FIRE JOE MORGAN: Only Mildly Sports-Related


Where Bad Sports Journalism Came To Die

FJM has gone dark for the foreseeable future. Sorry folks. We may post once in a while, but it's pretty much over. You can still e-mail dak, Ken Tremendous, Junior, Matthew Murbles, or Coach.

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Friday, February 08, 2008


Only Mildly Sports-Related

Some of you may know that my new journalistic hero is Mike Seate of the Pittsburgh Trib. Remember him? The guy who said that fans of an imaginary thing called superbike racing were morally superior to fans of baseball?

Remember? This guy:


So, Mike Seate has recently become part of a point/counterpoint involving the speeds at which various people drive on the streets of our nation's cities. Here's "point," in which Seate describes a section of Pittsburgh riddled with high-speed traffic accidents (these excerpts are not necessarily continuous):

Commuters treat North Shore like NASCAR track

Last week, I visited Derek Gamret, a North Shore parking lot attendant who is used to the sound of crunching metal...I was amazed to see how close the attendant had come to calamity, as the waist-high brick wall surrounding his lot recently was torn apart by a speeding car.

Either NASCAR has added the North Shore as a track or something weird is going on.

Cars speed across the bridge from Downtown, he said. Just as I had suspected. To verify my research, I headed back to the intersection with a handheld radar gun.

I use the radar gun to keep my buddies honest when they brag about the top speeds they allegedly reach at local racetracks, but my racer friends have nothing on North Side commuters.

The Seventh Street Bridge's posted speed limit is a lazy 25 mph, but in less than 15 minutes, I managed to track cars doing more than twice that speed.

It's one heck of a gamble to take on a daily basis. Stand there long enough, and you'll be amazed there haven't been more crashes -- and more trees and buildings bearing the scars of too many commuters who think they're NASCAR drivers.

Excellent work. I like the idea of a journalist trying to keep speeders at bay in a like vigilante-justice kind of way. I also love that Seate owns his own radar gun -- for recreational purposes.

Now here's "counter-point," in which another journalist argues that laws against speeding on public streets are draconian and unnecessary:

Fla. lawmaker aims to crush cyclists' thrills

A few years back, I wrote a book about the then-emergent sport of motorcycle stunt riding. At the time, maybe a dozen teams of young riders were making a good living pulling wheelies and other collarbone-crushing stunts on high-powered motorcycles.

Definitely seems like the kind of behavior you want to go out of your way to...protect?

Florida State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R-Miami) has introduced House Bill 137, which is aimed at stamping out stunt riding once and for all. If the bill becomes law, anyone caught stunt riding or exceeding the speed limit by 50 mph on a motorcycle in Florida will be arrested and have their bike impounded and their license suspended for 10 years.

I love this law. This is an awesome law. How can you be against this law? [Edit: see comments for a far better understanding of it than I provided here.]

Lopez-Cantera said he's determined to make stunt riders "fear the law." It might sound like action-movie dialogue from "Robocop," but, unfortunately, this is an elected representative talking. The state senator claims the 119 motorcyclists killed in roadway accidents in his state in 2006 motivated his decision. But he fails to address how car drivers -- many distracted by cell phone conversations, drugs or alcohol, or just plan bad drivers -- might have contributed to the number.

Drivers do get distracted by cell phone calls, yes. Possibly by drugs and alcohol, too. But another thing that might contribute to accidents involving motorcycles going 50+ MPH over the speed limit while doing dangerous stunts is: the motorcycles going 50+ MPH over the speed limit while doing dangerous stunts.

This kind of overzealous, punitive lawmaking is a threat to all motorists, regardless of how we get around.

Also a threat to motorists: people who go really fast on motorcycles and do stunts.

A proposed law might mean one thing on paper, but out on the streets, where cops can and, often, will interpret the rule of law with millions of variances, there's no telling what they might construe as "stunt riding."

Like, possibly, going 49 MPH over the speed limit while doing a dangerous stunt? You're right. Get rid of the law.

You can find car drivers exceeding the speed limit by 50 mph every day, but I can't imagine anyone jailing them for doing so.

