Motorcycle Safety Foundation calls for crash causation study

Dailies -


MSFstudy.jpgIn response to the 6.6 percent increase in fatalities and the whopping 17 percent increase in injuries amongst motorcyclists reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2007 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment-Highlights, Motorcycle Safety Foundation president Tim Buche is calling for a new study into the causes of bike accidents. The thing is, it may be too little, too late.>According to Tim, no actual data exists to explain current trends and causes for motorcycle accidents in the United States, reducing all theories to a bunch of conjecture. Sadly, this is because no research has been conducted into motorcycle accident causation in nearly 30 years. To change that, Tim, the MSF and the Motorcycle Industry Council are pushing for the Motorcycle Crash Causation Study, which is designed to provide contemporary data by studying the determining factors of 900 real-world motorcycle crashes.

Due to the abundance of riders and the proximity to research facilities, Tim said the study would likely take place within the confines of Southern California. For each crash, researchers will immediately survey the scene of the wreck, access police reports and interview witnesses as well as other riders who pass the same spot on a regular basis.

When asked what his expectations for the study are, Tim candidly states in the most positive voice, that he figures the Causation Study is likely to affirm known trends, such as younger riders crashing more often from speed and older riders from drinking.

What he hopes for beyond that remains unclear, as he quickly shifts the discussion to detail where the study stands in terms of getting the OK from the federal government to release funds and begin research.

Beside the fact that nearly all hard data on motorcycle crash causation is a whopping three decades old, Tim’s sense of urgency lies in the fact that the Study, which will be conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, is in a holding pattern thanks to the very powerful National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has yet to conduct its own feasibility test for the Causation Study.

While Tim hopes the FHWA can begin conducting the Study by late 2009, he admits that the test is caught in a deadly vice of bureaucracy. Yet even in saying so, his happy demeanor never falters, which is jarring and a little surreal as he rattles off all the acronyms of various obscure government agencies and all their nuanced relationships to the Study.

Not only does the NHTSA have the power to axe the Study if it decides the test is not worthwhile, but also that the Forum’s continual delays as well as inflation and the declining dollar are rapidly eating into the $3 million raised by the MSF and the MIC to finance the Study. Currently the government has pledged an additional two million dollars, but if the value of the funds continues to decline, the slothful NHTSA will likely conclude the Study is financially unfeasible and the federal government will rescind its pledge. Despite his continual optimism the dismal situation Tim describes is discouraging, or daunting to say the least.

So, what does all this mean? Does the United States government seem indifferent to motorcyclist safety in general and therefore our safety as individuals? And if so, is it because motorcycling in the United States is still generally considered a reckless hobby for rebellious riffraff instead of the sensible eco-friendly and economical form of transportation it actually is? Will Tim and the MSF persevere, and even then how can we expect the results to impact overall safety and motorcycle awareness? Or is the Study simply doomed to spend eternity in the NHTSA’s grip, like the pathetic protagonist K. in Kafka’s prophetic work on bureaucracy, The Castle?

The thing is, that even while the federal government drags its heels over implementing the study, we wouldn’t expect it to demonstrate a similarly reluctant approach towards enacting draconian anti-motorcycle legislation. The MIC and the MSF, as evidenced by the increases in 2007 fatality and injury numbers, desperately need to find ways to reduce accident rates and improve rider safety instead of focusing on a theoretical, bureaucracy-laden numbers game that’s unlikely to benefit actual riders. There’s talk of new courses, coming next year, that will teach sportsbike riders how to responsibly use their bikes’ performance, as well as an on-road riding course that would take place in real traffic with one-on-one training. They can’t come soon enough.

  • chili sv

    You really don’t expect data to help inform decision making? How can you possibly measure the performance of any methods you propose to improve rider safety if you have no baseline and do not establish cause and effect relationships?

  • Wes

    While data will help inform legislation and ultimately validate the importance of training, motorcycle training in the US is in the dark ages compared to the rest of the developed world. We don’t need any more delays, we don’t need any more excuses, we need realistic, effectual motorcycle training, we need it now, and we need it everywhere.

