By October 19, 2009

New motorcycle crash study underway, but will it be inclusive enough?

I don’t think we’ve talked about this here before, but apparently Oklahoma State University is conducting a motorcycle crash statistics analysis (similar to the Hurt study of the 80s). Here is a Los Angeles Times article about the study.

The original desire was to study between 900 and 1200 crashes; however due to budgetary constraints they will only study 300 incidents. As you can imagine, this is calling the validity and scope of the study into question.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation was going to pony up over $2 million USD for the study, but only if the study included 900 or more crashes.

The report will be done in about a year, but I have a feeling that with the small sample size the results are doomed to criticism no matter what the results. For example, they may be used to repeal motorcycle helmet laws or make them more widespread. However, either side will have ammunition to question the study due to the size.

I wonder if it’s worse than not having a study at all, as we may spend more time bickering about the results than changing our riding and gear habits.

The LA Times article has some interesting additional information, like how motorcycles are greatly over-represented in crash statistics. They hypothesize a few plausible and popular theories, such as more horsepower being put out by modern motorcycles, the aging rider populace, etc. Having spent a few months on an FJR forum populated by riders ages 50+, I can definitely attest that there are a lot of crashes by riders who took a long hiatus, jumped onto a 1300cc sport-tourer, and crashed their shit up in a turn. It’s especially prevalent among riders who used to ride cruisers and made the jump to a very powerful, very different type of motorcycle.

One thing the study may not consider is something I’ve mulled over many times on my commute into work. In Europe, motorcycles and scooters are commuter vehicles as much as, if not more so than, recreational vehicles. In the United States, two-wheeled transport is for fun. Very few of us commute to work consistently on motorcycles, and even fewer just have bikes as their only transport. I consider myself a bit of an extreme rider since I bike into work about nine to ten months out of the year. Unless you live in a warmer state, it isn’t really feasible to ride year-round. Even then, I still have a car for backup and for when I have company.

At any rate, I believe the “commuter” vs “recreational” aspect of riding in America has something to do with crash stats and rider preparedness. When viewed from the lens of “I’m going to idle down main street for bike night,” wearing things like CE-approved armor and high visibility colors may seem like overkill. However, let’s say you live in a rainy town in the United Kingdom and the motorbike is your only form of transportation. Insulated, armored, hi-viz textile jacket and pants are only part of your protective gear repertoire.

I am making over-generalizations, of course, as I am sure there are squids over in the UK and elsewhere. I saw a picture of a family of four on a single scooter in India the other day. I just believe your priorities change when you encircle your life around motorcycling instead of making motorcycling part of your life. I sum up this view by distinguishing a “motorcyclist” — someone who lives and breathes on two wheels — from someone who “rides a motorcycle” on the weekends or when the weather is perfect. I think the vast, vast majority of American riders are people who ride motorcycles. They don’t care about better gear, better skills, and picking a bike that matches their skill and expectations. If you only ride thirty days a year, it seems like a lot of time and money to spend.

The OSU-run study results will be out in “about a year.” I am going to be interested to see what information comes out of it. I hope the study discusses who crashed their bikes as much as how they crashed. I hope to see information on how long they were riding motorcycles prior to the incident, how often they rode their motorcycles, and if they had any formal licensing and training.

Guess we’ll see sometime in the fall of 2010.

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3 Comments on "New motorcycle crash study underway, but will it be inclusive enough?"

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  1. Gremlin says:

    I find motorcycle crash information great for my own use. Using it to regulate/unregulate riding behavior is a bit tougher to study. I always wear my gear, whether it’s across the street or across the country. It’s more comfortable to ride in full gear as well as a bit of extra insurance if I fall over. That said, it’s my choice. If I didn’t wear a helmet, I might suffer less, but my family would suffer more. Personally, I would like to see a greater availability of driver training across America. We send teenagers out on the road every day without the first clue on how to control a slide or even how to safely test the road surface. Heck, most of them can’t even get 100% on a test of basic road use rules. I personally think that with greater training and information, people would make smarter choices about the way they drive/ride. If they don’t, well, Darwin had a theory about that.

  2. Vege says:

    I believe that motorcyclist should know their responsibilities to avoid crashes. Sometimes it depends on the rider if he/she’s going way too fast or something specially when lacking of safety gears.Safety should always be prioritize. Thanks for the Post.

  3. Motorcycles says:

    No matter the size of the study, I’ll still be interested in the results. As with any vehicle, the ego of the rider is often their enemy. As you said, just because you rode one umpteen years ago, doesn’t mean you can hop back on. It’s NOT just like riding a bicycle (once you know how you never forget). But I don’t really agree with your theory about European riders and their commute to work. I’ve seen way too many crazy riders on the autobahn to believe their numbers should be any better than ours. Their protective equipment is usually better, but they have a LOT of crotch rockets there.