Carmaggedon Day 3: The odds

You don’t realize how hard it is to quit heroin, booze, Facebook, or cars until you try. The forces holding you onto the poison are many, sworn enemies such as insurance companies as well as good friends–not that you will have many after you begin looking poor(er) by getting around by bike.

As one of the two readers of this blog put it in a comment yesterday,“It is totally crazy that you have to have car insurance when you don’t drive to cover you from damage inflicted by motorists.”

I don’t think I could have put it any better. The only way to protect yourself from motorists when you quit driving a car is to get a car. Joseph Heller would have been proud, so proud.

Nonetheless, IDGAF. If I have to choose between following the imperial orders of the insurance company or ditching the car, I’m ditching the car. And of course it’s understandable that laws and regulations are engineered to keep you seated, mute, behind the steering wheel. How else could you extract from someone the average annual cost of $8,659 a year, which is what it costs to drive, as opposed to $350 a year, which is what it costs to cycle?

But I was less prepared for the opposition raised by friends. One pal, Gussy, pointed out two reasons to keep driving. First, without a license and a car you are screwed in an emergency. Second, when you ditch the car and are riding everywhere, you increase the chances of a collision and therefore need the car insurance (and hence the license and vehicle) even more.

With regard to the first issue, I’m confident that with or without a car, 911 is going to work. If there were truly another life-threatening emergency that required me to hop in a car and drive, well, I would, whether I had a license or not. If I didn’t have the car, I’d ask a neighbor. Moreover, keeping the license and car hanging around just for that ONE emergency that can’t be handled by 911 seems like bad risk allocation. It’s far more certain that driving will get you involved in a car collision or exacerbate health problems than it is that riding a bike will prevent you from driving someone somewhere in an emergency situation that 911 can’t handle it.

The second issue, that more riding = more risk of getting hit, therefore you must stay licensed and keep a car to maintain UM/UIM coverage, is exactly why the house in Vegas will always have people lined up to give it money.

People do not understand probability. Simple as that.

First concept, mind bending for many, is that the risk of getting hit is the same every time you get on your bike. More riding or less riding doesn’t meaningfully change the probability. It’s the same as flipping a coin. Whether you flip it one time or a billion, the probability of heads is one out of two, every single time.

“Of course!” the gambler exclaims. “So if I play twice I have a 100% chance of getting heads!”

No, you have a 50% chance, whether you play all day or once, and 50% is very, very, very good odds. The average lotto player thinks that because there’s a 50% chance of rain today and a 50% chance of rain tomorrow, there’s a 100% chance of rain in the next two days. Probability doesn’t “add up” and you can’t meaningfully change the probability by doing “it” more, when “it” is something like cycling or the lottery and is participated in by tens of millions of people or more.

This is because, like the lottery, so many people ride bicycles that in order to meaningfully change the probability you would have to take thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or even millions of trips. In the same way as affecting your lottery odds, you’d have to buy so many tickets to meaningfully change the odds that it you would go broke doing it.

This is so hard for people to fathom that they make life-altering decisions based on a misunderstanding of probability. The chance of getting hit on a bike does not meaningfully change no matter how often you do it. It is the same whether you ride daily or once every 50 years.

“But if you never ride, you’ll never get hit! Your probability will be zero!”

This is true. And if you eliminate all cars your probability will also be zero. However, if you never ride, you will be at risk for getting hit by a car while you are driving, and that probability is significantly greater than it is for cycling. And as everyone knows, more time spent in a car equates to an expanding waistline, a receding hairline, and uncontrolled stops at the In-N-Out drive thru. So in practical terms, by eliminating the bike you have actually exposed yourself to another set of much worse outcomes with significantly higher probability.

Moreover, although quitting cycling reduces your risk to zero, the converse is not true, i.e. riding every day will guarantee that you get hit, or even that it will meaningfully increase your probability of getting hit. Your probability remains the same because it resets each time you go out for a ride (like the coin toss), and because you can’t ride enough to make any practical difference in the probability. This is why most people ride for years or decades and never get hit, and some people get hit on Day One, and it’s why most people who play lotto their entire life never win the Powerball, and some people wake up, buy a ticket, and are billionaires. One person’s ability to affect the probability of an endeavor that involves tens of millions of people is nil.

In sum, it’s why Vegas always wins and the gambler is always the sucker.

The gambler, and the person telling you to quit riding because it’s dangerous, cannot understand probability, or doesn’t want to, which is okay. But it is a poor reason to choose a car over a bike.

Happily for my insurance conundrum, my other reader, Jack from Illinois (not his real name), texted the following: “Get a 50 cc scooter, dummy. You can get liability and UM/UIM coverage and still be cage-free. You won’t have to worry about losing your dignity, either. That was punted the day you put on your first bicycle clown suit.”


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25 thoughts on “Carmaggedon Day 3: The odds”

  1. The chance of rain effect is not additive, it’s multiplicative. As any cyclist knows, forecasted 20% of rain equals 100% likelihood of rain, such as this morning in Oakland.

  2. I disagree strongly (very strongly) with your plans to give up your CDL. Not all emergencies are life threatening emergencies. For instance, I broke my leg a week ago. It is not life threatening, On the other hand, I really need someone with a car to drive me to my doctor appointment this morning. Having just taken Uber and cabs for two weeks (Lisbon and London) I can tell you when you most need one you can’t find one. You can get rid of the car but please keep a license, so if the need arises, you can rent a car. To do otherwise would be foolish. And fuck odds. When you get hurt, you get hurt. The odds said I had a minuscule chance of getting hurt, and yet, I have a broken leg.

  3. Not sure my points came across as intended…I think that if I were to give up driving I would keep my license for emergencies which can come any many forms and 99% of them in our family do not invoke 911…they are more of the 2 kids needing to be in the same place at different times and one of us needs to take the baby too.

