Archive for January 2009

Motorcycle Safety Foundation coming out with new licensing test

January 30, 2009

About a year, I reported that Jim Heideman was working on modifying the motorcycle licensing test used at most state DMVs, the Alternate MOST. Instead of just modifying it, however, MSF has chosen to rename it the Rider Skill Test (RST). According to copyright laws, to obtain protection as a new work it has to have so many changes that it can be considered a separate work. And significant changes do appear when the two tests are examined side by side.

By a roundabout way, I obtained a copy of the draft, “MSF Rider Skill Test Motorcycles & 3-Wheel Vehicles: Examiner Study Guide” sent out by MSF on January 7, 2009 to a small number of people. The last input was due on Jan. 11 before it was finalized. Given that, the following is not based on a published document and some changes are possible.

In the Introduction to the guide, MSF claims that its “mission is to improve the safety of motorcyclists and riders of 3-wheel vehicle on the nation’s streets and highways” and that it seeks to “reduce crashes, rider injuries and fatalities” through its products. As we know, there are no studies that verify that MSF products do that and, indeed, suggest those who are trained and tested with MSF products are at greater risk of injury and death. And, as we know, MSF’s by-laws state that it’s mission is to foster the profitability of the motorcycle manufacturers.

It later states, “According to MSF Guidelines for Motor Vehicle Administrators, the ability of a licensing program to discriminate between adequate and inadequate levels of skill and knowledge determines its effectiveness in screening out unsafe riders.”

It goes on to say, “The [rising death toll] suggest[s] that many new riders may not possess the minimum competencies for safe motorcycle operation.” Furthermore “Licensing and testing processes must accurately and fairly evaluate rider ability regarding minimum skill levels.”

MSF, then, sets the criteria by which the new motorcycle licensing test must be judged. Riders and traffic safety experts are thus invited to reflect and give feedback: Were the minimum skill levels correctly diagnosed—and do these tests accurately reflect the conditions on today’s roads?

Although MSF stated its mission was to reduce crashes, this is the reason it gives for a new motorcycle licensing test: “recent revisions have been made to accommodate changes in motorcycle design and significant advances in motorcycle technology; larger displacement engines, changes in motorcycle wheelbase, the growing popularity of large displacement scooters, and 3-wheel vehicles.”

MSF claims, “Both tests [2-Wheels and 3-Wheels] provide an “alternative” for states that do not wish to use the electronic test equipment required by the MLST or the Motorcyclist In-Traffic Test.” Iow, the RST is to the Alt-MOST as the BRC is to the MRC:RSS.

Comparing the two motorcycle licensing tests (and the BRC Evaluations)


The Alt-MOST required a range 125 x 30-foot range.

The RST requires a 75 x 30-foot “baseline location” that “must met the range criteria for minimum runoff and location of obstacles in and beyond the [20-foot] runoff area.”

The BRC is taught on a standard or compact range and the evaluations are held on the range. The standard range dimensions have been set for almost as long as the Alt-MOST existed and are almost identical in length (though the BRC range is much wider).

Otoh, the compact range is almost identical to the RST dimensions and has been in use only for the past two years. The new RST will represent a change of a state motorcycle licensing test in a way that matches a BRC range that is not even approved in all state programs due to safety concerns.


The scoring for specific skills remains the same in the older and new licensing test. For example, stalling the engine once still collects 1 point, and a foot down in the u-turn collects 5 points.

The BRC has the same points off for the U-Turn (a maximum of 8). It does not penalize for stalling. The timing zones—and thus scores—for the Swerve and Quick Stop are scored the same as in the new RST. There’s little correspondence between what collects points in the Quick Stop and Swerve in the BRC and either the Alt-MOST or the RST. There is no comparable skill test in either the Alt-MOST or RST for the BRC’s cornering or the Alt-MOST or RST’s versions of the Cone Weave or Sharp Turn.

Both the Alt-MOST and RST state that “point accumulation constitutes failure”.

The Alt-MOST says that “Points for errors should be assessed after each exercise is completed. Once the applicant exceeds 10 points, the test should be ended. It clarifies on the previous page that, “Performing exercises after a rider has failed the test is hazardous for the unskilled operator.”

The RST is similar in language: “Use the score sheet to keep a written record of the applicant’s violations and the points assessed at the conclusion of each exercises. If a rider exceeds 10 points, the test should be immediately terminated.” It does not warn the examiner about the danger to the rider.

The BRC RiderCoach Guide nor the range cards have anything that refers to assessing points as the student takes the evaluations and terminating the test when the points are maxed out. In fact, students can and do regularly accrue points far beyond the number needed for failure.

The Alt-MOST states, “Riders are always scored according to the greatest degree of error.”

Such a guideline is missing from both the RST and the BRC.

In fact, the Alt-MOST (and the earlier training curriculum the MRC:RSS) had the standard “touches a line” for one or both tires as does the RST. The BRC only assesses points if the contact patch of the tire crosses a boundary.

What skills are assessed?

For both the Alt-MOST and the RST, two-wheel motorcycles are assessed on seven skills (Stalling, Cone Weave, Quick Stop, Normal Stop, U-Turn, Swerve, Sharp Turn) and riders can collect 10 points before failing. Three-Wheel motorcycles are only evaluated on six skills.

In comparison, in the Basic RiderCourse only four skills (U-Turns, Swerve, Quick Stop and Cornering) students can collect 20 points before failing—or twice as many.

There’s no equivalent in the RST to the Cone Weave or Sharp Turn or Normal Stop in the BRC and no equivalent to the Cornering evaluation in the BRC in the RST (or the Alt-MOST).

Order of exercises

The Alt-MOST explained the rationale for the order of the exercises, “Each skill test exercise is increasingly more difficult and critical to safe operation than the previous exercise.”

The RST does not address this issue, and switches the order of the first two skills tests from the Alt-MOST.

The BRC RiderCoach Guide says, “The skill evaluations may be run in a different order.”

Alt-MOST: Stalling is assessed throughout the test. 1) Sharp Turn; 2) Cone Weave, U-Turn; 3) Quick Stop; 4) Obstacle Swerve.

RST: Stalling is assessed throughout the test. 1) Cone Weave, Normal Stop; 2) Turn From a Stop, U-Turn; 3) Quick Stop; 4) Obstacle Swerve.

BRC: Stalling is not penalized; 1 & 2) U-Turns and Swerve; 3) Quick Stop; 4) Cornering.


The Alt-MOST reads, “Most of the exercises will involve speeds of about 15 mph.” However, it specifies that the Quick Stop and Swerve are run between 12-20 mph.

The RST specifies, “The final two exercises involve speeds of about 15 mph.” No speeds are suggested for the first two exercises. The rider is directed to ride between 12-20 for the Quick Stop (and then on the next page from 12-18 mph) and 12-18 mph for the Swerve.

However, the previous 15 mph reference makes it clear that riders are expected not to achieve the high end of the scale. The Alt-MOST carried several mentions about riders attempting the exercises at speeds higher than 20 mph—and if they performed successfully that no points should be assessed for higher speeds. The RST appears to assume that riders will be taking the tests at the low end of the speed range.

The BRC had already lowered the MRC:RSS speeds, which were the same as the Alt-MOST, to 12-18 mp. The new licensing test then lowers the Alt-MOST standard to match the BRC. (The BRC Quick Stop is potentially 2 mph slower than the RST depending on which of the two recommended speeds are correct.)


Alt-MOST: Stalling engine the engine 3 or more times is 5 points—or half the total number of acceptable points—and a rider can collect a total of 8 points (out of 10) for the entire test just in stalling.