Mike Seate seems to want to, based on that earlier column.

Maybe lawmakers like Lopez-Cantera wouldn't introduce ill-conceived laws like this if they respected the rights of motorcyclists, and viewed us as something more than a group of thrill-seeking kids who need to be taught a lesson.


Now, kids at home, I want you to guess who wrote the "counter-point" to Mike Seate's "point."

That's right -- it was Woody Paige!

Just kidding. It was also Mike Seate.

So, to sum up: people in cars who go 50 in a 25-mph zone: dangerous NASCAR-wannabes who should be brought to justice.

People on motorcycles who superbike-it-up and go 115 mph on the highway and do crazy stunts on public roads: kick-ass dudes who are being hassled by the man.

(I know. It's only mildly sports-related. At least it mentioned NASCAR.)

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posted by Unknown  # 11:25 AM
David raises some interesting points:

I've done some cursory research, and it looks like Mike Seate is justified in his opposition to Florida's HB 137, though I don't like the way he presents his argument. Florida already has plenty of laws on the books that punish all drivers (car and motorcycle) for reckless or high-speed driving; HB 137 singles out motorcyclists in particular by impounding the bike of any rider "charged with reckless driving or exceeding the speed limit by 30 miles per hour." (looks like the actual law is 30-over, not 50). Here is a summary of the proposed law.

I wholeheartedly endorse laws that take dangerous drivers off the road, but this law seems downright discriminatory. To summarize:

Drive a four-wheeled car more than 30mph over the limit: get a ticket and a "mandatory hearing before a designated official."

Drive a two-wheeled motorcycle more than 30mph over the limit: your vehicle is automatically impounded.

I have to agree with Mike that a high-speed car or truck is at least as dangerous as an equally high-speed motorcycle, and so should be subject to the same laws.

To summarize:

HB 137: unfair law.

Mike Seate: motorcycle-obsessed journalist with a great picture

Pitchers and Catchers report: can't come soon enough.

As most of you know, my greatest dream is that this blog turn into a state-law-based debate over vehicular safety. To that end, Mr. S. jamison weighs in with a comment about the previous comment:

In response to the comment from the recent post "Only Mildly Sports-Related", there is a perfectly good reason that motorcycle laws are discriminatory. This is because motorcycles themselves are discriminatory.

Since we need to check the statistics instead of rely[ing] on "common knowledge", the NHTSA released the following traffic safety facts (check for more information):

Occupant Fatality Rate 2003

(per 100 million vehicle miles traveled):

Motorcycle: 38.93
Passenger Car: 1.23
Light Truck: 1.19

The Florida law is extremely well-considered... if some nut in a car travels 50 over, he's still far less likely to get killed (along with others in the car) as some guy on a motorcycle.

Your move, pro-motorcycle-speeders.
But, you're asking, how do people in Illinois feel about this Florida law? Stan?

I'm an attorney in Illinois, and if you speed 40 MPH over the speed limit in IL it's a Class A Misdemeanor, the same level as a DUI!!! Plus, in IL you don't have to do fancy stunts to fall under the law. So his article is just odd and really unnecessary.
Patrick raises what for Mr. Seate must be an epistemological nightmare:

[O]ne has to wonder if he would be for or against motorcycles going 50+ MPH over the speed limit while doing dangerous stunts while on the Seventh Street Bridge.
And now Ed takes S. Jamison to task!

S. Jamison quotes fatality rates per mile traveled, and then concludes that "if some nut in a car travels 50 over, he's far less likely to get killed...".

This conclusion does not necessarily follow from the data. I think it is reasonable to assume that motorcyclists are far more likely to be traveling 50 over than auto drivers, and thus the fatality rates per-mile-traveled-at-50-over may very well be comparable between cars and motorcycles.

