A Motorcycle (and Calibration?) Accident

by boggler2 min read18th Mar 201811 comments


Probability & StatisticsWell-beingCalibrationPractical
Personal Blog

Last week I saw a motorcycle accident.

My dad, known to be the most careful driver in my family, was attempting to pull out of the mall parking lot. Suddenly, a motorcyclist came into view, and as he saw our car, he stomped on the brakes. My dad saw him and stopped, but the motorcyclist had hit the brakes too hard and from his face - his eyes wider than I'd ever seen - I could tell he had lost control of his vehicle.

The motorcycle slipped and slid in front of our car as the motorcycle-man managed to somehow stay free of the cycle as he slammed into the concrete. There was a collective holding of breath in the car as my dad jumped out of the driver's seat and ran to the man.

The man looked at my dad and said, "You scared the shit out of me."

"Sorry," my dad said. "Are you alright?"

The man nodded. He looked shaken, but it quickly became apparent that the man and his motorcycle were both fine. We, in the car, released our breath. Suddenly, my long held desire to ride a motorcycle felt foolish, and my mom's words sprung to mind:

"Do you know what your aunt (an ER nurse) calls motorcyclists?" I could hear her say.

"Organ donors."

Although I had looked up the risks of riding a motorcycle, and yes, the fatalities were worse than automobile operators, I did not feel as though they were so high that the utility I would gain from riding a motorcycle would be outweighed by the risks. This was especially true when I learned that a large proportion of the accidents were from riding in poor weather conditions or at night when visibility was impaired. I reasoned to myself that by being exceptionally careful about the variables I can control, that I would be safe enough to warrant motorcycle riding.

Now, all that intuition arithmetic felt very counter-intuitive.

Was I correct the first time in believing it to be a good idea to pick up motorcycle riding, or am I correct now? How do I calibrate my perception of risks to reality when my intuition is so swayed by experience?

One idea is to speak to motorcyclists. A priori, I predict that I'll be warned about the risks, but that the cyclists will claim that the joy of riding outweigh its risks. Yet, by definition, this is a population that must believe in this claim.

Another thought is to try out a motorcycle to test if riding a motorcycle is as desirable as I imagine. This seems very important to calibrate my desire, but, assuming for the sake of discussion that I experience substantial joy riding it, how do I match up that joy to acceptable risk?

I believe at some level, we must follow intuition, because these notions are so hard to quantify. Yet, if intuition is king, how do we choose what to feed our intuitions?

If the motorcycle accident I witnessed resulted in the man's death, then I imagine that my intuition wouldn't even leave this up for discussion. I would never ride a motorcycle again.

Yet, if I watched videos of 100 million motorcycle miles, and I saw the expected rate of 25 fatalities, would I feel comfortable riding a motorcycle? Currently, my intuition about my future intuition says that my future intuition would be cool with riding a motorcycle. Is this meta-intuition the true intuition I should use? Or is this just my current intuition rounding small numbers to zero?

Right now, I am postponing motorcycling to the distant future.


Last week I saw a motorcycle accident.

I think I may have also witnessed a calibration accident.