RST: points remain the same for the first three stalls but four stalls is a cause for automatic termination in the RST.

Stalling in the BRC is not penalized.


Even though new motorcycles have much better brakes—if not ABS or Linked Braking Systems—the speed range has dropped from 12-20 to 12-18 mph.

Normal Stop

The Alt-MOST tested two sharp left turns and a normal stop. It was not a timed stop. The speed range given was roughly 15 mph as an approach speed for the turn and approach to the stop. The stop box was 3-feet by 5-feet and in the corner at one end of the long side of the range. The examiner was to score 5 points “if the front tire touches a line or the contract point (where the bottom of tire rests on pavement) is not in the box”.

In the RST, the normal stop is paired with the cone weave. It also is not timed. No speed range is given for any part of the evaluation. The stop box used in the RST is also 3-feet by 5-feet but it located in the middle of one side of the range. (Curiously, the stop box in the Alt-MOST range is still painted on the RST range but never used in any of the evaluations).

The penalties are the same in both tests: 3 points for a skid (though it’s a plural in the RST—skids. So, if there were more than one, I suppose, it would still be only 3 points). Stop position is also still 5 points. However, it reads, “The contact point of the tire must not rest on or outside of any painted line of the stop box.” This could represent a lower standard than “touches a line” and introduces more subjectivity into the evaluation than the previous test.

The BRC does not test a normal stop.

Quick Stop

In the Alt-MOST, both a 44-foot and 20-foot timing zone and range diagrams were given and either could be used. In the RST, only the 20-foot one is given. The most experienced of rider instructors claim that the 44-fot criteria was harder for a student to meet than the 20-foot criteria and tended to result in students approaching the quick stop at a higher speed. The BRC also uses the 20-foot timing zone.

Alt-Most, 2002, 20 ft. Timing Zone:

Seconds Speed Maximum Stopping Distance

.67-.69 20 mph 23 feet

.70-.73 19 mph 20 feet

.74-.77 18 mph 18 feet

.78.-82 17 mph 16 feet

.83-.87 16 mph 14 feet

.88-.94 15 mph 13 feet

.95-.1.01 14 mph 11 feet

1.02-1.09 13 mph 10 feet

1.10-1.18 12 mph 9 feet

In the new test, no speed ranges are given:

Rider Skill Test (Two-Wheel and Three-Wheel) (and BRC)

Seconds Maximum Stopping Distance

.72-.75 20 feet

.76-.79 18 feet

.80-.84 16 feet

.85-.90 14 feet

.91-.97 13 feet

.98-1.05 11 feet

1.06-1.14 9 feet

1.15 8 feet

Iow, riders can ride slower and take longer to stop in the same distance in the BRC and the RST. Not much, that’s true—but it’s still a lower standard, despite the vastly superior brakes available today. The change from the Alt-MOST standard means, however, the RST now matches the Quick Stop timing standards in the BRC.

Otoh, the MRC:RSS standards, which had been developed after the Alt-MOST matched the higher Alt-MOST standards.

Additionally, the RST directs the examiner to advise the rider specifically how to pass on the second attempt. Examiners are told what to tell the rider depending on how they failed on their first attempt. In the Alt-MOST, only if the rider was going over 20 mph and exceeded 23 feet was the examiner told to advise the rider to lower his/her speed to 12-20 and try again. The examiner was not told to advise the student to raise their speed if they were going under 12 mph but to allow a second attempt.


The other skill universally seen as a critical, life-saving skill, the Swerve, had an approach speed of 12-20 mph in the Alt-MOST and is now 12-18 mph—and with the same speed standard of 0.72-1.15 as the new Quick Stop.

Once again, the speed can be slower to achieve the same results. Once again, it represents a lower standard.

Once again, the examiner is told by MSF to “advise” the rider what exactly they have to do to succeed the next time. The Alt-MOST did not tell the examiner to advise the student how to correct the problem.

Cone Weave

The Alt-MOST had an offset cone weave with the cones 12 feet apart and offset by 2 feet. The RST has a straight line weave with the cones at the same 12 feet apart for Two Wheels and 18 feet apart for Three Wheels.

Two-Wheel motorcycles still must successfully navigate 5 cones.

Three Wheel motorcycles only have to maneuver around 3 cones.

The Alt-MOST told customers exercises should be performed at about 15 mph. The RST sets no speed at all.

A straight-line weave is considered by every responsible rider educator to be easier to perform than an off-set weave.

Sharp Turn

The sharp left turn at an approach speed of approximately 15 mph has been changed to a sharp right hand “turn from a stop. But it’s not really from a stop—as at a stop sign. Instead, the rider has more than 10-feet to accelerate and prepare for the turn.

The big change is the corner itself. The range layout instructions adds extra foot in both directions from the range boundary corner to set the apex of the sharp turn corner, which changes it significantly—and the lane itself has increased from 5-feet to 6-feet.

The Alt-MOST penalized 3 points if the “one tire touches or crosses one boundary line” and 5 points if one tire touched or crossed twice or two tires touched or crossed. It doesn’t limit how many times that 5 points could be assessed—however, the maximum number of points for that part of the skill test is 6 points.

The Alt-MOST also warned the examiner, “If the motorcycle is near the outside of the path, pay attention to the outside line.. If near the inside boundary, watch the inside line; the rea tire is more likely to touc a boundary. Watch the pavement! Score only when paint can be seen beside the tire, which indicates the tire is on the line.”

In the RST, 2-Wheel, it reads, “Path violations are scored when a tire touches or crosses a boundary line.” It does not clarify whether two tires touching or crossing at the same point of the turn constitute one path violation or two. “Two or more path violations” are assessed 5 points.

Nor does the Examiner Study Guide tell them what to look for to determine whether it touches or not. The points assessed are the same as in the Alt-MOST.


In the Alt-MOST, riders did one u-turn to the right. In the RST, riders do one to the left. Right hand u-turns are harder for many riders than left hand ones. No entry speed is noted in the RST.

In the Alt-MOST, motorcycles 500cc and below made the u-turn in a 20-foot box and motorcycles over 500cc made the turn in a 24-foot box. The RST changes that 500cc. to 600 cc.

According to MSF’s 1/7/09 draft, there’s also a 5 foot extension to the u-turn lines.

3-Wheelers are not tested on a U-turn in RST-3 Wheel

Net Result

A close examination of the RST shows it has significant differences from the Alt-MOST in the Cone Weave and timing standards. It also appears to have been adjusted to reflect the standards in the already-existing BRC in the two most critical skills. The order of the skills tested in the RST also disregards the Alt-MOST’s insistence that the order represented growing difficulty—which appears to confirm expert and experienced rider educators’ claim that a straight-line weave is easier to perform for riders than an offset weave. In addition, the right U-Turn has been substituted for what those rider educators also believe is a harder left U-Turn.

The March to Take Over State Programs Continues: NJ set to fall?

January 24, 2009

A dear friend was the first to tell me MSF took over the New York program. And yesterday, he sent me word of a bill in the New Jersey Assembly. He thought I’d be interested because it would establish cc. restrictions on motorcycle license test taken at the DMV on a small bike. I asked him to send me the bill and read it immediately then told him, “Dear, dear boy, you buried the lead!” And he did:

Here’s the real lead: Assembly 3292, amends the current motorcycle licensing and training course legislation to pave the way for MSF—or T3RG or something like that—to take over the state program the moment the bill is passed.