  • Grant

    The issue seems to be a bit more complex. For starters, the government wants data before before releasing funding to implement a study to collect data, and NHTSA needs to do a study to see if it needs to do a study.

    In the meantime death rates are climbing while motorcycle permits in the US are handed out like paper flyers to 16 year olds buying new 1000cc sportbikes and older men with slowed reflections, bad habits and no training. Getting a permit to operate an automobile is just about as easy. The answer for this is a bit of a no-brainer.

    Can the MSF step up and offer newer more relevant advanced training? Yes. Are they working on any such new advanced rider programs? Yes.

    Will any of these new programs by the MSF be required for citizens seeking to acquire a motorcycle endorsement for their license? No.

    Will the annual death rate of motorcyclists therefor continue to rise along with rises in population and congestion until the federal government addresses the need of greater education for vehicular operation on state and federal roads? Bingo.

  • chili sv

    I don’t disagree that improvements should be made, but the ‘do something even if its wrong’ mindset is something I can’t get behind. I’m surprised the IIHS isn’t involved in this. It seems like they could provide a lot of funding. Maybe they think they have all the answers already:
    Maybe they only care about cars.

  • Wes

    Chili: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. No one care’s about motorcyclist safety but motorcyclists.

    I’ve never understood the ‘sit back and wait for a study’ approach to problem solving. There’s plenty of motorcycle riding expertise out there in the form of people like Keith Code or the California Superbike School. It’d be a hard argument to make that either isn’t effective at making riders safer. We just need to find ways to adapt their programs to make them more accessible to a mass audience and find ways to convince more riders to sign up for training.

    Do we need tiered licensing? Yes. But why wait for it?

  • Grant

    I’m not advocating to do anything wrong, chili, nor am I advocating rash action. The mandatory level of education the federal government requires leaves riders woefully vulnerable in modern, real world traffic conditions. This is a fact that organizations such as MSF sadly have no control over. That our federal standards for issuing driving or riding permits are laughable compared to our European counterparts is also obvious.

    Understanding that proper and thorough increased education should be requisite in order to be allowed to operate motor vehicles on government controlled roads due to an ever-rising density of humanity on a static land mass should need about as much studying as deciding if syrup tastes good on pancakes.

  • shen

    how about let’s just make the roads better here in so-cal…

  • chili sv

    Sometimes data reveals things that are counter-intuitive. “Just” finding ways to make programs more accessible is a massive undertaking that would require huge expenditures. What programs are most effective? Don’t know, no data. Furthermore, different skill sets are possibly more important in different regions. The proposed study even sounds flawed. Will a study in SoCal tell us much about what’s needed in Seattle? Denver? Boston? MSF might want to go state-by-state starting with CA and FL (most bike sales and longest riding seasons) and conduct local studies to find more relevant sites for data collection and more sympathetic and progressive (for CA anyway) governments to assist them. After all, licenses are provided by the states, not the federal government. There will be (and already is) a massive number of new riders joining us as energy costs increase. We need to educate them as effectively as possible while keeping the barrier to entry feasible.

  • Blind Lemon Jefferson

    Data cannot establish causation but it CAN go a long way towards ruling out a causal relationship, or at least in suggesting what questions really should be asked.

    How big is the cellphone effect?

    To what extent do fatalities and serious accidents correlate with bike performance? Are a lot of riders on scooters getting whacked?

    If faster bikes correlate with severe accidents and deaths, is this true only for beginners, or is it equally true for highly experienced riders?

    What fraction of the riders seriously injured or killed have alcohol in their systems? How much does alcohol increase risk? More to the point, by how much does NOT drinking or drugging DECREASE risk? Where are the increases in serious accident and death rates taking place? In urban areas? Suburban areas? Rural areas? Superslab? And again, do we reach see different patterns for riders with different experience levels?

