Wednesday, October 17, 2007

MRF E-MAIL NEWS

MRF E-MAIL NEWS Motorcycle Riders Foundation236 Massachusetts Ave. NESuite 510Washington, DC 20002-4980202-546-0983 (voice)202-546-0986 (fax)http://www.mrf.org (website)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jeff Hennie, MRF Vice-President of Government Relationsjeff@mrf.org (e-mail)
We Need You In DC!
If you are thinking of taking the Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) up on our suggestion to have your State Motorcyclists' Rights Organization (SMRO) make the trip to DC to meet with your members of the House and Senate regarding the recent recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board, please do so prior to November 16th. That's the last day that Congress will likely be in session, barring a few possible days in late December to do some last minute house cleaning before the Holiday break. Please contact the MRF's DC office for further information.

New Guy at NHTSA
James Ports rides a motorcycle. He is also a former member of the Maryland State Legislature and a former Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) official. He has earned the support and respect of ABATE of Maryland leadership, and he just happens to be the new Deputy Administrator for the US DOT National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Mr. Ports took some time out of his busy schedule recently to sit down with the MRF and ABATE of MD in his spacious new office. At this meeting, which was mainly a meet and greet, Deputy Administrator Ports pledged his support of motorcycling and agreed to work with the MRF as much as he can. NHTSA just continued its recent trend of becoming more motorcycle friendly. Maybe Mr. Ports, whose job is only guaranteed as long Mr. Bush occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, can get a new gig at the National Transportation Safety Board when this one runs it course. That's probably not likely though. Either way he has the support and respect of the MRF.

Thanks to the Mountain State!
ABATE of WV recently made a trip to DC to lobby their members of the House and Senate. The Capitol Hill newbies (it was the first time lobbying DC for the group) put together a first-rate trip and had appointments with every member of the WV delegation. The three-person lobby team allowed the MRF to join them in all of their meetings. It was a successful day to say the least. The high point was meeting with the senior senator from WV, Robert Byrd. Senator Byrd has the distinction of being one of the longest serving Senators in history. He is currently the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, which puts him third in line to the Presidency should something happen to the VP and the Speaker of the House. Senator Byrd welcomed us into his palatial office suite in the Capitol, got up from his lunch of a cheese sandwich and a pickle (this guy is as humble as they come) and chatted about motorcycles for more than a few minutes. Senator Byrd has served West Virginia for over 50 years and has done the mountain state proud. Say what you will about his politics, but he has created a legacy that will stand for decades to come. Keep up the good work Senator and let the MRF know when you are ready for that motorcycle ride. Look for pictures of this meeting in the next issue of the MRF REPORTS.
Motorcycle Vehicle Miles Traveled
Last week the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) held a unique event, the Motorcycle Travel Symposium, a three-day meeting aimed at improving the data used to calculate motorcycle vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

VMT numbers are used to calculate a number of transportation data points. Most noteworthy is the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) used by NHTSA to determine the percentage of fatality rates per miles traveled by any given mode of transportation. Good data is important here because if the number of actual miles traveled is not accurate, then it makes that particular form of transportation appear deadlier than it really may be. You can listen to a detailed presentation on how motorcycle VMT numbers affect FARS data by visiting the archives of the MRF's 2005 Meeting of the Minds at http://www.inbradio.com/media/archives/mrf/motm2005.html.

Up until now it has been optional for states to report any VMT for motorcycles, but that has changed. Starting in June 2008, motorcycle data is no longer optional for states to report to the feds. Remember hearing that no motorcycles travel in South Dakota? The MRF and SMROs have questioned the inaccuracy of motorcycle VMT numbers for several years, and the feds have finally put a stop to that nonsense. You can read more about the MRF's research into motorcycle VMT numbers on the MRF's website at http://www.mrf.org/articles/2005/05NR2105nr21nomotorcyclestravelinsouthdakota.htm.
So why did the FHWA need to have a three-day meeting to address this issue? What is the real problem with collecting accurate VMT numbers for motorcycles? Apparently everything. Let's start with the technological issues. The actual technology used to collect data was designed for cars and trucks, not motorcycles. The small signature of motorcycles is difficult to capture using the tube or hose capture methods. Often times the tubes are only stretched across half a lane giving ample room for the motorcycle to simply go around the foreign object in the road. Some of the newer laser technology may be promising, but it's expensive and easily thrown off calibration by weeds, snow or curious animals. Some of the video collection technology shows some promise, but it too is expensive and difficult to maintain. With dwindling money at state DOTs, new purchases of pricey video cameras and lasers just is not a widespread option.
Then there's the human factor. It is common knowledge that a large number of motorcyclists spend more time on the road from Friday to Sunday. This intuition is backed up by the National Household Transportation Survey, a phone study conducted by the feds that surveys 20,000 plus households on their respective travel habits. Questions include what type of vehicles you own, when and where are you using those vehicles, how many licensed drivers are under your roof, and so on. This study reported that almost 40 percent of all motorcycle travel occurs on the weekends. That becomes a problem because most of the state employees hired to physically collect the data only work Monday through Thursday, so any weekend travel goes unmonitored. Seasons also skew the data, for most northern states see very few motorcycles during winter months and the state DOTs don't adjust for that.

Another major problem is where the VMT data is collected. Most of the states collect data on roads that see the most use by cars and trucks. Think of major interstates, multilane highways and other heavily traveled roads, bridges and tunnels. Now think of where most motorcycle rides occur, on back roads, scenic byways and other out-of-the-way streets. Most motorcyclists purposefully avoid the heavy congestion of an urban environment in favor of lesser-traveled roads with less heavy truck traffic. The statistic commonly used by the states is that they survey just 23% of the roads and leave the other 77% that are generally the responsibility of smaller entities such as townships and villages alone. That's a major discrepancy and a fatal flaw of the VMT data for motorcycles.

It's refreshing, to say the least, that the federal government is finally taking a good hard look at the validity of the motorcycle VMT data. Now the hard part, committing precious resources toward improving the data collection. Simply mandating that the data be reported next year will not automatically ensure accurate numbers, and some argue just the opposite. Now that the states have to do more with the same amount of resources, it may have the effect of fictitious numbers reported just to comply with another federal directive. A lot of serious research is occurring, but until that research is easily translatable to real world situations it's doubtful that the VMT numbers for motorcycles will be believable. Much work remains, but this is with out question a tremendous step forward, and the MRF will continue to monitor and report any progress.

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