  • The bill also removes the Motorcycle Safety Advisory Committee from the ability to consult about the motorcycle safety education course.
  • New Jersey already had the skills test waiver for graduating from a training course, but the bill also removes “the written portion of the motorcycle examinations required for motorcycle endorsement, provided the individual enrolls in and successfully completes” an authorized motorcycle safety education course.
  • The legislation does not require that the motorcycle safety training have either written or skills tests at the end of the course.
  • The bill also adds restrictions on some riders:
  • Anyone who takes the endorsement test at a licensing center on a motorcycle or scooter that’s 231cc. or smaller is restricted to a motorcycle that’s 500cc or smaller. This, however, will not apply for a successful graduate of a motorcycle training course.
  • Those under 18 would be required to take the course.
  • And those who ride with a permit cannot ride from a half-hour after sunset to a half-hour before sunrise, nor carry a passenger, nor ride on any toll road or even on a limited access highway.
  • The bill removes the requirement that motorcycle permit holders under 21 have supervision while riding for the first six months.
  • It also raises the cost of a motorcycle license or endorsement from $18—which is what car drivers pay—to $24. That’s an 33% increase. $11 of that fee will go to the Motorcycle Safety Education Fund.
  • Immediately on the passage of the bill—and already part of the legislation—the administrator may charge a road test waiver fee and a course certification fee for each location. The amount of either fee is not in the legislation.
  • And it removes the limitation on how much students can be charged to take the course. Previously, only if the funds in the Motorcycle Safety Education Fund were not sufficient to cover the costs of the program could the chief administrator charge a registration fee. It would now read, “The chief administrator may impose a registration fee to be paid by the participants in the course.” It does not establish a ceiling on how much that registration fee would be.

Here’s the part of the bill that would allow MSF or a private business like T3RG to take over the program, “Notwithstanding subsection a. of this section, the chief administrator may enter into a contract with a public or private entity authorizing such an entity to implement and administer the motorcycle safety education course established by the chief administrator pursuant to this section The chief administrator may suspend or revoke an authorization to administer the motorcycle safety course on any reasonable ground.”

Subsection a. reads “shall establish a motorcycle safety education program. The program shall consist of a course of instruction and training designed to develop and instill the knowledge, attitudes, habits and skills necessary for the safe operation and riding of a motorcycle and shall meet or exceed standards and requirements of the rider’s course developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.”

Dealers already could offer motorcycle training but the bill also adds “private entities” can also offer motorcycle training. “The motorcycle safety education course provided by the private entity shall meet or exceed the standards and requirements developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation including but not limited to course curriculum, motorcycle range, and motorcycle instructor curriculum.”

This part is also not new—except the title of who does the setting. It’s still noteworthy: The Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission also sets “the minimum level of knowledge, skill and ability requirements for the successful completion of the motorcycle safety education course.”


The bill, was sponsored by Joseph Cryan (D), District 20 (Union). He’s the Deputy Majority Leader and on the Education and the Budget Committees. Cryan is also the chair of the Democratic State Committee.

The bill does not appear on his page but does here and has been referred to the Assembly transportation, Public Works and Individual Authorities Committee. It is not yet scheduled for a hearing.

When effective?

All but the restrictions on engine displacement and the increased fee for the license would be effective the moment the bill is passed. The cc. restriction and fee would be effective but inoperable until the Motor Vehicle Commission is prepared to implement them.


Both Harley-Davidson and the Motorcycle Industry Council were both represented by different lobbyists.


As of January, 2008, New Jersey’s pay-to-play disclosure law does not apply to non-profits who contract with the government.

My analysis and comments will be found on Riderchick.

MSF continues its march to take over state programs

January 23, 2009

A couple of entries ago I had referenced an MSF strategic planning document. In it, Lara Lee, the H-D representative and board chair, had said, “Stepping in to run state motorcycle safety programs is not necessarily in line with the current statement (it wouldn’t necessarily be out of line either)…should the mission statement more clearly allow for that option as a strategy or tactic…”

And they did–they rewrote the mission statement to allow for that.

Later in the document, Roger Hagie, the Kawasaki rep, said, “We seem to be on the march to take over state programs.”

And they are–the latest acquisition by MSF is the New York state program. And, from an unreliable source, I heard that T3RG is trying to take over the South Carolina program. (To hear about how some weird coincidences have now affected my ability to do this work, see Riderchick on Saturday.)

The press release is below–note the fabrications and deceptive language based on what we do know is fact about MSF and it’s programs now:

January 22, 2009

Motorcycle Safety Program Chosen by DMV
MSF to Administer the More Than $6 Million Program

Commissioner David J. Swarts today announced that the Department of
Motor Vehicles
(DMV) has accepted a proposal from the Motorcycle Safety
(MSF) to administer the statewide motorcycle safety program.
The five-year contract in the amount of $6,325,000 will be used to
manage a motorcycle safety program consisting of rider education,
program promotion and public awareness. The program is funded solely by
New York’s motorcyclists from a portion of the motorcycle license and
registration fees.

According to Commissioner Swarts, “The goal of the state’s motorcycle
safety program
is to reduce the number of accidents, injuries and
fatalities associated with motorcycling. The program developed by MSF
will promote proper and prudent motorcycle operation while at the same
time heightening awareness among the general public regarding sharing
the road with motorcyclists.”

Legislation proposed by the Department of Motor Vehicles and passed in
2008 allowed for a competitive bid process which resulted in the
selection of MSF. This new contract was bid at a cost that is $157,000
less than the previous five-year contract with the Motorcycle
Association of New York State (MANYS), which will expire on February 3,

DMV continues to offer incentives for motorcyclists to seek rider
education by providing a waiver of the motorcycle road test for those
who successfully complete the MSF’s beginning rider course. More than
110,000 motorcyclists have enrolled in the beginning rider course since
the program’s inception in 1996. In 2008, approximately one-quarter of
the motorcyclists licensed in New York earned their endorsement by
successfully completing the MSF Basic RiderCourse.

The MSF is a not-for-profit foundation that is supported by motorcycle
manufacturers. The rider education component of the program uses a
nationally recognized curriculum developed by the Foundation. MSF, which
is also currently conducting successful motorcycle training in a number
of other states including Pennsylvania and California, is
internationally recognized for developing a comprehensive,
research-based, Rider Education and Training System and promotes
lifelong-learning for motorcyclists and continuous professional
for certified RiderCoaches and other trainers. MSF also
actively participates in government relations, safety research, public
awareness campaigns and the provision of technical assistance to state
training and licensing programs.

Does MSF’s curriculum reduce crashes on the road?

January 23, 2009

In the last entry, MSF was revealed to be a front group for the motorcycle industry in all ways. This one examines the efficacy of MSF curricular and licensing products.

The preliminary report by 16 state Attorney Generals as well as the District of Columbia’s Corporation Council, What’s In a Nonprofit’s Name? Public Trust, Profit and the Potential for Public Deception (1999) decided, “As the United States Supreme Court has noted [about partnerships between commercial entities and charities]…The institution’s purpose must not be so at odds with the common community conscience as to undermine any public benefit that might otherwise be conferred.”

The question, then, is whether MSF’s deep, pervasive self-aggrandizing use by the motorcycle manufacturers at such odds with the public benefit they claim? Or does the public benefit outweigh the ulterior motives of the motorcycle manufacturers?

MSF’s first president, Charlie Hartman, repeatedly said that MSF’s goal was to reduce crashes and deaths on America’s roads and the key ways MSF intended to do that was through licensing tests and a rider training curriculum. Under contract to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, MSF developed both curriculum standards, a curriculum and motorcycle licensing tests. In the first decade, several motorcycle tests emerged from an on-road test to the one that we are most familiar with, the Alternate Motorcycle Operator Skill Test (Alt-MOST). And over the years, there’s been three iterations of the same curriculum—though the last has a very different instructional strategy.

