While the motor vehicle accident rate has been falling to record lows, the rate for big trucks and motorcycles is rising. Why? I suspect some drivers and riders are mismanaging risk… With tragic results.

Was planning on doing a thousand kilometer ride on two lane, but woke up at 3 am after but 4 hours sleep, worried about the valve clearances on the hack’d R100GS parade bike. Tossed and turned for over an hour, then got up and checked the weather… Dang, tomorrows gonna be just as good a day to ride as today! So put off the big ride ’til tomorrow, got up, had breakfast, and checked those valves… one exhaust had closed a tiny bit, the rest still in spec. Touched up the paint on the sidecar, hustled up some tools for the new-to-me Quota, had lunch, and took a nap. Yup, by not riding all day on inadequate sleep I’d practiced good risk management. The first women ever to win the BMWMOA club’s million mile award, Voni Glaves and Ardys Kellerman, practice risk management- they seldom ride at night, ride at reasonable and prudent speed for conditions, and if the weather is really bad they’ll sit it out. Same with trucking’s “Million Mile” ward winners- They’ve achieved a million miles without an at fault accident by the same means- reasonable speed for conditions, proper rest, vigilant driving, etc.

Unfortunately a lot of truckers and riders don’t manage risk well at all. Other day I was headed north on two lane MN23, stuck behind an old car that was barely doing the 5 under the 60 MPH limit. No big deal, so in respect of my dieselcar’s mere 90 HP I wait a couple miles for a safe spot to pass, get on by, and set the cruise to 64 MPH. The two truckers behind me weren’t satisfied with a mere 4 MPH over the limit… A mere mile before the road widened to four lanes and they could run as fast as the troopers would allow, they passed with at best a half mile visibility. One of them damn near forced an oncoming car off the road with his stupidity. Yup, stupidity is the only word for it- passing with inadaquate sight distance just to go maybe 5 MPH faster when a four lane was but a mile ahead.

We riders aren’t doing much better. I’ve been following, but don’t participate in, the long distance motorcycle endurance events like the Iron Butt and shorter events. Around here the big event is the Minnesota 1000, an event where riders compete to see who can cover the most miles and collect the most “bonuses” for visiting oddball destinations. These events at their best are long distance scavenger hunts, and have a pretty good safety record.

But this years Minnesota 1000 had a fatal accident, although I believe it was the event’s first. I don’t know who to blame, and maybe there’s nothing anyone could have done to avoid this tragedy, other than stay home and die of a heart attack in the easy chair. The deceased rider had chosen the events 36 hour option, with a pretty much mandatory first bonus in north central Nebraska over 600 miles from the start in St.Paul. One could ride interstate part of that leg, but any logical routing puts one or two lanes for much of the route, although those are rural two lanes with 65 MPH limits in South Dakota. The event started at 8 pm friday night, but the riders taking the 36 hour option needed to be there at 6 pm, so even if you were a day sleeper you’d have had to get up by 6 pm. Start at 8 pm, and unless one was doing some serious speeding you’d do well to get to that first bonus 600+ miles away by 4 am. Then there’s the next attractive bonus, darn near 600 two lane miles away up along the Canadian border. One unfortunate rider who appeared to be following this routing was killed at 2 p.m. near Minot, North Dakota after riding around 1100 miles in but 18 hours, after probably having no sleep in at least 20 hours. Scuttlebutt on the discussion boards had it that he was blown by high winds into the side of a horse trailer he was passing. But I checked the NOAA website, and even the gusts were only in the high 30 MPH range- No problem for a good rider on a good bike.

But when we’re tired, our reactions slow… we might not respond quickly enough to a gust of wind, if we respond at all. And was it really neccessary to pass a vehicle that was turning right and out of the rider’s way anyways? So some one of us maybe didn’t manage their risks well, and maybe the incentives were wrong- To be competitive in the event you had to ride over 2000 miles in at most 30 hours, allowing 6 hours for sleep. Or go without sleep and risk those consequences. That sad, looking at the results, some of the riders did manage there risks well and finished the ride with mileages and bonus scores that reflected accomplished and judicious riding.

So fellow truckers and riders, lets manage our risks better and get those accident rates back down!