle?

Yet our government is shoving helmets down our proverbial throats as a solution to motorcycle deaths? Who are they trying to fool? Apparently they think you and I will buy it. I don't, but how long will YOU be fooled? Do you think that a mother somewhere is fooled by this, after having her son killed by a right-of-way violator and our government does not lift a finger to change our laws? Sadly, she and others had to learn this the hard way.

Apparently our own government is also fooled by this fallacy, for they are so focused on making sure our heads survive a crash that they refuse to acknowledge the CAUSE of why we might lose our heads in the first place. They can't see the forrest either.

Like any other Mother, I worried through the years of watching my children grow up, and came up with intelligent ways to prevent them from bodily harm. We teach them not to play in the street - we don't dress them in helmets. We teach them about animals and the danger of being bitten - we don't make them wear Kevlar gloves and turn them loose with the neighborhood stray. We analyze the cause and take steps for prevention. We don't buy bigger bandaids.

In 99% of the reported motorcycle deaths that occur in this country, the media harps on whether or not the rider was wearing a helmet. Even if the biker was run down by a motorist through no fault of the biker. In most cases, the driver of the auto is not charged or fined. And when they are, it's a traffic violation. For killing someone! One state charges a fine of $50 for killing someone because of a traffic violation. A very few states have jail time attached but it's rare for a judge to sentence it, since they have the option not to. It would seem all it takes is to produce a few crocodile tears and say, "I didn't see them". So, it had to be someone's fault, why not the biker? In spite of the driver violating his right-of-way, it's the biker's fault for not wearing a helmet? Am I missing something here?

Ask yourself how you would feel if your child was run down in the street by someone who violated a traffic law, and the media immediately states, "well, the child wasn't wearing a helmet", and law enforcement lets the driver go because they said, "I didn't see him". I can already hear you saying, "well, that's different!". But is it? If I'm riding my motorcycle down the road, and a driver pulls out in front of me, violating my right-of-way, distracted by something, such as a cell phone, and kills me, helmet or not. Should they not be punished for killing me? How is this my fault? Someone is allowed to pull a 4000 lb vehicle into my path, illegally, because I'm not wearing a helmet? Apparently so.

I've got news for you, this happens every day! There are web sites that spotlight accident victims of this type. Their injuries cover every bone in the body, not just heads. How can a helmet save your life when your injuries don't involve the head? Most of them die. Some that live have no quality of life, and NO head injuries. Some that wear a helmet die of head injuries anyway.

Our government claims to want to save more lives by forcing motorcyclists to wear helmets. Is it only a few of us who recognize the futility of this belief? Forcing this law won't change a thing, except spend more of our tax dollars on court cases for those who refuse to wear them. And they will win those court cases too. The government does not certify helmets, nor does it provide a list of qualified helmets, and the qualifying description of such helmets cannot be understood by the common man, making the entire law constitutionally vague.

Yes, a few people will survive a crash with head intact, and live out their lives in poverty and no quality of life. The percentage is VERY small. The rest will die anyway. While traffic violators continue on their merry way, picking us off one at a time.

Why is it that I can see with real clarity that the major cause of motorcycle deaths involves other vehicles, and our government can't? As with our own children, shouldn't we address the cause (other drivers), and not the effect (bodily injury)? Especially when the effect, when combined with another vehicle, is not minimized with any real success, no matter what you wear? How many of you really believe that your leather boots, chaps, jacket and helmet will prevent your death should you smack into an SUV at 45 mph and up?

You may have heard some of the "uprising" coming from bikers about the proposed federal mandatory helmet law. Have you merely scoffed at all this and made some snide comment like, "it's just a helmet, get over it!"? If this is so, then wouldn't you question why I am so passionate about getting this information out to you? After all, I wear a helmet. It won't make a bit of difference to me if they make it mandatory country-wide or not. My life will go on until some driver ends it because they can't remember what right-of-way means, or don't care to.

This issue is two-fold. 1) It's another "right to choose" that the government seems to eager to take away. Each time they succeed, they become bolder and take more rights away. And 2) the real cause of motorcycle deaths is not even being adressed: Traffic violators.

Sorry, the #1 cause is not alcohol, though it does cause many motorcycle deaths each year. It's also something I personally can prevent. I can choose not to drink and ride.

If you ride a motorcycle, you owe it to yourself to learn all you can on this issue. It's not just about our right to choose what we wear on our heads, it's about our right to live. And about our right to protection from those we elected to serve us. If you don't educate yourself on the issues, how can you arrive at an intelligent viewpoint about this issue that affects all bikers, whether you wear a helmet or not?

And if you don't care about any of this, don't care to learn the truth? Don't go wailing to anyone about the unjust death of someone you know or love at the hands of another driver. You're really no better than the person who sits in their armchair waiting for someone else to fix their problems, and then whines when they don't like things the way they are.

I'll be the first to say I'm a Patriot. I also donate my time and money to charity. I strongly believe it's part of what I should spend my life doing. I'm also an avid motorcyclist, and through that love I contribute to both Patriotism and charities. So I make part of my life about Bikers Rights also, MY personal rights. So don't go spouting off about how you are a "Biker" if you can't get out of your armchair long enough to stand up for the right to be one.

I've heard all the excuses; my job won't allow me to fight, I don't "do" politics, it doesn't concern me, I already wear a helmet, I don't have time, i just want to have fun riding. Well, lemme see, I know Bikers who fight in secret to protect their jobs, many who take a few minutes now and then to send out emails to legislators (certainly not as many as you send to friends), some who, like me, wear a helmet but want the same thing as anyone - to live and ride, and dammit, if you ride, it DOES concern you.

There are laws taking effect NOW that are a precursor to limiting how many and who can even ride. Georgia has made it impossible to register a custom bike. Insurance companies would like to not insure us at all. You see, it costs them way too much money when one of their auto-insured runs us over. With each right the government takes away, the closer we get to not having even the smallest ability to just "ride and have fun".

To our government, a dead biker is just a statistic of how many do or don't wear helmets. My life is worth more than that to me.

You've gotten this far in this long blog. Don't give a damn? Stop reading now, as I'm sure the image below won't inspire you to give a damn either.

I read recently that "if you don't take an interest in politics, sooner or later, politics will take an interest in you". How true.

(Click the image above if it isn't animated)

On the off-chance you think the driver should go to jail for what he did (rear-ending a motorcycle stopped at a RED light), read and learn:

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