MSF’s position as the authority when it came to rider safety and the key to motorcyclists’ and rider educators’ loyalty rested solely on that claim—that their sole purpose to exist was to reduce crashes and improve rider safety. And, for many riders and rider educators, although they aren’t happy that MSF is really a trade group, it’s acceptable because, they believe—and have been led to believe—that trained riders are safer than untrained or friend/family trained riders. So let’s see if that is true:

Monash University, the preeminent traffic safety research centre in the world, has studied rider training extensively. “Evaluation of Rider Training in Victoria” (Haworth, et. al.) describes and discusses nine of the studies that have been done on MSF curriculum from 1980-1995. None of them found that, adjusting for miles traveled and frequency of riding, gender and general risk-taking behavior in other activities, that the MSF course reduced crashes. At best, untrained riders had 10% more crashes in the first six months of riding. At worst, several studies found that riders trained with MSF curriculum were more likely to have crashes, some found they were more likely to have traffic offenses.

Over the past three decades, there’s been many other studies—some of which were never written up in journals such as one in Colorado and another in Wisconsin. Other studies that examined rider training in other contexts also confirmed these findings—there was no true or lasting safety effect for trained riders. Rather, one of the greatest benefits Billheimer’s study found was to discourage riders who failed to pass the course from riding—even if they could have passed the Department of Motor Vehicle motorcycle test.

The most recent study that has considered the effect of training, “Effectiveness of motorcycle training and motorcyclists’ risk-taking behavior”, published in 2007 found the same thing that so many had discovered: “those individuals who took beginning rider training courses were more likely to be involved in an accident than those who did not and that those who took the beginning course more than once were much more likely to be involved in an accident.”

Less studies have been done on motorcycle licensing tests. The few that were done, however, found the same results: those who pass a version of MSF’s MOST with flying scores, do not, when experience and miles traveled are accounted for, do better than those who barely pass or fail. And, once again, those who took MSF training tended to do worse in terms of crash involvement (as well as skill levels in the test) than those who did not. One study found that passing the skills test was less effective as a motorcycle license requirement than almost every other requirement in a state in lowering the fatality rate.

Given the body of research, then, MSF’s sole claim to be for the public benefit does not measure up. It is at the very best, good for those who choose not to ride again as a result of the training, or females who rarely ride small bikes short distances. For the most part, if Billheimer’s effect still holds true, there’s a very slight benefit for the first six months.

But after that six months, there is, at best, a neutral—no benefit lost or gained. At worst, a significant number of studies found that trained riders are actually less-skilled, more accident prone and more likely to have traffic tickets. And that’s not consistent with the public’s interest, nor safety and education for two-wheeled vehicle operators.

It greatly upset many rider educators and many students who have graduated from the course when it was revealed that MSF curriculum and licensing is ineffective at best and puts riders at more risk at worst. They find it hard to accept and harder to believe.

Rider educators who use MSF curriculum claim their own experience with the course proves that it is effective in producing safe riders. Instructors are very generous with their time and sincerely believe they are doing a good work—and they are.

However, because of the nature of the course, rider educators can speak authoritatively as to whether students learn to operate the controls and perform a minimal amount of tasks on a parking lot at speeds far lower than they will on the street. They have little to no idea how the students do as they ride in the real world—and that’s what the studies address. Rider educators, as good-hearted and skillful as they are at teaching someone to ride a motorcycle, then, are not in the position to address whether the curriculum is, in fact, effective in keeping students safer. A great number of studies through three decades say no.

I’m terribly sorry, but the only thing rider educators can really say is that MSF curriculum teach students to operate the controls and do basic maneuvers. All the evidence points to minimal if not negative benefits to taking the MSF course.

Yet in the very latest MSF publication, the MSF Rider Skill Test (that MSF intends to replace the Alt-MOST), MSF still claims its mission is to “reduce crashes, rider injuries and fatalities”. As we know, it’s mission, according to its bylaws is to promote and foster the motorcycle industry. This is however a false claim—it isn’t the mission of the MSF, which is to exclusively promote the interests of the motorcycle manufacturer members.

But is the Basic RiderCourse safe and effective? And what about the new motorcycle licensing test that MSF is just introducing? That’s the subject of the next two entries.

The public vs. private face of the MSF

January 20, 2009

The last entry examined how the motorcycle manufacturers created the illusion that Motorcycle Safety Foundation was a charity in order to advance their own industry concerns. This entry examines how they perpetrated the illusion so long.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation described in the last entry—a group of marketing representatives manipulating the issues of safety and education to advance the motorcycle industry’s objectives is not the MSF that people knew and dealt with for all those years.

The MSF that people saw and experienced was comprised of both people and products—the curriculum, the press releases and so forth. But mostly MSF meant people to rider educators and traffic safety experts, government agencies, legislators and motorcycle rights activists and so forth. And, for the motorcyclist, MSF meant the instructors who taught them.

On the national level, people had names, faces, histories and job responsibilities. Names like Peter Fassnaught, Beth Weaver, Carl Spurgeon, Ron Shepard, Bob Reichenberg, Bobbie Carlson, Elisabeth Piper, Ray Ochs and Cathy Rimm, Laurie Longville and so many others. They were the people who did the work—developed curriculum, trained, helped state motorcycle rights activists pass legislation, handled insurance and RERP questions, were the spokespeople and so forth.

This level was the only one visible to the public as the MSF for over 30 years. These were the “good guys” and they are considered to be honest and sincere and all around nice people—and, until recently, had extensive rider education experience, competence and were highly regarded by their peers.

It appeared to the public that they were the ones who set the direction, determined the safety content of the courses and worked to make motorcyclists safe on the roads. And that’s what the employees believed as well. They, who worked there, didn’t know that MSF was a trade group organization. Nor did they realize how much control over policies, issues and curriculum that the trustees had.

And then, of course, there were the presidents over the past decades—Charlie Hartmann, Alan Isley and last but not least, Tim Buche. Each in turn was the officially public face of MSF—appearing on television or beside the Department of Transportation Secretary, speaking at national or international forums. At those events, it’s often hard to tell whether he’s speaking as the president of MSF or MIC—and sometimes, when it would be logical to appear as one, he speaks as the other.

Otoh, he very, very rarely meets with motorcycle rights activists—or even rider educators themselves, which is odd given what his ostensible role is with MSF. Buche, for example, hasn’t even attended the last two State Motorcycle Safety Administrators conferences and doesn’t attend Updates, which is arguably the next largest gatherings of rider educators. While some of that is natural—he’s a busy man, after all, it’s still notable that the man who ostensibly runs a motorcycle safety and education organization only finds time to appear at events that have a high non-rider political dimension—and a high political benefit for the motorcycle manufacturers.

The then-current president was also one of very few who knew the extent to which the manufacturers actually controlled MSF’s work. Another one that knew was Kathy van Kleeck, VP government relations for MIC, MSF and SVIA. These were the ones who always understood what role the MSF was supposed to play and made sure it played it because they were the only ones at MSF who regularly interfaced with the trustees. It was on that shadow governing level where the real decisions were made and then translated into forms the public could accept—the curriculum, and so forth.

The advancement of industry goals through MSF succeeded precisely because of those two levels were kept separate. The public saw the public MSF and believed that the work it did was for the public benefit. Otoh, it was the upper echelon that worked in states often without the knowledge of state administrators to obtain benefits for Harley-Davidson, the MSF member who paid the most dues, or to change legislation to benefit the secret industry agenda. Iow, it was the classic good cop/bad cop paradigm.

