My thoughts on personal risk management

11.14.2007 | 8:12 pm | General

Almost everything that a person does in life involves a certain degree of risk to their personal safety. And, every person evaluates these risks and determines those activities that they feel are safe, and those that they feel are not. Usually, a person will conduct their evaluation based on their own “formula” which takes into account various factors which they think impacts that risk factor. For example, if you ask anyone if they wear a seat belt while driving their car, you will get a variety of answers. Seldom, however, can a person give you any factual or statistical data to back up their decision. They will often arrive at their decision by using their formula and plugging in data that is known only to them. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of sports, or Xtreme sports. This includes racing, skydiving, bungee jumping and the like.

Motorcycle riding, whether for sport purposes such as motocross or racing, or for transportation purposes, is generally accepted as being more dangerous than walking or driving a car. People will usually base this decision on the fact that a bike offers the rider significantly less protection from injury, whether caused by the rider themselves, or by other vehicular traffic that may impact the bike and the rider. Very few people will argue this fact. What is interesting is that some people will modify the risks associated with riding a motorcycle by other outside factors that seem to make sense only to themselves.

I had a discussion with a co-worker about this very subject. He said he might consider buying a bike and riding it back and forth to work, but he felt he lived too far away. What he meant was that he felt that the time he would spend on the bike each day would elevate the risk factors, and he was not comfortable riding it that distance each day. So, I asked him:

Me: “How far do you live from work?”

Him: “20 miles.”

Me: “What if you lived 17 miles from work, would you ride a bike then?”

Him: “No.”

Me: “What if you lived 14 miles from work, would you ride a bike then?”

Him: hesitating, “No.”

Me: “What about 12 miles?”

Him: “Ummm…”

Me: “What about 10 miles?”

Him: “Yea, probably.”

So, what does his personal formula contain that makes him arrive at that decision? Why does he think that 10 miles is OK, but 20 miles is not? I would agree that the more time you spend doing ANY “dangerous” activity increases the odds that something will happen to you. What I don’t understand is how an individual processes this risk formula and comes up with their Go/No Go decision.

It would appear that logic plays less of a part in this process, and emotion and feeling plays a much larger part. The old saying, “don’t confuse me with facts, my mind’s made up” truly applies here.

Once an individual arrives at their decision about how risky an activity is, they will then begin the process of comparing the risk to the enjoyment of that activity. A skydiver may decide that the exhilarating feeling of jumping out of an airplane is worth the amount of risk their formula has determined. A motorcycle rider may feel that the joy of riding, the wind in their face, and the esthetics of swooping through a series of twisting turns are worth the chance of being killed by a person in a 4 wheeled vehicle. Again, their risk assessment is most likely based on their vague, ambiguous, and unexplainable formula.

Some people will carry this process to the extreme. I sat next to a woman on an airplane once who told me that she never wears any nylon clothing or rubber tennis shoes on a plane because, if the plane crashes and catches on fire, she does not want her clothing to melt and burn her. In my mind, if that happens, all the cloth and leather apparel in the world is not going to save you.

There have been millions of conversations over the years about motorcycle riding and protective clothing. Many of these discussions have become very heated, and there is no shortage of opinions on the matter. I don’t think there are many people, including those who are opposed to wearing protective gear, who will not agree that wearing a helmet and protective clothing affords significant protection to a rider in the event of a spill.

Most of these discussions usually revolve around mandated helmet use, or the inconvenience or discomfort of wearing protective clothing. “It’s too hot during the summer. I don’t have a place to store it once I arrive at my destination.” The arguments are many and varied. The riders who don’t want to wear a helmet or protective gear are willing to accept the increased risk associated with riding while not wearing gear.

Where these discussions become testy is when people attempt to convince others that their own view on the topic is correct. Riders who gear-up are not going to convince those who choose to “ride free”; no matter how much they try. The opposite is true as well.

Then, there are those who abruptly decide to quit riding and sell their motorcycle because a family member or friend has been injured or killed in a bike related accident. Their reasoning may be that the dangers of riding have finally hit home, and they now realize just how dangerous it really is. Or, they may decide that they don’t want to put their loved ones through the same grief that the other family has had to endure. Regardless of what their decision is based on, they have made a subjective decision to stop riding, and it is unlikely that anyone will convince them to change their minds.

Ultimately, what this all boils down to is this: People are going to make their risk management decisions based on factors that are often only understandable by them. They will ride or not ride, wear gear or not. If they suffer serious injuries or death as a result of their actions, then that was their choice. All the forum posts or water cooler discussions will not change that.