Friday, 29 August 2008

There are times when lables just aren't helpful.

Anybody who has ever realised that their hierarchical document folders now go fifteen deep, total about 200 folders and have duplicated several of them, will realise that sometimes it's best to be a bit vague about things.

This is why I like tagged organising systems - you can get at the same information several different ways which, as any halfway-competent website designer will tell you, is a Good Thing.

Could we, I wonder, stop fucking about with motorcycle categories? Adventure bikes are also Road-Trail, Dual-Sport, All-Road and Big Trailies. We now have Sports Tourers, Garnd Tourers, Tourers and, apparently, Hyper Tourers. Every time something new and interesting comes out it get its own category, probably in an attempt to convince people that it's innovative (which it invariably isn't - "Hey, if we stuck an even bigger engine in that, we'd invent a whole new category of bike!" Hello Suzuki B-King), and WTF is a "muscle-cruiser" anyway? Things have gotten so out of hand that when somebody builds a bike that's just a bike that works and does bike stuff, Americans saddle it with the name "Standard".

Go to some manufacturer's websites and you have to second-guess your way through too many menus to find what you're looking for. Moto Guzzi Australia do this well: One page, a little picture of everything, all properly hyperlinked and even with pop-up information giving price. Of course, if Honda tried that you'd still be waiting for all the images to load.

And now I find out that not only is the Yamaha TDM900 the most underrated bike in existence (every journalist to ever test it comes to that conclusion - and then wanders back to their R1), but it's so poorly understood that although technically it's a Dual-Sport (or Adventure, or...) and regularly gets Sports Tourer thrown at it (which is fair enough) at least one website has thrown it in with the Naked's which, clearly, it technically isn't.

I advocate an independent body coming up with a maximum of about ten categories for road bikes, and if manufacturers try and sneak their own fancy names in they get egged at the next trade show.

P.S.: Should customers be worried when Italian motorcycle companies sell own-name-branded battery chargers?

Monday, 25 August 2008

Lies, damned lies, and statistics: Road safety edition

I have a serious problem with most authorities-derived news reports relating to road safety and the road toll.

Well, actually, I have a couple.

Number one is that they only report on the road toll, which is to say the number of people who die. Why do I have a problem with this? Repairing or replacing vehicles can run into many thousands of dollars for uninsured surviving drivers, and drives up insurance premiums for the insured. The ambulance system is already stretched to warping point, and doesn't need the extra work. "Survivors" can end up needing care costing more than $100,000 per year for the rest of their lives (I am not making that up). Emergency rooms and emergency room staff are no better off than the ambulance system and its paramedics.

But never mind that, what's the other problem?

They never report the same numbers, and they never report comparisons.

Take this news story, which appeared in my news feeds this morning:

Drink driving blamed for 105 Queensland road deaths in 2007 (Courier Mail)

It's your basic "People died last year because they were doing stupid things x and y, and Police can't believe that they're still doing them" story, which only serves to reinforce the worrying gullibility, blinkerdness, short-sightedness and ineffectiveness applied to the road safety issue in modern Queensland.

It also contains this paragraph, right at the top in approved inverted-pyramid news writing style:

Queensland Transport research shows drink-driving was to blame for 105 of the 360 lives lost on state roads in 2007 - more than speeding (95), fatigue (65) and inattention (53).

Crunching the numbers, this leads to:
  • Drink-driving: 29.2%
  • Speeding: 26.4%
  • Fatigue: 18.1%
  • Inattention: 14.7%
Which, if you ignore petty little things like multiple causes and the difficulty of actually assessing speeding, and the fact that "speeding" includes "inappropriate speed" as assessed by things like skid marks at the scene, not actually "breaking the posted speed limit" which is all the "enforcement"*cough*punishment*couch* activities focus on, is fair enough. Except that the 2003 summary, where they reported non-fatal crashes as well, read like this (fatal crashes first, all crashes in total second):
  • Alcohol and other drugs: 38%/11%
  • Failure to obey traffic rules: 29%/41%
  • Inattention: 26%/29%
  • Speed: 16%/5%
  • Fatigue: 13%/5%
I'll leave you a few seconds to stare, scratch your head and say "What the fuck?"

We can come up with these conclusions:
  • Road rules (they are no longer bothering with this one why?): nearly half of all crashes, which means that running lights and signs, not giving way etc. is, not surprisingly, responsible for a lot of work for panel-beaters, insurance companies and hospital staff;
  • If you're pissed, you're not actually more likely to crash, but you're much more likely to die if you do;
  • Watch the road!
  • Going too fast and being too tired are actually really safe.
Excuse me, what was that last one? Oh yes, speeding contributes to 5% of all crashes, but you're more likely to die if you do. Oh wait, that was in 2003. In 2007, after four years of road safety campaigning and the introduction of more speed cameras, we have no idea about the all-crashes category, but the number of fatal accidents involving speed has gone up by 165%, from 16% to 26.4%. And fatigue-related fatalities have gone up by 139%, from 13% to 18.1%.

But, people not paying attention is less dangerous than it used to be, and I'm sorry, but I just don't buy that at all. You'd have to try very hard indeed to convince me that all collisions are not a result of either a.) misjudging the situation or b.) not being aware of all the variables, and unless your car spontaneously breaks or a sheep falls on you, not being aware means you weren't paying attention. There may have been an innocent party in the equation (possibly), but someone was guilty of either one of those crimes.

But I digress.

Gee, haven't they been successful?

Short of drastically changing how they assess causative factors - and I'm not saying they haven't - the last four/five years have seen a fairly big re-arrangement in the reasons that people crash, and the only road safety advertising I can remember lately has been speeding, fatigue, inattention and a handful of petty rules like seatbelts.

Which says to me that out of three major issues, one has been successful and two have been, shall we say, counter-productive.

More people dying in speeding-related accidents, more people dying in fatigue-related accidents (question: How do they work this one out? I can only assume that it's only possible to collect statistics if the driver survived. Which means that the true figure would be much higher than this, or it's complete garbage because they tick that box if you ran into a tree without tyre marks on the road, and they can't see the spider that dropped out from behind the sunvisor).

Can't they just stop spending money on advertising and direct it somewhere useful, like education, and see if that makes a difference? And how about not putting speed cameras in places where people suddenly realise they're there and oh-shit-brake-and-take-eyes-off-road-to-glance-at-speedo which means that an entire line of traffic is changing speed (dangerous) while distracted from the road (dangerous) simultaneously. This is improvings safety how?

P.S.: When I say "petty rules" I mean things likely to have a major impact upon your change of crashing, not upon your chance of being projected through the windscreen and having your spine compressed beyond it's capacity to support life when you do.

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