[Edit: Removed inactive links.] Unlike other politically isolated nations, there is a surprising about of freedom with regard to conversing with the locals of Myanmar (Burma), many of whom speak good English and are happy to talk about the problems facing the country. This makes Myanmar a fascinating place to visit. The traffic in Myanmar's former capital city of Yangon (Rangoon) has an interesting feature. There are no two-wheeled vehicles of any kind other than police vehicles, which is unique for a populous South-East Asian city. Suppose 500 soldiers go into battle and 5 are fatally wounded. That's 5 fatalities, with a fatality rate of 1 fatality per 100 soldiers. The total number of soldiers is a measure of exposure: 500 soldiers are exposed to risk. If the battle is smaller, with only 200 soldiers, but at the same level of risk, we might expect only 2 fatalities. So reducing exposure reduces fatalities. If the battle is less intense, but of the same size, then 500 soldiers would again go into battle but the risk (as measured by the fatality rate) would be smaller; perhaps 1 fatality per 250 soldiers, and the number of fatalities again reduces to 2. Road fatalities work in the same way. There are only two ways to reduce the number of fatalities: you reduce the risk or reduce the exposure to that risk, and most traffic policies affect both to some degree. Increased driver training seeks to reduce risk, but may also deter people from obtaining a licence which reduces exposure. Exposure is typically measured using either the total number of registered vehicles, the total distance traveled by all registered vehicles (which unfortunately is often inaccurate), or the total number of licence holders. A large increase in these will typically lead to an increase in road fatalities. Reducing the number of road fatalities to zero is easy: ban all motor vehicles. This reduces exposure to zero. Reducing exposure is easy to do, but while it may reduce fatalities, it inevitably impinges on the freedom of the individual. There is a trade-off, and so policies that reduce exposure are applied to circumstances where the risk is deemed to be high, such as with peer-passenger restrictions for young drivers and the setting of minimum driving ages. The policy in Yangon is an example of this approach. Even the safest motorcyclist acknowledges the increased risk that is present compared to driving a car. Yangon has reduced the exposure to zero for motorbikes which, relatively speaking, are a high-risk vehicle. MUARC (Monash University Accident Research Centre) is perhaps the highest profile research group for road safety in Victoria. They have a publicly available series of reports. Some of these focus on cycling. Other focus on motorcycling: on younger, older and high-risk riders; on crash information and countermeasures; on training, licensing and hazard perception. Of particular interest is this report which reviewed motorcycle licensing and suggested an 'optimal model' for its implementation. The primary recommendation was that car licences should be a pre-requisite for bike licences (not implemented). Other recommendations included restrictions for L/P plate riders (zero alcohol, no pillion, power-to-weight) and an increase in the teaching of cognitive skills such as road-craft and hazard perception (all implemented to some degree). The reasoning behind these recommendations was clearly stated. Quoting from two sections of the report: "Another general principle of the optimal model is that, given the high crash risks associated with motorcycling, the model should not encourage increased exposure (...). For this reason, the total costs of obtaining a motorcycle licence (...) should not be cheaper than for a car licence." "The research suggests that any safety benefits of motorcycle licensing and training probably result more from exposure reduction (a reduction in the total amount of riding) than from crash risk reduction." The aim of the proposed 'optimal model' is to contain exposure (i.e. to discourage the use of motorbikes) rather than to reduce risk. Surely then, it is the policy of Yangon that is the true optimum. But is it a bad one: should bikes be banned? Or perhaps we should ask the opposite question: should the use of bikes be encouraged, even if the increasing exposure leads to additional fatalities? What do you think? I think motorcycling should be made freely available to all those who desire it. The freedom of the individual to take his or her own risk is a right that should not be taken away by the state in the pursuit of lowering the road toll. In Melbourne, banning motorbikes would rightly lead to protests. In Yangon protests are met with force, and as demonstrated in 2007, dead protesters are soon forgotten. Yangon is not an example that should be followed.