Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Mandated Failure

There's a reason why it's not mandatory for airline passengers to wear a parachute: it's simply cheaper and more effective to make sure the planes get where they're going in one piece.  If your plane doesn't blow up or fall apart midair, you won't need a parachute.  Give the man a nobel prize, and light a cigar (but not in the in flight toilet; I have it on good authority that those smoke detectors work).

Which is why whenever the government or its agencies start talking about mandatory protective clothing for motorcyclists, I find myself starting to look for the hidden cameras.  This has to be some elaborate practical joke that the ministerial committee for road safety is pulling on me, in retribution for the seventy-two emails I've sent them since April.  They have to know that it's bad policy, a bad idea that won't even begin to improve safe motorcycling outcomes for riders, don't they?

I'm not so sure.  I'm beginning to think that in their chesterfield leather, sound-byte analysis, electoral Spring Street world, they may have listened to one too many actuarial "road safety experts" who has told them that wearing a parachute really will help you if your A380 loses a wing over Uluru.  It would almost be funny if it wasn't our own tax dollars funding this pantomime.  Still, if we spell it out for them in simple monosyllabic phrases, they'll figure it our, right?

Now between you and me, just as I'd rather the jumbo landed safely than have you strap a chute on my back and toss me out at 30,000 feet.  Sure I've got more chance with the parachute than without it, but honestly those motorised stairs aren't really all that steep, and coffee at the airport has been getting better of late, so if it's all the same to you I'd rather just let the pilot touchdown on the runway and brave the mind games of the other passengers trying to psych me into letting them into the aisle before me.  (No way lady, that cafe has a latte with my name on it so just keep your pink power suit in your damn chair or I'll do a Dexter on you!  Yeah!)

So too, given a choice between coming off the bike in full leathers and not coming off at all, I'll choose the latter every single time.  And with almost 60,000 kilometres of the very worst that Melbourne weather, road repairs or BMW drivers can throw at me, I simply don't buy the lie that all riders crash or that motorcycle crashes are inevitable.

The TAC likes to think it knows about the risks of riding.  In fact representatives of the TAC have stated, on record and to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry that they know more about the risks facing motorcyclists than the riders themselves do. But even their notorious "38 times" statistic is underwritten by the pessimistic caveat that motorcyclists are more likely to be seriously injured in the event of a crash. 

(Interestingly when I went searching the TAC website to find an example of them rolling this stat out I found that Sam Cockfield of the TAC has taken to omitting that little caveat in her statements: 'we would like to clarify that the statement "riders have 38 times the risk of death or serious injury" is a national figure based on serious injury per distance travelled' she said in response to a 2009 letter published in the Herald Sun, challenging them on the figure.  Once again, I'm looking for the hidden cameras.)

What I'd like to point out to them is that while crashing with protective gear on is most probably going to have a better outcome than crashing au naturel, not crashing would seem to be a better option yet.  So let's step back and look at exactly what mandatory protective gear will do to prevent crashes in the first place?

Exactly that.  Zip.  Zero. Nudda. Not a single sweet little thing.  Protective gear is a consequence mitigation strategy that has sod all to do with causality.  Not a single crash will be prevented by introducing mandatory protective gear.  Now that's a quality outcome if ever I saw one.

But what would the other consequences be if mandatory protective gear was introduced?  Surely there's a silver lining in here somewhere, some upside that would help set such a policy apart from the home insurance scheme that saw more than 200 homes burned to the ground?  Let's take a look.

Firstly, the government would have just created a new market.  Shopping time, happy days!  Just what people need to take their minds off all the other demands being made upon their pay packet.  But hey, it's for safety, so that means we can't afford not to splash the cash, right?

Except of course without any form of standards, they've just created a market for something that achieves something towards motorcyclist safety.  Brilliant, can't see anything going wrong with this scheme at all.  Mandate that riders have to wear gear without a clear definition of what that gear should be.  We could spin up another working committee to nut out a standard, I suppose, but what sort of riding are they going to set the standard for?  Shall we all wear MX gear that offers no abrasion resistance for sliding down the bitumen?  Or head to toe leather that won't do squat if we come off into a tree beside the bush track?

Of course it gets worse than that.  After all, we live in a free market economy, even if the market is arbitrarily and inadvisedly made.  And let's be honest; some of us got into motorcycling in the first place because running cars was just too bloody expensive.  We can't all afford Dainese and Alpinestars.  Thankfully the very instant that mandatory protective clothing legislation is announced, factories of underpaid workers all over south-east asia will spring into action to start churning out Lucky Biker Boy protective jackets, pants, gloves and boots that will tick the legislative boxes.  In the absence of any standards there's no guarantee that you're any better off wearing it than you would be wearing an iridescent tutu made from the hides of rare albino wombat fleas, but that's not the point, is it?

The point is that even though it will have achieved nothing to reduce motorcycle crashes, and it is far from guaranteed that it will achieve anything by way of reducing trauma among crash victims, your state-made decision to wear all the gear makes you legislatively compliant, and that's what a good nanny state looks for in her citizens.  After all, once they've introduced mandatory gear and still the number and the consequences of motorcycle crashes hasn't reduced, they'll need us to be nice and compliant so they can outlaw motorcycling as being just too gosh darn dangerous.  

But don't worry, you can get a shiny new volvo with full black leather trim, won't that be nice?