Ride Safe, 2010: The National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety

This document provides road map for motorcycling-safety efforts in the third millennium. It could turn around motorcycling's ever-worsening safety record -- if any of the important parties will follow it. From the February 2000 issue of _ Motorcycle Crui

At the end of October, the technical working group selected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) released a public-comment draft of the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety, which seeks to chart a course for future efforts to improve motorcycling safety. (The entire 104-page document is posted at www.ahainc.com/nams.) Much of what the document proposes requires action by the government, the motorcycle industry, or other groups (such as insurers), but the rider-reader will also find plenty of suggestions, ideas and initiatives that can be taken to increase the odds of survival. These include the following:

**Stay informed:
** Keep abreast of new information and research relating to motorcycle safety. The Agenda calls for a central clearinghouse for such information, and hopefully one will be created. In the meantime, articles like this column and others, and occasionally checking Web sites such as the MSF's (www.msf-usa.org) will help you know what researchers have learned.

The "most urgent recommendation" of the Agenda calls for in-depth research into accidents and various aspects of motorcycle safety. I'm not optimistic that this will happen, however. A major research project similar to the Hurt Report of two decades ago would be extremely expensive. The federal safetycrats seem to have lost interest in motorcycling safety recently, despite the commissioning of this Agenda, although with motorcycling's safety record suddenly taking a turn for the worse -- motorcycle fatalities increased by 8 percent in 1998 -- the other potential source of funding for such a study, the motorcycle industry, might now be moved to devote funds for research.

The Agenda also calls for other research-oriented measures, such as uniform police reports nationwide, which would help collect data about motorcycle accidents. It also suggests that insurers collect information which could be used by motorcycle-safety researchers and organizations.

** Consider your attitudes:
** Are you riding smart, or do you discount accidents as something that happens to other riders? The Agenda calls for research on how motorcyclists form opinions and get information. For example, why do we believe erroneous ideas such as "loud pipes save lives" or "helmets break necks?"

**Keep your skills current:
** Rider training is available throughout the United States, and the MSF's Experienced RiderCourse is an effective and fun way to sharpen your skills as well as take a look at bad habits you may have developed. Riding every day -- commuting on your bike -- also keeps you sharp. Practice your braking and swerving skills regularly.

**Get licensed:
** Riders who ride without a motorcycle endorsement on their driver's license crash much more often than the rest of us. It's not exactly clear why, perhaps it's attitude. Or perhaps it's because they aren't skilled enough to attempt the test, or haven't gotten the training and information required to take the test. In many states you can get an endorsement by taking a basic rider training course.

**Don't ride impaired:
** Alcohol shows up in dead motorcyclists more than in any other group of vehicle users. In fact, 57.0 percent of motorcyclists who die in single-vehicle accidents on weekends are legally intoxicated. A single drink may be one too many for the road; an additional 11.2 percent of the motorcyclists who die in accidents have BACs below the 0.1 percent used to define "drunk" in most states. The Agenda also calls for sellers of alcoholic beverages to stop targeting motorcyclists.

**Wear a real helmet:
** No other strategy offers significant life-saving protection once an accident has begun. We at Motorcycle Cruiser all wear good, protective gear religiously, favoring great boots, gloves, and jackets or suits with good armor. Nonetheless your only significant protection from death or debilitating injury comes from a DOT helmet.

Those "novelty" helmets that many riders wear as a form of protest or fashion (and, considering how uncomfortable they are, they must feel strongly about it) do not offer significant protection. Why not paint a DOT helmet yellow with the "Helmet Laws Suck" mantra emblazoned on it instead? In one of the most contentious points of the Agenda draft, it points out that mandatory helmet laws do reduce fatalities (despite what some pretty dubious studies would have you believe). An effective way to avoid helmet laws would be for most riders to wear good helmets.

**Know your enemy:
** The Agenda points out that most two-vehicle accidents involving motorcycles are the fault of the driver of the other vehicle, who typically fails to see the biker. Motorcyclists who make a point of positioning themselves in their lanes to be more visible can help overcome this. However, research has shown that drivers can learn to be more motorcycle-aware, and the Agenda suggests educating drivers to notice us.

It also points out that the ever-larger passenger vehicles (such as SUVs) on the road compromise motorcyclists' safety because they can't be seen over and their drivers can't see two-wheeled riders. And if a SUV and bike collide, a motorcyclist isn't likely to fly over one the way he would over, say, an Accord. The study also cites the increasing driver distraction caused by cell phones, in-vehicle navigation systems, etc.

**Motorcycle design:
** The Agenda lists several motorcycle-design features worthy of research, and questions some that have been heavily studied, such as leg protectors and airbags. It raises concerns about the injury potential of the tank-top instrumentation of cruisers and the shape of sportbike fuel tanks, the cornering limitations of some cruisers, the vision restrictions that windshields can create at night or in the rain, the potential for tube-type tire blow-outs, and motorcycles' lack of redundancy in lighting. It sees the possible advantages in linked and antilock braking but looks for further research.

**Splitting lanes:
** The document points out that the only research on this subject in America (the Hurt Report) indicates that lane splitting when traffic is at a near-stop seems to be slightly safer than staying in the lane. It recommends future research on the topic and legalizing it throughout the country if research shows it to be safer.

It also points out that motorcyclists can use their lane position to gain a variety of advantages.

**Learn first aid:
** Since the first person on hand to provide first aid for an injured motorcyclist is likely to be another motorcyclist, it's worthwhile for us to learn first aid with an eye toward typical motorcycle-crash injuries.

**Roadway safety:
** It is amazing that many states permit pavement ridges of an inch and a half which can easily upset a motorcycle. The Agenda condemns these ridges, slippery pavement sealers, potholes and roadside hazards as motorcyclist-killers, recommending that the people responsible for highways be better educated about motorcycles' requirements. However, it also points out that motorcyclists must be aware of and prepared for these hazards.

**Be seen and not hurt:
** The Agenda points out one of the simplest ways to avoid being run over: be conspicuous. Bright jackets, helmets and bodywork, and bright forward lighting, such as spotlights, can keep you alive.

**The road of the future:
** With "intelligent transportation" on the fast track, the Agenda points out that motorcycles are being overlooked in the requirements for threat-seeking cars and other automated highways. These technologies have the potential for improving motorcycling safety.

As part of the working group that created the Agenda, (along with members of the American Motorcyclist Association, the rider-training community, the insurance industry, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation, the medical community, and the group that compiled the Hurt Report), the most amazing aspect of the project to me was the paucity of significant research conducted since the Hurt Report (published in 1981) on why motorcycles crash.

Much time and money has been spent on preventing injury in an accident with little to show for it, and some of this effort, as in the case of airbags on motorcycles, seems to have been barking up a tree in the wrong forest. Who cares if your bike has an airbag if you land on the other side of the road?

The best result of this project would be a major new study on why riders crash in the third millennium, with information we could all apply.

Follow-up Note: Since the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety was published, few of its recommendations, and most notably its "most urgent" recommendation for a comprehensive study of the causes of motorcycle accidents, have been enacted. Without that research, all other presumed motorcycle-accident countermeasures lack validation. Despite urging from the American Motorcyclist Association, the likely funding sources for such reasearch -- the NHTSA and motorcycle manufacturers -- have shown no interest in learning what causes accidents.

_For more information on safe-riding equipment, strategies, techniques and skills, see the _ Street Survival section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.