    As for me saying riding more increases your likelihood of being hit by a car I stand by that one 100% because although I know nothing about probability, odds, or Vegas I do know that if I ditched my car I would be riding my bicycle in much different environments than I do now when I go out at 9AM on a weekday & pedal at 9 MPH to Millon Ar SBUX for coffee. If I were to ride daily to work, bank, etc I would be at far greater risk as I would be riding in places where people are not used to seeing bicycles and where I would encounter way more cars, busses, trucks, & tourists in rental cars than I see on my PV coffee cruises.

    Obviously this is my point of view but it’s what I’ve found to be true in my 49 years here. I think it’s awesome you are ditching your car & like you said a lack of a drivers license doesn’t stop anyone from driving in CA. The only time I was ever hit was way back in 1989 by a hippie in Santa Cruz with no license, no insurance, & no money. He did $700 damage to my shiny new Trek 2300 carbon/al bike & offered to pay me with guitars & jewelry!

    See you on Hawthorne Blvd & when I pass you I will leave plenty of room.

  4. Sethy… I purchased a used Honda scooter few a hundy this year. Fuel bill is $5 every 10 days. Easy to park. Fun to ride. Allows me to work on my cornering skills. Flip flop compatible.

    … a middle ground to consider.

    keep it up counselor

  5. Sitting here in my goofy Florida trailer park in a city/village of less than 25,000, right alongside US 1, I am struck by how LA-centric all of this is. (goddam dangling participles. Who made that rule?)

    I was sitting in glacier mode one late afternoon, 2012, on Ventura Blvd when a roadie whipped past, taillights flashing, splitting lanes, we were just north of Laurel Canyon and man, I was wishing I was him.

    The more hours ANYONE spends on a bicycle, the FAR LESS LIKELY they are to get hurt. To think otherwise is to assume that fit, smart, and motivated individuals are going to continuously blunder into unsafe situations, death-traps, oblivious text-messaging…listen, I look inside the windshields…I watch for retards (non pc disclaimer) and make FUCKING SURE what that teenage girl in her Honda is getting ready to do. (Is that a dangler?)

    You guys are a lot of fun and Skinny, I do profess my love for your efforts. Don’t let us down.

    1. The “FUCKING SURE” put this one in the spam filter, where it took me a day to fish it out. Keep the fucks coming though, it just means a delayed post. And I will let you down if I can. I promise.

  6. >> Your probability remains the same because it resets each time you go out for a ride <<

    I think that makes the point best, though you attacked this thing from every angle I'm aware of! Well done.

    Oh, and a 50cc scooter? If the 50cc pertains to displacement that requires gasoline explosions to fill…. Hell with that. Get an electric scoot or motorcycle and quit screwing around with noisy, polluting stuff that can barely get out of its own way.

    And back to probability… let me share my favorite story from my (pilot) dad. Due to the common grasp of probability, my dad says that for your own safety on a plane, you should smuggle a bomb onboard.

    Why would that be? Well because the probability of having a single bomb on an airplane is (I'm totally making up the number) about one in 10 million. But the chance of having TWO bombs onboard is one in 100 billion! So if you take your own bomb, there's basically no chance that anybody else will bring one. Presto! Safe by probability.

    And this may be why recreational drugs are so popular.

  7. My boy Skinny. I remember your weight loss era; I remember your kickin’ the booze turmoil, now here you are three days into no car…no effin’ car, in LA, of all places…

    You just might be the first lawyer to make it into heaven.

  8. Probability doesn’t ‘add up’ as you say, but while each individual session can be viewed as an independent event your logic about your overall odds is a bit flawed. If you take your coin example, yes each flip of the coin gives you a 50% chance for heads. But let’s say heads represents a no accident bike ride. What you are now interested in is not the chance of heads on each ride, but the chance of no tail ever coming up. So if you ride for a 7 days straight, each day you have an equal 50% chance of getting hit or not. But your odds of never getting hit on any day is much less! Probability(hit)=(1-Probability(not hit))^7. So you have a less than 1% chance of making it through the week with no accidents even though on any given day it is 50%. Obviously the chance of being hit is much, much lower than 50% but to say that more riding=same chance of an accident is mistaken.

    1. I tried to qualify it by saying you can’t “meaningfully” affect the risk because it’s so low that you’d have to up your mileage or lottery tickets to ridiculous amounts. However, another friend with a statistics bent in a private email pointed out that I’m an idiot who should stick to selfies. His probability of being right is 100%.

  9. free-advice-and-worth-what-you-paid-for-it

    I don’t endorse the idea of giving up your driver license, if only to avoid potentially onerous procedures for new drivers if you find yourself needing to drive again in the future. You could get a separate state ID card (yes, you can have both), tell everyone you gave up your license, and keep it locked away where you wouldn’t be tempted to use it.

    That said, if your wife will continue to drive and have an auto insurance policy, wouldn’t you be a covered “family member” under its UM/UIM coverage, provided you weren’t driving at the time of a loss?

    In the ISO personal auto policy form or similar, look closely at the Part C definitions and, if the carrier requires one, its Named Driver Exclusion form. These say things like “deletion of uninsured motorist coverage with respect to the natural person […] designated […] above *while operating a motor vehicle*” (emphasis added), which would seem to leave your walking/bicycling/unicycling/rocking-on-a-porch-swing UM coverage intact.

    1. That is some damned good advice. However, what about the ceremonial shredding/burning driver license ceremony and the sacrificial goat?

  10. Cars average annual cost of $8,659 a year? I bought used 1997 car in 2004 for $6K and got liability insurance only. Still running well. Averaging $700 per year to operate. The fu@king insurance is the highest cost. New cars should come with a free dunce cap.

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