Illustration by John Bre...
A major new in-depth study of European motorcycle accidents has been published, and while some of the findings skew some when applied to other geographical or cultural areas and we question some of the methodology, it's still worthwhile reading for any motorcyclist who likes his skin the way it is.
Called the MAIDS (Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study), the study looked at 921 Powered Two-Wheeler (PTW) crashes during 1999 and 2000 in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Spain. The teams gathering the data reconstructed each crash, interviewed witnesses, inspected the involved vehicles, and, when permitted, examined the medical records of injured riders and passengers to identify all the factors that contributed to the crash and its outcome.
Researchers employed (at least in part) methodology developed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for on-scene in-depth motorcycle accident investigations to maintain consistency in the data collected in each sampling area. This also allows results to be compared to those from other areas and groups that used the same methodology.
The investigation included a full reconstruction of the accident; vehicles were inspected; witnesses to the accident were interviewed; and, subject to the applicable privacy laws, with the full cooperation and consent of both the injured person and the local authorities, pertinent medical records for the injured riders and passengers were collected. From these data, all the human, environmental and vehicle factors, which contributed to the outcomes were identified.
It also studied 923 riders in similar situations who did not crash to measure exposure (or case-control) data. (The authors explain exposure measurement thus: "This exposure information on non-accident involved PTW riders was essential for establishing the significance of the data collected from the accident cases and the identification of potential risk factors in PTW accidents. For example, if 20% of non-accident involved PTWs in the sampling area were red, it would be significant if 60% of those PTWs involved in an accident were reported to be red, suggesting that there is an increased risk of riding a red PTW. On the other hand, if none of the PTWs in the accident sample were red, it would be an interesting finding, needing further study.")
The full study is available online at www.maids-study.eu/ and requires you to go through a free sign-up process. The highlights of the study's findings follow.
Many riders worry about being rear-ended, but as in past studies, these researchers say that prior to the crash, 90% of all threats, both from traffic and the environment, were in front of the motorcyclist. The Hurt Report had similarly large number.
When riding a vehicle which required a license, unlicensed riders were "significantly" more likely to crash. This is another reminder not to loan your motorcycle to your buddy who used to ride, and, again, it confirms the results of previous studies.
Less than five percent of the accidents involved alcohol use by the motorcyclist. The authors acknowledged that that figure "is low in comparison to other studies, but such riders were more likely to be involved in an accident."
No one style of motorcycle showed up excessively in crashes. However, the authors found that "modified conventional street motorcycles were found to be over-represented in the accident data."
A welcome finding for many cruiser riders is likely to be that motorcyclists "between 41 and 55 years of age were found to be under-represented, suggesting that they may have a lower risk of being involved in an accident when compared to other rider age categories." However, "When compared with the exposure data, 18 to 25 year old riders were found to be over-represented." This tracks with previous studies and suggests that the rising number of older riders involved in U.S. crashes might be due simply to a rising number of older riders. However, that assumes that older European and U.S. motorcyclists have common traits as riders. Not that I careI'm already over 55.
Human error is still the primary cause of motorcycle crashes. In 37 percent of cases, the primary accident contributing factor was a human error on the part of the motorcyclist. In 50 percent of the crashes, the driver of the other vehicle was deemed to have made the primary error.
In 70 percent of the two-vehicle crashes, the other driver failed to "perceive" the two-wheeler, causing the authors to classify this as a primary accident cause. The motorcyclist's failure to see the other vehicle was listed as a secondary accident cause. Drivers of other vehicles who were licensed to ride motorcycles were less likely to overlook a motorcyclist, a finding which mirrors previous studies.
Traffic control violations (such as rolling a stop sign or traffic light) were made by the motorcyclists in 8 percent of the crashes and by drivers of the other vehicles in 18 percent.
Go with the flow: Although excess speed is often blamed for crashes, the authors of this study found that a speed differentialgoing either faster or slower than other trafficwas a contributing factor. This speed differential showed up in 18 percent of the crashes. Those who wonder about the zealous speed enforcement in America will find this statement by the authors interesting: "There were relatively few cases in which excess speed was an issue related to accident causation."
The authors noted that in 13 percent of the crashes, the accident-involved riders chose a poor or incorrect collision-avoidance strategy. In a third of the crashes one party or the other "failed to account for visual obstructions and engaged in faulty traffic strategies."
Weather caused or contributed to 7.5 percent of the accidents.
The small stuff: Vehicle defects, mostly tire failures, contributed to less than one percent of crashes. A roadway maintenance defect caused the accident or was a contributing factor in 3.6 percent of the accidents studied. Still, it's worth looking at your tires every ride.
Riders most frequently collided with the roadway or, most often, the other vehicle. In 60 percent of the accidents studied, the "collision partner" was a passenger car.
Those roadside barriers designed to contain out-of-control cars create substantial hazards for motorcyclists if they hit them. The authors noted that such impacts cause "serious lower extremity and spinal injuries as well as serious head injuries." This issue was raised in American by the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety
In 70 percent of the crashes, impact speed was under 50 km/h (about 30 mph).
Once again, "helmets were found to be an effective protective device to reduce the severity of head injuries." Just over 90 percent of the crashers wore helmets (this was Europe, where riders haven't gotten their panties in a knot about helmet use as a symbol of freedom), but about 9 percent of those helmets came off in the crash because they weren't fastened or fit properly or because they were damaged in the fall.
Over half the injuries (56 percent) to riders and passengers were to arms and legs, and most of those were minor (abrasions, cuts and bruises). Wearing proper gear reduced but did not entirely prevent these minor injuries.
As in the Hurt Report, which studied motorcycle crashes in America a quarter-century ago, riders did a poor job when they had to stop and/or turn in a moment of panic. In almost three-fourths of the crashes, the rider attempted some pre-impact avoidance maneuver, and about one third of those lost control of the motorcycle as a result.
The authors noted that in 13 percent of the crashes, the accident-involved riders chose a poor or incorrect collision-avoidance strategy. In a third of the crashes one party or the other "failed to account for visual obstructions and engaged in faulty traffic strategies." Again, this confirms what previous studies have shown: Riders need to position themselves so that potentially conflicting traffic can see them, and they should dress to make themselves standout visually.
Some accident-avoidance scenarios "involved skills that were beyond those that typical drivers or operators might currently have. This is often due to the extreme circumstances of some of the accident cases, including an insufficient amount of time available to complete collision avoidance." An example of this might be the Randy Scott-William Janklow crash, where Janklow ran a stop sign at a high rate of speed giving Scott, who had right-of-way, little chance to react and few maneuvers that might have saved him.
Motorcycle groups led by the American Motorcyclist Association have been pushing for a study like this in the United States. Such a study provides substance for motorcycle-safety efforts. The landmark Hurt Report arrived a few years before American motorcycling experienced an accident decline that continued for more than a decade. Certainly what Harry Hurt, Dave Thom, and Jim Oullet (the report's authors) taught us helped motorcyclists to ride smarter and enabled those responsible for creating motorcycle-safety programs to make informed decisions.
The MAIDS project was funded by the Association of European Motorcycle Manufacturers (ACEM) with the support of the European Commission and "other partners." However, such support does not seem to exist here. Today's American politicians are uninterested in spending the pittance that a fresh study would cost, even though over 3000 motorcyclists died on American highways in each of the last few years. And unlike the auto industry, which funds regular safety research, the motorcycle industry seems unwilling to pay for something that might cause it problems.
In the meantime, maybe we can learn not to make the mistakes that tripped up 921 European riders.