But because of the trust and confidence invested in the visible face of MSF, the riding public—and most rider educators—became invested in MSF. It was very difficult for the rank and file to believe that MSF wasn’t the MSF they had experienced no matter what they heard.

This bifurcation between the private work and the public work of MSF reveals it is a front group. Front groups are a public relations strategy called “third party technique” that puts “a premeditated message in the “mouth of the media.””

MSF does avoid one of the most common techniques of front groups—it does reveal who funds the organization. However, it does meet these criteria:

  • Is set up by and/or operated by another organization (MSF was set up by the MIC and is operated by the motorcycle manufacturers).
  • Engages in actions that consistently and conspicuously benefit a third party, such as a company, industry or political candidate (this was the subject of the last entry).
  • Effectively shields a third party from liability/responsibility/culpability. (MSF acts as a liability shield for the manufacturers in product liability suits and has since the 1980s).
  • Re-focuses debate about an issue onto a new…topic… (for example, the rider’s role rather than any possible effect of the machine on the injures).
  • Has a misleading name that disguises its real agenda… [such as] (“Consumers’ Research,” “American Policy Center“), while in fact it consistently turns out opinions, research, surveys, reports, polls and other declarations that benefit the interests of a company, industry or political candidate. (MSF is not, in any sense, a “foundation” for example, nor meets the criteria for a “safety” institute).
  • Has the same address or phone number as a similar group that has since disbanded, or been forced out of business by exposure, lawsuits, etc. (Or, in this case, the Motorcycle Industry Council.)
  • Consists of a group of vocal, “esteemed” academic “experts” who go on national tours, put on media events, give press conferences, seminars, workshops, and give editorial board meetings around the country, etc., who ordinarily would not seem to have the budget or financial means to carry out such events. (this needs no explanation at all).
  • Touts repeatedly in communications that it is “independent,” “esteemed,” “credible” etc. (MSF continually brags that it is internationally recognized, that it’s the expert and the leader in rider training).

According to Sourcewatch, ““For the media and the public, the corporation will be one of the least credible sources of information, on its own product, environmental and safety risks. Both these audiences will turn to other experts … to get an objective viewpoint”, Amanda Little from the Sydney office of PR firm Burson-Marsteller told an advertising conference in 1995.”

For decades, riding and non-riding public thought that MSF was the objective view—and many (if not most) still do. They didn’t realize that whatever the MSF said was controlled by the manufacturers. Nor did they notice that nothing MSF said would be contrary to the industry’s benefit—a key indicator that an organization is not in thrall to powerful interests.

MSF worked very hard to increase that level of public belief that MSF was devoted to the public benefit. And one of the ways they did this was to perpetuate the notion that its curriculum was both safe and effective in reducing crashes and deaths.

The trust and confidence that resulted was exactly what allowed the trade group—and still allows the trade group—to define motorcycle safety, education and enforcement in terms that benefited the manufacturers. But what would seem self-serving if they said it was acceptable because MSF said it—which was the whole point of creating the MSF in the first place.

“Developing third party support and validation for the basic risk messages of the corporation is essential. This support should ideally come from medical authorities, political leaders, union officials, relevant academics, fire and police officials, environmentalists, regulators”, Little said.” Or from motorcycle safety and education “experts”.

Experts and research are foundational third-party technique. The motorcycle manufacturers put together a team of rider education experts, kept them in the dark as to the funder’s motives, and put out a curriculum that purportedly handled the risks of motorcycling in ways that put the responsibility on the rider and drew attention away from any possible risk from the machine itself. And that’s what they are still doing.

They also selectively fund research that either supports the conclusions they want to reach or, if it doesn’t, is buried—unless the researchers break the rules and publish it elsewhere (as the infamous report that found that the renegade Oregon and Idaho motorcycle programs were top in the nation (and then-rebellious Hawaii up in the top programs) while MSF-administrated programs were considerably down in the list.

  • For example, MSF board chair and Harley-Davidson’s Lara Lee’s strategic planning concern about the “lack of “evidence” to validate benefits of active safety.” Soon after that the Discovery Project—which will validate that continued training works—was launched. And, most recently, MSF contracted with research firm PIRE to validate that the BRC evaluations are equal to the Alt-MOST.
  • “Field tests” on the BRC, on lesser curricular changes and ranges are regularly done—though none measure up to anything a scientific or academic not in industry pay would call a field test.
  • The student and RiderCoach surveys on the BRC as well as the expert comparative review between the MRC:RSS and BRC were carried out by a communications firm (spin doctors) that, the website said, specialized in silencing the squeaky wheel. MIC/MSF president Buche was quoted as saying that Albert Hydeman and Associates gave them the results they were looking for. Sherry Williams and then Al Hydeman were hired to work full-time for MSF after those favorable reports.

In all ways, then, the manufacturers managed what the automakers did not—they prevented their products from being subjected to regulations that would make the machines safer and negated the Engineering safety E and they controlled what the public and government thought was the Education and Enforcement Safety E’s. And they did it all in a way that brought massive profits while making significant changes in how the public thought of motorcyclists.

At the dealer show in Indianapolis in 1998, Tim Buche, president of the MIC, MSF and SVIA, bragged about increasing motorcycle sales—an MIC concern—and then is quoted as saying that the MSF truly was the Motorcycle Sales Foundation. It was he who coined the term—a term we see through these hidden documents is all too accurate. MSF truly is the M$F.

This is not to say that the public couldn’t benefit from products created by this trade group. A great many riders dislike that MSF is an industry front group but have believed that at least the curricular and licensing products were safe and effective and did reduce crashes and deaths on the road. So that’s the subject of the next entry: when so much about the MSF has proven to be untrue, is that, at least true?

How much is MSF a trade group, how much a charity?

January 16, 2009

In the last entry concentrated on the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s actual status as a trade group organization and how it disguised that reality. This entry concentrates on how that false impression has been used to advance industry issues over the past 30+ years.

Because charities are organized exclusively for the public benefit, they are given enormous trust and confidence unless they prove themselves unworthy. What they say, what they produce, what they do is assumed to be true and good—and better for the public because those who work for the charity don’t personally benefit from the work.

Trade groups such as the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), otoh, aren’t given that automatic trust. Instead, the public realizes they are out for their industry’s benefit. They may do good—but it’s always for the good they can get out of it.

It’s significant—and, as it turns out, of the utmost importance—that the motorcycle manufacturers chose to form a 501 (c) 6 but make it appear to be a 501 (c) 3. The choice of the name, Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), was not the least of the misleading appearance. It gave the impression that MSF was a 501 (c) 3 organization though, in reality, it didn’t met the criteria for a foundation. Still, it appeared to be solely devoted to motorcycle safety and education. That was well publicized. As was the motorcycle manufacturers completely subsidizing the organization.

But the MIC origin, nor the composition of the board, was known at all. And, as we’ll soon see, neither was how much the MSF was involved in carrying out the industry’s self-protective and self-aggrandizing agenda.

Though MSF appeared to be a safety and education charity, critically involved stakeholders such as traffic safety experts, rider educators, motorcycle rights activists were not allowed to participate even as non-voting members.

Because as a trade association, MSF’s membership was limited solely to motorcycle manufacturers. Only members could sit on the board. Only board members could make decisions about the direction the organization took and what official positions were. And the representatives from the manufacturer members worked in the marketing departments or another department of those motor companies that had nothing to do with safety or education.