    Do high-mileage riders who continue to recieve formal training (advanced courses, refresher courses, track courses) have fewer accidents, the same number, more? Perhaps training is a waste of time for experienced riders?

    We don’t have data. All data is imperfect, subtly or overtly confounded, but some data would be a hell of a lot better than what we have now, which is almost none.

  • Grant

    While both of you bring up the inherent failures of applying specific data in broad swathes while simultaneously arguing for the need to collect general data, I’m not arguing against the Study.

    However, waiting on the bureaucratic machine to actually get something done is akin to watching dried lava flow up the grassy hill.

    We’re proposing that the MSF and MIC enact measures within their power now based on their experience of the needs of today’s motorcyclist. Yes, it’s totally going to be by the seat of their pants in corporate terms, but what have they got to lose besides the thousands of lives already being annually lost?

    They know what works or doesn’t from England and France to Thailand or Vietnam for rider education. They also know what our Draconian laws concerning speed and authority will and will not allow for.

  • Blind Lemon Jefferson

    Which inteventions actually save lives? Will the 19-year-old dude wearing T-shirt, shorts, and flipflops on his Hayabusa pay attention, or is he going to be eaten by Shiva regardless of our attempts to intervene?

    Will the 50-year-old who insists on driving his Hawg to the pub pay attention to your lecturing, or will Shiva eat him, too?

    There is little question that more training would be good, but there is a big question as to how a very limited training budget might best be allocated in the United States. There is no question that the resources for said training are seriously limited. To the extent that we don’t have decent information on how riders are getting injured and killed, such decisions will necessarily be made as crapshoots.

    Do we target beginners? Intermediates? Advanced riders? Do we spend more time on reading traffic, on fundamental bike handling, or on trying (perhaps futilely?) to instill good judgement?

  • Blind Lemon Jefferson

    …or do we limit street bikes to 100 bhp? (Ducks.)

  • Grant

    You raise good questions, BLM. But I think at this point we need a little trial by error. Plus I’m sure a man as smart as Tim Buche has a few educated ideas about how to handle various types of outreach and education plans.

    It’s either that or watching the grass grow. As for the 100bhp limit, I see lots of people do stupid things with even less power. Even if you limited it to 75bhp, you’d still see the same unnecessary accidents and deaths.

  • chili sv

    Grant, the bureaucracy issue is on of the reasons why I recommend going with state government support. While I find CA to still be highly bureaucratic, if we can’t get the Governator to support motorcycle safety (especially since he had a recent accident and was found to be unlicensed) we should give up on the government altogether.

  • chili sv

    BLJ, I agree you do have some great questions. Many of them can be answered by the link to IIHS posted earlier. One telling statistic is that 1/4 of all fatal motorcycle crashes had riders who were unlicensed. All the testing and education requirements in the world wouldn’t have an affect on those riders because they can’t be bothered to go through the ridiculously easy process we already have. However, what speaks to most people is money and time. Monetary incentives might be the best way encourage safe behavior without adding too much bureaucracy to the situation. This is where the insurance agents can actually step in and do some good by lowering rates of frequently “educated” riders rather than relying on citations alone to raise rates. While it may seem crass, they have much to gain by reducing their payouts.

  • chili sv

    BTW, I just want to commend everyone who has posted on providing a civil and intelligent conversation; so rare these days on the internet.

  • Blind Lemon Jefferson

    Seconded, chil’.

  • Blind Lemon Jefferson

    From the IIHS website, a rather startling and disquieting conclusion:

    “Are rider safety training and education effective in reducing crashes?

    Although rider education courses can teach novice motorcyclists basic operating skills and help experienced motorcyclists refresh their skills, they don’t appear to reduce the risk of crashes. Most states offer rider education programs based on courses created by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.6 Participation is voluntary, but some states, like California, require new riders younger than 21 to attend. Riders in some states are offered the incentive of automatic licensure in lieu of a written knowledge test or road test once they complete a rider education course.

