Yesterday a comment was made on my post about Holland that got discussion going:
"The real issue is people with self destructive urges will find ways to satisfy them. People who want to die will find a way. The hard drugs are for suicides in progress and as a American who believes in individual rights, I strongly support the right of anyone to suicide. I really wish they wouldn't try to take the rest of us with them, but I have to be realistic about this. Most motorcyclists are in a similar headspace as a hard drug user, a FPS video game addict."
Some people took issue with the comparison between motorcyclists and 'hard' drug users. Others took issue with the idea that motorcyclists have 'self-destructive urges' and that's why they do it. If you want a full picture of what was said, read the thread. There's discussion of anecdata vs statistics, observation vs research, and not a little of 'I know lots of people who do this that and the other' on both sides, and general agreement that the original statement was wrong. So I thought I'd go have a look and find out for myself.
I checked some statistics (New Zealand ones btw) on motorcycle accidents. The ACC report from 2008 shows a rate of 121.4 crashes per 10,000 motorcycles on the road in 2004. This equates to 1.21% of motorcycle users being involved in an accident.
Meanwhile, there were 36084 reported crashes in cars out of 2.9 million registered vehicles in the same time period, which by my admittedly dodgy maths, comes out as an accident rate of 1.24%.
Looking at that, it seems motorcyclists are less likely to be involved in an accident than car drivers. But of course, there's an issue with the figures in that the motorcyclist stats come from ACC, implying that there was an injury from that accident, whereas the car crash stats are from the police. As we know, all car accidents are supposed to be reported. This means there could possibly have been more motorcycle accidents in which no ACC claim was made. You could conversely argue that there could have been more car accidents that weren't reported too. But we're just trying to get a picture here, so bear with me.
Next I compared these figures with those related to drug use. I'm sorry not to have linky linky for you here. My figures come from two places. One is a presentation of research I attended earlier this year, in which the speaker suggested that 15% of recreational drug users 'get into trouble' with drugs. The other is an article in a journal referenced below*, in which it was found that 3% of drug users get into trouble that is noticed by authorities.
My personal view is that it's impossible to put an accurate figure on this, because the illegal nature of illicit drug use means that there is no way of getting an accurate figure of the number of recreational drug users out there. Police stats only show those caught. Victim surveys are next to useless in gauging activities in which there is no victim, and people are likely to lie on self-report studies. Anyway, the bottom line is that anywhere between 3% and 15% of recreational drug users 'get into trouble'. I'm inclined to go with the lower figure, simply because they have at least tried to put parameters around what 'get into trouble' actually means, that can be sort-of equated to having an accident on a motorcycle.
The result of this checking is that it seems a recreational drug user is taking roughly twice the risk of 'having an accident' as a motorcycle user.
Now about that implication that people take drugs or ride motorcycles because they have self-destructive urges. It seems to me that if one actually wanted to die, there are ways of achieving this that have a much higher chance of success than either motorcycling or taking drugs. Both activities have an element of risk, but even the suggestion that people do it for the thrill of the risk seems inaccurate given the amount of risk involved. Yes, if something goes wrong you could die, but between 1 and 3 percent risk of problems (note that problems do not equal death) does not seem sufficient to make this the number one reason for a person to take part. There must be other reasons that rank higher, right? And some of them are discussed in yesterday's thread.
So what about the general mentality of motorcycle or drug users? I witnessed a few people trying to distance themselves from the comparison yesterday, the implication being that motorcycling = virtuous and good, drug use = wrong and bad, or something. I'm familiar with this stereotype and I also understand it. Motorcycling is after all legal, environmentally friendlier than car use, and generally not associated with walking skeletons stabbing themselves with needles in the gutter. However, I'd argue that there is a similarity in mentality and it's this:
Both activities have an element of risk. People who choose to participate in these activities are generally aware of the risk, and the majority (97%+) assess this risk and take steps to mitigate it, successfully. You cannot eliminate the risk with either motorcycling or drug taking, but you can certainly minimise it with sensible forethought. Both groups of people also do a form of cost/benefit analysis against the risk, and choose to participate having decided that the benefits outweigh the costs. In that respect, I agree with Marshall that the mentality of drug users is similar to that of motorcyclists. I just disagree that this mentality is a thrill-seeking deathwish.
You'll note here that I've avoided using the word 'hard' in reference to drugs. This is because 'hard' drugs is a meaningless distinction. What is a 'hard' drug? Is it one with a higher risk of harm or addiction? Because if so, 88% of New Zealanders are 'hard' drug (alcohol) users. Is it based on classification? Because if so, LSD, a relatively harmless drug according to statistics and research, is a 'hard' drug. All drugs have a risk associated with them, and consequently I've ignored the demarcation between 'hard' and 'soft' drugs.
We all know (or if we don't, we have heard of) people who refuse to wear helmets on motorcycles, who like to exceed the speed limit and push the boundaries of safety. We all know (or have heard of) people who've overdosed on drugs, become addicted or otherwise had problems. But the vast majority of participants, in both cases, are quietly going about their business and we never hear about them or notice them precisely because they don't get into trouble.
In conclusion I would like to suggest that when the debate is stripped of stereotypes, political/ideological views, emotive language and descriptions of extreme behaviour, the two groups of people under discussion are probably quite similar in mentality. And when we're talking about these groups, it would behoove people to consider the behaviour of the majority rather than pointing out the minority of people that visibly mess up.
* Edmunds, M., May, T., Hearnden, I. and Hough, M. (1998). Arrest Referral: Emerging Lessons From Research. In Drugs Prevention Initiative Paper, 23. London, UK: Home Office.
By the way, LJ seems to have stopped emailing me comment notifications. I've opened a ticket with them but I'm probably in a queue of several thousand with the same problem - so until I get that sorted I'm keeping up with discussion manually and it's.. er.. interesting.
Also - I like online present shopping. Makes my life easier. Also, parcels in the mail! *squee*