As a result, those who were in the best position to inform the direction rider education and safety efforts should take were excluded while those who knew how to sell motorcycles were the only ones allowed to make decisions.

At the same time, motorcycle manufacturers also held a dominant voice in MIC and still hold 50% of the seats on that board. In total, the motorcycle manufacturers owned 150% of the voting influence over how the 3 Safety E’s would be interpreted and carried out in street motorcycling in these two organizations.

When it comes to the Safety E’s, MSF has devoted itself to education through its curricular products and to enforcement through it’s development of the motorcycle licensing tests that are used by almost all states.

However, the way it’s taken education is in sync with the position the manufacturers promulgate through both government relations and communications—it’s not the machine, it’s the rider or other drivers. For example, Tim Buche—President of MSF, MIC and SVIA—is quoted in the Nov, 2005 issue of Freeway Flyer, the Iowa ABATE newsletter; “the increase [in motorcycle fatalities] could not be linked to a single issue, saying it was a combination of impairment and inattentiveness of other drivers as well as motorcycle riders who drive impaired, untrained or without protective gear. The rising gas prices also put a lot more bikers on the road this year to compete with other vehicles.” In other instances, MSF has implicated older riders and returning riders. Iow, it’s everything except the machine that could be at fault for the rising fatality rate.

However, if the manufacturers say that, it’s rather obviously self-serving. If a “safety and educational charity” says it, it must be the truth.

The positions that most benefits the motorcycle industry has been MSF’s “safety messages” for decades.


The “Motorcycle Safety Foundation Five-Year Plan: 1983-1987 reveals that MSF was deliberately and specifically used by industry to achieve their goals.

Meant for the trustees and key officers’ eyes only, it’s the only place that correctly quotes the by-laws—and even underlines the exclusively organized to benefit the industry part of the paragraph as well as the “consistent with public interest” language.

In the section on Motorcycle Safety Foundation Goals Number 5 reads, “To represent the safety interests of the motorcycle industry in governmental activities” [emphasis added]. The riding and non-riding public has always been told that’s MIC’s job. Yet it’s clear that’s one of MSF’s goals.

Conversely, there’s no goal to represent the safety interests of the riders—or the general public in government activities. Which is what we had always been led to believe was MSF’s job. Iow, no one has been doing the job the public had entrusted to MSF for over 30 years. If it happens, it’s an afterthought, a byproduct.

This sole focus on the use of education and safety to promote motorcycle manufacturers’ profitability is made even clearer in the section “Issues Facing the Industry”. The report states, “Of all possible issues which could be identified, three are specifically related to the mission of the Foundation…These issues are presented below as they relate to our mission.

  1. The non-motorcycling public has a negative image of the people who buy the industry’s products.
  2. The general pubic views the industry’s products as inherently unsafe.
  3. The industry promotes its products to a narrow segment of the general public primarily for recreational use.”

· Note how those are phrased—“buy the industry’s products, “views the industry’s products” and “the industry promotes”.

· And note that none of those issues have anything whatsoever to do with either safety or education but everything to do with motorcycle sales.

· There is no separate section for “Issues Facing Motorcyclists” or “Issues Facing Rider Education/Safety”. Once again, this was the job the public had been led to believe MSF was addressing. But it wasn’t.

Much of the report outlines objectives to achieve each of the overarching goals. One section is particularly revelatory because of the activities it describes. In this section:

The first objective was to “ 1. “Assist in the passage of two major state rider education or licensing bills each year beginning in 1983. Target states for activity each year.”

Two objectives were directly related to that number one goal: Objective number two states to make sure it was the industry’s legislative language for state program bills that was available to lawmakers. And the 9th goal was to “Develop a group of legislative advocates from American Motorcyclist Association [AMA] members, MSF certified instructors and others to promote quality legislation in their states.”

Other objectives included meeting with “NHTSA people” twice yearly, participating in other groups to represent the industry’s view on safety and education and networking with other lobbyists in related transportation areas. And, tying MSF once again closely to MIC’s goals, Goal number 7 stated, “Monitor and evaluate highway safety activity of the Department of Transportation as it affects MSF activities.”

On the surface those objectives would appear to be solely concerned with advancing the cause for rider training and safety. If that was the case, those goals would seem innocent and for the public benefit. However, that section referred to that Goal Number 5, “To represent the safety interests of the motorcycle industry in governmental activities.”

Iow, it was in the manufacturers’ self-interest to get state programs passed with industry-created legislative language. It was in their self-interest to use motorcyclists and rider educators to get it to happen rather than showing their own involvement. It was in their self-interest to position MSFers as the experts on what constitutes safe motorcycling and education.

Throughout the five-year plan, in other objectives, the goals were to establish MSF as the expert on all things motorcycle safety and training-related in order to benefit and protect the industry.


Internal notes from a 2003 MSF memo on Strategic Planning show that the same focus is paramount.

At that time, MSF had taken over four state programs [MSF had just won the contract to take over the California Motorcycle Safety Program]. Lara Lee, board chair and representative of Harley-Davidson, asked if MSF’s mission statement should be rewritten to “more clearly allow for that option [taking over state programs] as a strategy or tactic….”

Kawasaki’s Roger Hagie asked if “we are also now “enforcing” national standards (ref. CA and OR efforts?” [Note: at that time, Oregon and California were using the MRC:RSS, though California’s was a modified RSS with stricter standards than the MSF version. Oregon was still developing—but not teaching—the TOMS Basic Rider Training course].

MSF asked the trustees these “Strategic Questions”: “What do you think are the most pressing industry-specific, economic, legislative or social issues MSF needs to prepare for within the next five years?” Once again, the issues raised may puzzle those who thought the MSF was all about the student:

She also mentioned “Governmental focus on passive safety & lack of “evidence” to validate benefits of active safety. Passive safety refers to the machine and gear rather than to the rider or driver error. [It’s curious, if not disturbing, that the word “evidence” is in quotes when it comes to validating training.]

Hagie was concerned about the fight for leadership of safety issues. He mentioned the “Conflict with states and a tug-of-war with other organizations (SMSA, MRF, etc.) over leadership” [over motorcycle safety/training]. He also objected to NHTSA’s “lack of positive initiatives (as opposed to derogatory press releases on motorcycle fatality increases.)” [Author’s clarifying note: the late and lamented and then-disparaged Ron Shepherd was chair of SMSA at that time. Note as well what major rights organization wasn’t mentioned by acronym—the same one where the motorcycle industry has a guaranteed 50% board membership.]

Honda’s Dave Edwards cited “Noise”, “Skill levels of older riders, the aging population overall” and “Image of extreme sports.”

When it came to the question of what the Measures of Success [emphasis in text], Lee thought “Should potentially expand [the measures] to consider success in achieving retail-level sales” and Edwards thought that “Achievement of specific targets set by MSF for achievements in state/fed legislation, vehicle regulation, gov. standards, ad promotions, etc.”

Once again, the measures of success Edwards thought were appropriate for MSF were things we had thought was MIC’s job. And many of the issues and measure have little to nothing to do with safety or education or the well-being of riders or the public benefit and a very great deal to do with well-being of the manufacturers.

The distinction is important—and the scope and specificity of the objectives in the five-year plan and in the 2003 memo is just as critical. We had been led to believe it was MIC that was supposed to be dedicated to governmental actions to guard the industry’s efforts. Yet, in 1983, it was MSF that was going to guard those interests through passing—rather than preventing the passage—of regulations.

These documents, then, reveal that the state program system, like the State Motorcycle Safety Administrators (SMSA), was a tool conceived of by the industry to further its goals that they felt was theirs to use and reveals a degree of consternation that rebellion was rising in the ranks that could prevent industry from using safety and education in the ways they wanted to use them.

