In 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.