“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair
I try to ignore so much of what goes on in the world, striving instead to only slow the decay of my own tiny corner of it. But sometimes it’s impossible to stay above the fray. Say, what’s this thing young Troy Siahaan posted on MO last week?
What could the AMA President and CEO, the Center for Disease Control and Ebola possibly have in common? I had to click, against my better judgment … There’s our old pal Greg White interviewing American Motorcyclist Association CEO and Pres. Rob Dingman, who after he’s done praising this year’s AIMExpo (Larry Little, who puts the show on, is “AMA Motorcyclist of the Year”), launches into an unexpected discussion about how the CDC has “dropped the ball” on the Ebola outbreak because “it’s so pre-occupied with us motorcyclists.” CDC’s mission, Dingman says, is to prevent the spread of infectious disease, but they’ve gotten outside their box: “They’re trying to prevent people from motorcycling, it’s so crazy and insane people won’t even believe it!”
Whaaaat, they’re taking away our motorcycles?! This is an outrage! I surfed immediately over to the AMA site, where I found this:
‘Mission creep,’ not budget shortfall, affects CDC response to health issues
October 08, 2014
PICKERINGTON, Ohio — With Ebola on American soil and one U.S. child lost to the enterovirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is trotting out its tired old arguments that it needs more money to respond to such crises, but the American Motorcyclist Association believes the CDC’s problem is misallocation, not insufficient funds.
“Instead of focusing on infectious diseases, the CDC has been steadily widening its scope to such things as motorcycle safety, playground equipment, forestry and other issues unrelated to its original mission,” said Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations. “We find the agency’s current budget complaints disingenuous.”
In July, the CDC’s Community Preventive Services Task Force called for universal mandatory helmet use by motorcyclists. While the committee members are volunteers, the CDC foots the bill for support staff and other expenses related to the committee’s meetings, research and published findings.
The Community Preventive Services Task Force also has studied such non-disease-related topics as seat belts, “social norming campaigns” in schools and designated-driver incentive programs. Meanwhile, a 2014 CDC report states that funding for public-health preparedness and response activities was $1 billion lower in fiscal 2013 than in 2002.
“The CDC should commit its limited resources to the study and treatment of infectious diseases and leave other public safety issues to the experts in those fields,” Allard said. “Several federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, are charged with roadway and vehicle safety issues. Let them do their work.”
The AMA strongly encourages the use of personal protective equipment, including gloves, sturdy footwear and a properly fitted motorcycle helmet certified by its manufacturer to meet the DOT standard. However, adults should have the right to voluntarily decide when to wear a helmet. The AMA does not oppose laws requiring helmets for minor motorcycle operators and passengers.
The AMA’s full position on helmet use can be found here:www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Rights/PositionStatements/VoluntaryHelmetUse.aspx.
Oh. So the CDC isn’t really trying to take our motorcycles away. They just think we should wear helmets. To me, that’s slightly different. On its website, the first paragraph of CDC’s mission statement is “to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.”
How many Americans have died from Ebola so far? One or two? Sure, the number could grow, but I’ll go out on a limb and bet it doesn’t surpass the 4,502 people killed in motorcycle crashes in 2010. Given that motorcyclists that year represented one in seven traffic fatalities, I think I’m going to have to go with, yes, this seems like a public safety issue to me.
Dingman is right, there are other federal agencies charged with motorcycle safety, maybe the biggest of which is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which provided the numbers I quoted above, and whose study goes on to conclude that, “in 2010, helmet use saved the lives of 1,544 motorcyclists, and an additional 709 lives might have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets. With motorcycle ownership at an all-time high (8.2 million registered motorcycles in 2010, compared with 4.3 million in 2000), motorcycle-related deaths and their associated costs are expected to remain at high levels unless more effective protective measures are implemented. Helmets are proven to save lives and money, and universal helmet laws are the most effective way to increase helmet use.”
I don’t really need the CDC or the NHTSA to tell me helmets are crucial to long-term motorcycling enjoyment; Baby Jesus told me that the first time I fell off a bike and cracked my coconut on the pavement decades ago while wearing one, and he still reminds me every now and then. But I’m glad those agencies make the effort to inform people without my experience or an IQ above 60. My own kid just started riding on the street, a thing that would be an absolute no-go without a helmet.
If you were waiting around for the AMA to make your kid wear one, it’s apparently not going to happen. Its official stance remains that adults should be free to make up their own minds, and, well, you can read it in the link above. Yes, I know the AMA does a lot of good things, especially when it comes to keeping land open for off-road riding and sanctioning all kinds of rallies and races. It’s interesting to note that in every race event it sanctions, one of the requirements is that all participants wear a helmet. You have to wonder why, given that racers tend to be just the sort of highly skilled riders with plenty of training who should be able to just avoid accidents like the AMA states they should in its official position (much like teenagers should practice abstinence and just say no to drugs).
I guess if the AMA was just content to have its helmet position and leave it at that, I might still be a member. But that’s not the case. According to this 2012 article, the AMA spends millions lobbying for your right to ride helmetless, an effort at which it’s been highly successful over the last couple of decades. In the same article, you can see that where 47 states once had mandatory helmet laws, now only 19 do. The results are completely predictable. In 1997, 2,116 motorcyclists were killed out of a total 42,013 U.S. highway fatalities. By 2010, 4,502 of us had snuffed it, out of 32,885. We made it all the way from 1 in 20 fatalities to 1 in 7 in only 13 years. Is there a Grim Reaper award at this year’s banquet?
So, I can see why CEO Dingman might be a little upset about the CDC’s “mission creep,” as it attempts to reduce the rate at which we kill ourselves through the simple, proven expedient of getting us to just wear a stupid helmet. Through the feigned indignity, I think I sense a tiny pang of guilt deep beneath the Jim Carrey haircut, maybe because the CDC and NHTSA are doing what Dingman and the AMA know they ought to be doing and, for whatever reason, aren’t. (Well, it’s usually money isn’t it? Dingman reportedly makes a lot.) They’re doing just the opposite.
It all reinforces my initial instinct not to have clicked on the Dingman interview in the first place, really, but it also reinforces my naive idea that given a little time, the world can be self-correcting. As of April 30 of this year, the AMA claims just 215,707 members, down from a high of over 300,000 in 2007. I think Cycle World still has more subscribers than that.
As of 2010, you’ll recall, NHTSA said there were 8.2 million bikes registered in the U.S. It’s a shame, really, that Charlton Heston died and the AMA can’t recruit him from the NRA, which has about 4.5 million members. Just think, with any leadership at all, we’d be lane-splitting through all 50 states, parking on the sidewalks like we used to do in San Francisco in the good old days, having the entire U.S. Congress trembling in fear before us … For now, though, we motorcyclists will have to be happy with a nice banquet every year. And don’t spoil it bringing up all the people who aren’t around to eat anymore.