    A 1996 review of the effects of motorcycle rider training in the United States, Canada, and Europe on crash risk concluded that there is “no compelling evidence that rider training is associated with reductions in collisions.”10 The New York Department of Motor Vehicles conducted a large-scale analysis of motorcycle rider training between 1981 and 1985. In the NHTSA-sponsored study, motorcycle operator’s license applicants were randomly assigned to one of four groups. One group took the state’s existing knowledge and driving test and another took a Motorcycle Operator Skill Test developed by NHTSA. The two remaining groups were assigned to rider training courses, plus the operator skills test. Riders who took the state’s standard knowledge and driving test had fewer motorcycle crashes in the subsequent two years than riders in the three experimental training program groups.11″

    Damn. That is why we need data, friends.

  • Core

    @chili sv

    “You really don’t expect data to help inform decision making? How can you possibly measure the performance of any methods you propose to improve rider safety if you have no baseline and do not establish cause and effect relationships?”

    I think this person brings up a fairly good point. Cause and effect.

    If motorcycle crashes have been going up recently part of last year and this year.. honestly common sense would tell me, that its probably just inexperienced riders.

    You have gas going up by leaps and bounds.

    More people can’t afford that(at least that’s what you hear). So they start riding motorcycles and scooters for a mode of transportation. They don’t have a huge amount of experience under there belt. And they get out don’t pay as good attention as a veteran/experienced rider. And you get what you get.

    I’ve been reading in my local paper about all sorts of wrecks involving Motorcycles and scooters.

    This last story I read was dealing with a scooter and this lady ran the red light in the suv;Said “she was looking down for a moment and when she looked up she had.. and hit em”. Last I heard the guy was out of the hospital and doing okay, except for being really bruised up.

    I’d say it would be a good idea (Since most of you guys are probably riders, I don’t have the cash for motorcycle yet)

    To just take your general experiences on the road, and what you see every day. Do you see young people acting stupid on motorcycles? 9 out of 10 times do you have a “cage” pull out in front of you, stop suddenly with no turn signal? almost run over you because she was putting make up on?

    I’d say if everyone that visited this site, if they took a survey, you would probably start getting an idea of what is causing all these wrecks.

    And you would get results literally 1,000,000,000 times faster than the federal gov would be able to bat its eye. and even think about funding anything.

    Also, if you guys have bike cams, you could always do “how to vids” and “general riding advice” and post em on Youtube. That would help out a lot as well.

    I have seen a lot of what not to do on

  • Jamie

    I think Core has a good point. We know for a fact that motorcycle sales on the low-end (500cc and lower and scooters) has gone up quite a bit and it is a safe bet that a LOT of new riders are on the road. Not to mention I’m seeing a LOT more old/beatup/mothballed bikes back on the road lately, likely due to people wanting to save a buck or two on gas.

    The rise in accidents may or may not be due to the above, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Knowing for sure just underlines the fact that more data is needed. Personally I think all states should require the MSF course as more and more new inexperienced riders continue to get on bikes and scooters.

    Just my .02 and a good discussion at hand.

  • Blind Lemon Jefferson

    Jamie, Agreed, mostly. But as I pointed out a couple of posts above, it’t not even clear that MSF courses make any difference at all! If that is true, MSF represents a lot of wated time and money. Tiered licenses might in the end be a much better solution.

  • Harsh

    I ride in in British Columbia, Canada. We have more stringent licensing, but many people ride without a motorcycle license. I have had mine for 44 years, and my observation is that it is a combination of inexperience on the part of riders, drinking and riding, and car drivers not paying attention. My most common close call is drivers trying to pull into my lane without checking to see if it is occupied. The safest way to ride appears to be staying just ahead of any driver in an adjacent lane, and keeping an eye out everywhere to make sure nobody is about to turn into my path, or pull out from an intersection. Riding cautiously today gives the best chance of riding tomorrow.

  • Ajlouny

    I agree with Jamies comment…people are using thier motorcycles as an alternative to the rising gas prices..therefore causing a rise in accidents, injuries and fatalities.