Save Us from Ourselves

“It has been deemed that anything not good for you is bad and therefore illegal…smoking, alcohol, caffeine, contact sports, meat, bad language, chocolate, gasoline, uneducational toys and anything spicy.” (Demolition Man, 1993)

Zero. According to a bill recently passed in New York City, this is the only acceptable number of people to die in traffic by the year 2024. Certainly well intended, and an admirable goal…but exactly how would this be accomplished?

The strategy, known as Vision Zero, has been in effect for nearly two decades in Sweden where it has primarily focused on street safety improvements such as construction of barriers, bike lanes and pedestrian islands. It has achieved a remarkable cut in deaths of almost half. However, the NYC regulations come from a different perspective and point to generations of driver “unruliness” as the primary cause. The opinion is that if drivers had better manners, along with lower speed limits and more cameras affecting their attitude, the roadways would be safer for all. Therefore, laws that change bad behavior were voted to be acceptable to attain the goal.

In a city of 14,000 taxis, the punishments for cabbies are harsh; a collision can result in license forfeiture. But all drivers are expected to be on their best behavior, and even motorcyclists with no Carbon fiber helmet were singled out. The rule governing motorcycle comportment outlaws “wheelies, doughnuts, burnouts and revving.” And certain “exhibition behavior” from motorcyclists, including an “explicit invitation to race,” is also unacceptable. A first offense could be punishable by up to 60 days in jail.

It seems a bit of a reach. After all, New York City is not known for its politeness and that’s really what they’re legislating. I can see Swedes being more accepting of rules regarding personal conduct they deem unacceptable. Europeans, in general, seem to have an etiquette that extends to the road, such as willingly pulling over to let a motorcycle pass. I can’t picture that in NYC.

Of course, the electric motorcycle is polite. It’s cleaner and quieter than any other vehicle on the street, so now that it’s becoming a reality, the next stop could be to only allow electric vehicles within city limits. Even Harley-Davidson has been promoting the concept through its Live Wire project across the US. Or better yet, we could jump to the Google self-driving car and not be able to offend anyone with anything. With only a constant exchange of data to sensors and satellites, the rider is basically just a passenger within a small subway car. Taking away human error as a factor would go a long way to making it safer for pedestrians and other drivers.

But then, shouldn’t the driver also be protected from dangerous forms of transportation? The motorcycle itself could certainly be declared unsafe since it simply falls over if the rider forgets to put his feet down. No matter what safety features are built in, motorcycle riding is inherently risky. Right now, the rider assumes the risk based on the reward.But laws protecting us from ourselves are everywhere.

So where is our beloved motorcycle headed in the future? Perhaps we’re all feeling the changes that are coming. Could this be part of the current exploding retro trend? There’s a definite nostalgic emotion being stirred today by the sight of café racers, bobbers and customs. The R nineT even enables individual customization, underscoring the personal relation we have with our bikes. But progress and technology can be a good thing, so the Concept Roadster has quickly followed for those who also want the latest generation engine under a more futuristic skin.

Let’s hope motorcycle continues to value its idiosyncratic nature as well as its riders. Or, as the movie predicts, the perfect society is created as “a beacon of order with the purity of an ant colony.” — Sandy Cohen

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