This is the most fun I have ever had writing for this blog. I swear to God.
Mark sez, take that, people who think motorcycles are dangerous:

One of the IIHS' favorite stats to report is that, "per mile traveled, motorcycle rider fatalities are 31 times greater than those in automobiles." Well, golly, since they bothered to factor in "per mile traveled," that sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? I suppose it does, but it leaves out a few mitigating factors. For example, a motorcycle will be carrying a single rider about 90% of the time. When you ride one mile without an accident on your bike, you are counted as one safe mile traveled. But the stats for automobiles includes not only cars with two or more passengers, but also vans, trucks and even buses. A bus with 40 passengers goes one mile without an accident, and it is counted as 40 safe miles traveled, compared to your one mile. Then, add in the fact that motorcycles simply aren't ridden the number of miles in a year that a car is used. In fact, we average only about 30% of automobile usage. Oh, and they count dirt bike miles, too, and ATVs, which obviously results in a lot more accidents "per mile traveled." Ever see someone go off-roading in the family sedan, or better yet, a fully-loaded school bus?

Are you beginning to see how this works? If not, I'll make it even simpler: Per mile traveled, a pedestrian is 18 times more likely to be injured or killed in an accident than a motorcyclist. We need to get those crazed, daredevil walkers and joggers off our sidewalks! But wait --there's something worse: Per mile traveled, equestrians (horseback riders) are 25 times more likely to be killed or injured in an accident than a motorcyclist! Sure, I'll admit that motorcycle riding can be dangerous but I don't hear anyone talking about how dangerous it is to ride a horse, or about regulating them more, or even banning them outright.

Keep 'em coming, people.
Hang on, you guys -- Zak has a good point.

It's worth considering that, although motorcyclists put themselves in ridiculous danger (especially in speeding), people speeding in cars endanger all other road-users more.

Plus, cars clog up the roadpaths, and that's just shitty.

Kevin points out:

I love how Seate is writing about a bill that isn't even going to see the State Senate floor anytime soon!


Bill Deferred: Jan 11
Seate Article: Jan 28

And we come full circle, with David chiming in again.

Mr. Jamison made a very good point that I failed to note, viz that motorcycles are inherently more dangerous to their riders than cars. This may have something to do with a motorcycle being able to travel every bit as fast as a car, but lacking in safety items like seatbelts, airbags, rollcages, and two additional wheels.

Mr. Jamison has provided a very good proof of this point with some statistics from the NHTSA. I fully agree, but my hypotheses was that motorcycles present an equal, if not lesser, threat to innocent bystanders (pedestrians, bicyclists, farmers' market patrons, or "nonmotorists," as the NHTSA likes to call them).

I've used the NHTSA's 2003 Traffic Safety Facts (being the easiest such report I could find online) for my stats. Here comes the science:

Collisions with nonmotorists, 2003:
Motorcycles: 19 of 3,751 (0.5%)
Passenger Cars: 2,512 of 26,169 (9.6%)

So by my count, although motorcyclists are more likely than passenger car drivers to hurt themselves in a crash, they are far more likely than passenger car drivers to hurt pedestrians. Granted, "collisions" is not the same thing as "fatalities." But I can assure you that when a pedestrian gets hit by a car or motorcycle, it is at least going to be pretty damn painful.

I took this a step further, to see how the motorcycle/car debate looks from a pedestrians point of view. I even made up a handy little spreadsheet to chart it out (attached) [Edit: no it isn't, in these comments, because I don't know how to do that. --ed.]. Essentially, motorcyclists crash at a higher rate than cars, but fewer of their crashes involve nonmotorists. However, if we look at nonmotorist crashes per total vehicle miles traveled, we find that a hypothetical motorcycle driving the same number of miles as a passenger car is actually slightly more likely to hit a pedestrian. Taking this even further, our hypothetical motorcycle and car would hit pedestrians every 502.1 and 661.2 million miles, respectively. To put that in perspective, if you put rockets on your car or bike and took a trip into space, those distances would put you somewhere in between Jupiter and Saturn. That's a lot of miles.

So, after a couple hours of following this diversion, what have I found?

1) In terms of actual accident rates, motorcycles are far more dangerous to their riders, and a tiny bit more dangerous to pedestrians, than passenger cars.

2) Therefore, my hypothesis and Mike Seate's ramblings are pretty much incorrect.

3) If you are a pedestrian, make sure to avoid the region between Jupiter and Saturn.

Finit. Good work, everyone.
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