Safety and education, iow, was perceived in terms of industry interests alone—and still is. Document after document reveals that the trustees look out for the industry’s interests rather than “the rider education and safety communities’ interests” or “motorcyclists” interests. As a trade group, that’s exactly what they are required to do. The problem is that it’s been masquerading as a charity.

MSF’s documents consistently reveal its 501 (c) 6 status wasn’t a mistake at all and that the manufacturers intended this trade group to masquerade as a charity in order to take advantage of the automatic trust and confidence—and lack of questioning—safety and education charities enjoy.

The next entry examines the bi-level structure of MSF and how it was used to promote the industry’s agenda.

The reality of what the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is—and isn’t

January 14, 2009

The previous entry outlined what MSF has said about itself for the past 30+ years. If you haven’t read it, please read it before this one.

In reality, MSF was incorporated in the District of Columbia in late 1972 as the “Motorcycle Industry Council Safety and Education Foundation”. According to that document, it was established as a “Not for profit corporation under Title 29, Chapter 10 of the Code of Laws of the District of Columbia” (Under the 1973 edition, Chapter 10 dealt with non-profits).

Just over a year later the incorporators—Philip Ross, James B. Potter, Jr. and Raymond W. Lucia—dropped the reference to MIC and changed the name to just “Motorcycle Safety Foundation”. The name change had the effect of obscuring the origin and link to the motorcycle manufacturers as if it was a separate, independent organization. Why?

MSF purposefully created a different version of its creation and what it was—even within documents only employees would normally see. The integral connection with MIC was hidden and then denied for over 30 years while the illusion that the two organizations (and then three trade groups) were separate was emphasized. Why?

In reality, MIC and MSF (and later SVIA) are sister organizations. Legally, a sister organization is considered an affiliate or subsidiary of another corporation. These three motorcycle non-profits use the same boilerplate for their by-laws—so much so they are virtually identical. The same member companies represented by the same employees who sit on all three boards. They share the same offices, key officers and many employees have duties for more than one of the organizations. And all three share the same tax designation.

All three manufacturer-owned non-profits are all 501 (c) 6, trade organizations. The IRS 501 (c) 6 designation MSF applied for and received establishes a not-for-profit as a trade association—the exact same tax designation shared by MIC (and SVIA).

A trade association may be defined as an organization that solely represents the interests of the member firms of an industry in order to promote that industry. As the IRS says, “To be exempt, a business league’s activities must be devoted to improving business conditions of one or more lines of business as distinguished from performing particular services for individual persons.” Failure to do that would mean the organization would lose its tax exemption.

MSF’s Articles of Incorporation make this perfectly clear: “The corporation is organized to operate exclusively to promote, foster, and encourage interest in the motorcycle industry by conducting motorcycle safety and education programs.” The By-Laws actually read, “The Foundation is a not-for-profit trade association organized to operate exclusively to promote, foster and encourage interest in the motorcycle industry by conducting motorcycle safety and education programs; to engage in any kind of activity, do all things, perform all acts and exercise all powers conferred upon not-for-profit corporation by the laws of the District of Columbia, all of which, however, shall be consistent with the public interest as well as the interest of safety and education in the two-wheeled motor vehicle operation, and all of which shall be necessary, incidental, or desirable in the furtherance of the purpose set forth herein.”

Iow, anything MSF does must directly make the motorcycle manufacturer members more profitable. And it’s organized exclusively to do that. While the by-laws state actions have to be consistent with the public interest and motorcycle safety and education, what does “consistent” mean? It can mean a great many things—even being unsafe and un-educational—as long as the results are uniform. The by-laws say nothing about what consistent means or how it would be measured—nor does any extant MSF internal document.

What has been consistent, though, is that the exclusive purpose to make the manufacturers profitable, its tax designation and it’s integral connection with MIC was concealed from the motorcycling public, from traffic safety experts, rider educators, government employees and elected representatives for over 30 years—and even from employees who all thought MSF was a charitable foundation. There is only one reference to MSF as a trade group in all that time. Why? (For when and why MSF admitted its tax designation back then and finally to the riding community see Riderchick here.)

Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe about MSF, then:

è It is not 501 (c) 3 charitable organization dedicated to motorcycle safety and education, and

è It is exclusively devoted to using education and safety to sell motorcycles.

è MSF is not an independent organization, and

è It is integrally connected to the Motorcycle Industry Council on multiple levels.

From the beginning and right up until today, Hartman and others misrepresented the very nature of MSF so that it appeared to both the riding and non-riding public as if it was completely opposite of what it was.

The incorporators, could have chosen to create a 501 (c) 3 charitable education or safety foundation but they did not. They still could’ve written off donations instead of writing off their dues. They still could’ve put out their own curriculum and developed a certification system. They could’ve developed their own licensing tests and sold them to the states. So why didn’t they chose to make MSF a 501 (c) 3 instead of a 501 (c) 6?

And once they had made that choice, why did the motorcycle manufacturers feel they needed to disguise MSF as a charitable education and safety foundation instead of what it really is—a trade organization?

So that’s the next question: why is the MSF a motorcycle manufacturers’ trade group?

What the Motorcycle Safety Foundation has said it is

January 13, 2009

What we’ve always believed about MSF

This entry outlines what the Motorcycle Safety Foundation has always said it is.

In the revised 1978 MSF “Policies and Procedure Original” handbook it says this about how MSF was created: “History records that American Honda Motor Company first proposed a cooperative motorcycle safety effort with several companies, joining together to create a safety organization. The other leading companies that were contacted, agreed with the idea. As a result, the Foundation, today, is governed by Trustees, representing each of the five leading manufacturers/distributors who contribute financially to MSF.”

The handbook goes on to say, “From the very beginning, MSFs mission has been that of “promoting, fostering and encouraging motorcycle safety and education consistent with the public interest” (quotation from the MSF By-laws).” Charles H. Hartman, MSF’s first president, stated its goals in an article from the proceedings of the 1973 National Safety Congress: “The Foundation’s initial program is concerned exclusively with safety and education, that is, with activities that may be expected to lead to a reduction in the number and severity of motorcycle and motorcycle-related crashes.” The wording echoes almost exactly that found in the National Traffic and Highway Safety Act. MSF, then would concentrate on the education E of the 3 Safety E’s.

Hartman went on to say at the Congress, “We seek only to become a valuable resource that will aid others…in reducing the frequency and severity of motorcycle related crashes.”

According to the MSF Policies and Procedures handbook, MSF opened an office in Washington D.C. in 1973 with a staff of four and a half-million dollar budget, hired Hartman away from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and, in 1974 released a curriculum, The Basic Rider Course. A couple of years later, they released a different version, The Motorcycle Rider Course. At that time, MSF didn’t charge for materials, either and funded many programs.

Hartman, now writing in the Journal of Traffic Safety in 1977, repeated what was said to be a quote from the by-laws, “From the beginning, MSF’s mission has been that of “promoting, fostering and encouraging motorcycle safety and education consistent with the public interest” (quotation from the MSF By-laws)” but went on to say that it was “not confined to encouraging and persuading, but also includes a leadership role” (emphasis in text). He also wrote that “If MSF is to meet its goal of reducing motorcycle accidents, deaths, and injuries…” they had to deal with licensing and that they would develop a “model motorcycle license operator plan and train driver license examiners.” Licensing belongs to the third of the Safety E’s—enforcement.

