Stubborn things and statistics
A dive into the pandemic years and more.
by R. Bruce Thomas
AMSS President Liane Langlois reached out to me with a topic suggestion for this News edition – look at fatality stats during the COVID years. Since my post in February 2022 was Why We Crash, it seemed fitting to close the year with a look back at the numbers to try to identify any trends or commonalities in how we die.
The AMSS had been collecting data on fatal motorcycle collisions since mid-2019 and, once I had a look at the AMSS data, plus more I got from Government web sites going back to 1998, I immediately thought a few items were missing. Nowhere can you find how much experience a rider had, be that number of riding years or distance ridden, or when they came back to riding after any number of years of not riding. A couple incidents had a comment indicating a lack of experience may have been a factor, but was that in total or on that particular bike. The age of a bike or the size of the engine is not documented and these could definitely be factors in collision rates and fatality numbers.
Of course, for statistics to really be useful they need to be based on complete and accurate data. The Hurt Report, which I talked about last February, looked at “approximately a thousand data elements” for each of the 900+ incidents they visited at the initial scene. On the contrary, the AMSS data had been collected from news reports (with web links to news items included) and in some cases contact with families, friends, or people at the scene, and was missing information (such as age of the deceased) in numerous instances.
This lack of data is not the fault of the AMSS due to privacy rules, and information released by the police is often shy on details. Even the information posted on the Alberta Transportation site is woefully inadequate for useful analysis and a chart labelled “Motorcycles involved in casualty collisions” in the 2019 collision report (the most recent available), even states “This refers to the total number of people killed and injured in collisions in which a motorcycle was involved. It does not refer to the number of motorcyclists killed and injured.” And just note, their definition of casualty is “either a fatal or personal injury”.
The government report even alludes to this paucity of accurate data with another comment in 2019 “These age and gender comparisons are limited due to the lack of driving exposure data. In order to make valid age comparisons, it is important to take into account the number of kilometers driven annually by each age and gender group of motorcycle operators.” And yet, even with the acknowledged missing data, the Government report proudly states “This collision information is used to make Alberta’s roads safer for all road users.” Hah! Not with incomplete data.
Even with the lack of data, some data is better than none.
The number of fatalities tracked by the AMSS totalled 21 (19M/2F) in 2020, 23 (20M/3F) in 2021, and 22 (16M/6F) in 2022. Is this Male/Female distribution abnormally high? With all we hear that more and more woman are entering the sport I'm fairly certain that they don't equal 27% of the riding community as evidenced by the 2022 fatality rate. Seven of the 11 females killed were riders and the other 4 were pillions.
Government data indicates that there were 111,306 motorcycles registered in Alberta in 2020 and 134,137 registered in 2021. No numbers are available yet for 2022 but with 20% more motorcycles on the road in 2021 the fatality number only went up by 9% from 2020. Is that good news? The start of a downward trend? Are we all improving behind the bars? We'll never know the reason why.
We also learn from Government data that the highest number of fatal collisions (this is overall) occur on a Monday, while Fridays have more collisions than any other day. Fatal collisions happen more often between 3-7 pm. (This doesn't mean there weren't collisions and fatalities on other days and time periods but you may want to keep that info handy in your grey matter when you are out for a ride.) Motorcycle collisions resulting in injury or death most often occur on dry roads and riders were just as likely as drivers when it comes to being legally impaired.
AMSS data shows that June has the highest average number of fatalities followed by August and then May over the three years from 2020-2022.
Most people should be aware of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule as being the time it takes to master complex skills, of which motorcycling definitely is. This means the more you ride and improve your skills the more your safety level increases.
From the AMSS data we can see that the age of victims has been rising with the 30-39 group having the highest fatality number in 2020, 40-49 being the top group in 2021, and 60-69 topping the charts in 2022. Do these figures coincide with overall riding demographics? Your guess is as good as mine. Sportbike riders made up almost half of the fatalities in 2020 while cruiser riders accounted for more than half of the fatalities in both 2021 and 2022. One rider wasn't wearing a helmet and one only had a Class 5 licence. STOP IT! These are preventable deaths!
AMSS data indicates riders were at fault between 62-75% of the time but, while that number steadily dropped between 2020 and 2022, it really doesn't matter - if you're dead, you're dead. Who was at fault is rather moot. Speed and loss of control are also regularly mentioned as contributing factors in fatal incidents. Build your skills. Ride smarter.
The Government states that, when comparing drivers involved in the total number of casualty collisions, “motorcycle operators were more likely to run off the road, pass improperly or make an improper lane change” but, on the bright side, “motorcycle operators were less likely to follow too closely, make a left turn across the path of an oncoming vehicle, or disobey a stop sign.”
Mark Twain popularized the phrase that “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” (NOTE: Twain credited British PM Benjamin Disraeli with uttering the phrase but there is no proof of that either). Twain also said that “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” I've done all I can with the few stubborn things we have and wrung the pliability out of the stats so I'll end here with just a few tips to hopefully help you stay out of the 2023 fatality statistics.
Know your limits and abilities and ride within them. Be even more vigilant if you can. Take a course. Improve your skills. Ride more – get closer to that 10,000 hour level. Increase your visibility. Read books about riding skills over the winter.