Playing the Odds, Managing the Risks

This week Motorcycle Awareness Month comes to a close here in the U.S. The timing coincides with seasonal riders surging to the roadways after a long winter’s nap. It’s an attempt to mitigate the risks to motorcyclists from drivers who aren’t used to seeing riders on the roads.

Obviously this is a subject very dear to me. In previous years I’ve written about what motorcyclists want you to know (Part 1 and Part 2) in hopes of cultivating awareness about our vulnerability on the road as well as our right to be there. This year I’m setting pragmatism aside because I’m utterly done with the “motorcycling is dangerous” song and dance.

There are risks in everything we do and face every single day: driving a car, riding a bike, walking down the street, eating bacon double cheeseburgers, drinking too much alcohol, stress—the list goes on and on.

Real and perceived risks

motorcycling - val in real life. Enjoying the rewards. Managing the risks.
For me, this—travel, riding, exploration—is what makes life worthwhile. The reward for the risks. I won’t give it up because drivers won’t hold themselves accountable for their actions.

The number of times in a month that I hear about another friend or friend-of-friend who has perished or been severely injured in a motorcycle crash is beyond disconcerting. And I am sick of hearing about the dangers of motorcycling when drivers violating our right-of-way (the “I didn’t see her” routine) is the most common cause of motorcycle crashes.

Nearly as often, I hear about a friend or acquaintance who has suffered in an auto crash. Yet somehow that seems unavoidable. Tragic, but acceptable. The risks of driving, one of the greatest risks we face on a daily basis, far greater than airplane crashes and terrorism, are somehow just a part of life. My head spins at the incongruity—the false rationalization.

And how about personal choices we make everyday that increase the risks from heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States? When you criticize motorcyclists, have you considered the moment when a poor diet leads to a heart attack? How often have we experienced the crushing agony of a friend and family member dealing with cancer? Completely random and senseless. Merciless. Cruel. Utterly heartbreaking.

Risks are everywhere. Sometimes tangible, sometimes not. Sometimes circumstantial, sometimes behavioral. But none of us should set aside enjoying our lives to avoid hyper-perceived risks and misplaced focus. Reasonable risk assessment and management seem to have taken a hiatus in our society. The chronic daily risks we are complicit in every day by choice seem perfectly acceptable. Yet punctuated, rare events that are dramatic, but highly unlikely, grab our attention.


motorcycle safety foundation - val in real life. Managing and mitigating risks.
Me training at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation campus in Alpharetta, Georgia. Doing what I can to manage and mitigate the risks I accept.

In January 2015, I was whole-heartedly and vigorously criticized when I suffered a motorcycle crash at the hands of an inattentive driver. Criticized by people who have no understanding of motorcycling. Somehow I was more to blame than the woman who “didn’t see me.” Someone who couldn’t be accountable for her actions compared to a trained and cautious rider. Really? A rider who was wearing full high-viz gear. In broad daylight. At low speed.

You need to check yourself if you blame the victim instead of focusing on the true cause.

I saw the driver who hit me. Why didn’t she see me? And how is that my fault?

Do we have a responsibility to protect ourselves? Yep. I did that. In spades. Because I was not successful at avoiding becoming the victim of the crash does not put me at fault. So let’s get back to what should be the first order of business: Do no harm—be certain we aren’t harming others through our actions or negligence. You have a responsibility to not hurt people. You have a responsibility and obligation to pay attention when driving your car.

It’s a truism for vulnerable road users like motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians that regardless of fault, we always lose an encounter with a car.

You can make no mistakes and still lose. —Jean-Luc Picard

In spite of you

Yet the ill-informed—the anxious—ask me why I got back on the bike.

I say “Because I want to live boldly while I can. In spite of you.” In spite of you thinking you can text and drive. Or watch a video while circling the parking lot. In spite of your lack of training and awareness of other road users.

There is no safety net, no magic bubble, no guarantees. I’m not going to bunker myself in my home, not living my life, only to become a victim of cancer and wishing I’d spent my time on this planet better. I could play it as safe as possible and still have a high likelihood of having my life cut short—by circumstance or your negligence. So I protect myself as best I can with training, awareness, and proper gear because I know I’m at the mercy of your lack of concern for your task.

In spite of you, I choose a life lived out loud doing what I love. A bold, beautiful life. An aware, awake, fulfilling life. On a motorcycle.

Tough love

The Great Multitasking Lie
Provided by The National Safety Council

So for you drivers out there, do your part. Open your eyes. Learn how to spot motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians. Pay attention to your decisions. Especially those that affect me while I’m riding safely, responsibly. There are honest, unfortunate mistakes in operating motor vehicles. Distracted driving is not one of them. Put the phone down. You’re not that good at multitasking.

No one is.

And your text or call is not that important. Think about it. Really think about it. Does that message really have to be answered RIGHT NOW? You aren’t that good a driver. You simply aren’t. We know distracted driving is a growing problem. You need to reconsider your ability to perform reasonable personal risk assessment if you think it’s ok to “multitask” while driving. Even for “just a second.”

And when was the last time you actively worked to improve your driving skills?

I’m calling you out. Up your game.

I do. I train. I pay attention. I practice improving my skills every time I get on the bike or behind the wheel. I’m not infallible. But If I screw up it won’t be because my face was buried in my phone. I’m damn well working hard to be the best rider and driver I can be. And not because of the crash. I’ve been committed to it for a long time. Have you?

No one should have to suffer for your lack of appropriate risk assessment or skills. Don’t be the person who destroys someone else’s life and then blame it on them.

And riders, don’t grouse about cagers if you’re riding like a squid. You’re a small fraction of the motorcycling community but you’re giving us all a bad name. Just stop it.

Don’t talk to me about how dangerous motorcycling is until you are the best f@#&ing driver on the road and have credentials to prove it.

Until then, I’ll see you on the road. And let me be perfectly clear… I will see you.

Will you see me?