MSF went on to develop an instructor training course. A logo was developed, which ten years later Safe Cycling said functioned as “a symbol of quality standards”. MSF grew in funding and staff and worked with state motorcycle rights activists to pass legislation establishing state motorcycle safety programs (SMSP). By the early 90s almost every state had a SMSP and by 1998, 1.6 million students had been trained using MSF curriculum.

And this is the story we’re told today—though it’s changed significantly in wording from what Charlie Hartman said MSF’s goals were. This is from MSF’s webpage: “VISION:

The MSF is an internationally recognized not-for-profit foundation, supported by motorcycle manufacturers, that provides leadership to the motorcycle safety community through its expertise, tools, and partnerships.” “MISSION STATEMENT: To make motorcycling safer and more enjoyable by ensuring access to lifelong quality education and training for current and prospective riders, and by advocating a safer riding environment.”

In short, we’ve believed for over 30 years that MSF was a charitable foundation selflessly dedicated to safe, effective motorcycle training with the goal to reduce crashes and save lives that the manufacturers funded simply because they believed in the cause. That’s what we’ve been told—and, as we’ve seen, that’s what MSF went on record repeatedly to say it was. That’s even what employees were told.

Next entry: Putting MSF’s self-description to the test: What the MSF really is—and isn’t.

What the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is—and is not: Part I: the MIC

January 8, 2009

To understand the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, one has to understand why the Motorcycle Industry Council exists and what it does.

In short, much of MIC’s (and SVIA’s) governmental relations work has been to prevent or at least control how much Engineering could make motorcycling safer.

Since about 1920, the road safety philosophy has been summed up as the “3 E’s”: Engineering, Education and Enforcement. Until the mid-1960s, though, the accepted public view was that safety was the road user’s responsibility and the onus for crashes were on the those involved. It was a matter of deficient skills or inexperience or incapacitation or poor judgment and those could be and should be solved by a combination of education and enforcement. This is still the prevailing view when it comes to motorcycle crashes.

When motor vehicle deaths increased 30% between 1960 and 1965, however, road safety suddenly became a high-profile issue—particularly after Ralph’s Nader’s 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. The media quickly jumped on the bandwagon as in this Time article.

A sea change in thinking about safety

Nader popularized an argument the public found compelling: that the automobile design could be deadly, and that manufacturers both knew their vehicles were unsafe and actively resisted efforts—and regulation—that would make autos safer. Automobile makers were against regulation—it not only drove up costs which would affect affordability and thus sales but affected competitiveness within the automotive industry. Until then automakers had been the primary sponsors of auto-safety research and both then and still now supported safety advocates who espoused “appropriate” views. Automakers and their front organizations actively discredited dissenting views to the point that safety critics were marginalized.

Nader’s book, though, broke through that industry blockade and summed up a growing conviction among traffic safety experts. Coupled with popular support, those two ideas were enshrined in the 1966 National Traffic and Highway Safety Act.

Those two ideas have also become part of American consumer thinking: First, vehicles themselves could be to blame—and thus, by extension, manufacturers could be held accountable to produce safer vehicles or . The second was the pursuit of “safer crashing.” And, in terms of the motorcycle industry, which is our main interest here, that thinking in terms of the legislation required regulators to develop federal motor vehicle safety standards.

Within a few years, it also resulted in the creation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1970, which was to carry out the mandates in the Act.

Despite unintended consequences, it cannot be argued that safer crashing has had a huge impact (pun intended) on lowering passenger vehicle fatality rates. But in emphasizing the Safety E of engineering, there’s been a corresponding de-emphasis on the E of driver education as a means of motor vehicle safety.

MIC is founded

The lessons and implications were not lost on the motorcycle manufacturers who had, so far, escaped the high-powered glare of legislative attention due to the focus on passenger cars. They acted in concert to forestall government regulations on their products: the same year that NHTSA was founded, the motorcycle manufacturers incorporated the Motorcycle Industry Council as a 501 (c) 6 trade group.

Although a motorcycling manufacturing group had existed since the early 1900s under a variety of names and with more or less clout, MIC went far beyond those earlier attempts. It was formed to protect the motorcycle industry’s interests through “government relations, statistics, communications, technical, and aftermarket programs”. Harley-Davidson is not a member of MIC yet carries on many similar activities to advance common interests.

MIC—and later SVIA for strictly recreational off-road vehicles—dealt extensively with the first of the Three E’s of safety—Engineering. The manufacturers goal then—and now—is to prevent onerous legislation that could limit profitability and increase accountability while furthering legislation that limits liability and increase dividends. One of its primary goals is to prevent regulations on design and engines through lobbying and public relations and it’s been remarkably—no, amazingly—successful in its efforts.

Somehow, the thinking—vehicles can be made safer—was never and still isn’t expected of motorcycles in the same way it’s been applied to passenger cars, trucks, buses, trains and planes. Since 1966, automakers have had to use safety glass, change the steering columns, pad dashboards, install not just seat belts but shoulder harness ones, use dual braking systems—and that’s just the beginning.

During the span of time, motorcycles have changed a great deal—but not necessarily in safer ways and not because the government required them to be. (And this last suits most riders just fine as they are, generally, conservatives if not libertarians.)

Such lapses in the Safety E of Engineering, however, would never be allowed for passenger vehicles, buses or trucks—or trains or planes. Oth, such lapses are also allowed for recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles, ATVs, jetskis and so forth—which, incidentally, are also made by many of the same manufacturers who belong to MIC—and SVIA.

The astonishing success in negating the Engineering aspect of the 3 E’s has been only slightly off-set by minor losses (comparatively speaking) in regulations for emissions and noise. In those areas, the manufacturers yielded and agreed to some relatively minor regulations. Still noise doesn’t kill riders and pollution would take a very, very long time to have a health effect. But elements that would save lives like ABS brakes, for example, are not required.

Like the automakers prior to the National Traffic and Highway Safety Act, it’s the motorcycle industry that controls almost all of the safety research (much more on this in a future entry). It also supports those who espouse “appropriate” views (or at least keep silent on inappropriate views) and attempts to squelch or discredit safety critics and marginalize them.

Still, that (dubious) achievement is remarkable because the motorcycle is, without a doubt, the most dangerous vehicle on the road per vehicle. And what makes it remarkable is that everyone knew it and knows it—government, general society, riders and the motorcycle industry—and nothing is done because it’s common wisdom that they can’t be made safer. Which is not true—as manufacturers found consumers wanted ABS and linked brake systems, more of them added them. Iow, unless consumers demand motorcycles themselves be safer, there’s no percentage for the motorcycle manufacturers to do it on their own.

One unobserved result of this situation is that motorcycle flaws—design or mechanical—are not dealt with through regulation as with automobiles. Rather things that make motorcycles dangerous—Harley’s Twin Cam issue and Electra Glide’s high-speed front end wobble, for example—are dealt with (if at all) through the courts and limited to models rather than extended to the vehicle class. This is in contradiction to what happens with automobiles.

Iow, however it happened, unlike the automakers, motorcycle manufacturers are virtually in the same position they were prior to the monumental legislation that was supposed to make all road users safer: making the vehicles as a class safer is up to the manufacturer.

And it is beyond a doubt that motorcycle safety in terms of engineering is a classic and textbook case of the “culture of low expectations.” As long as it’s believed that the motorcycle can’t be made safe—or at least safer—the engineering dimension of the 3 Safety E’s is ineffectual. It cannot be dismissed that this view supports the self-interest of the motorcycle industry—and the goals of MIC and Harley-Davidson—since that’s the one that affects their profits and liability.

It’s unknown to the degree that MIC and Harley-Davidson furthered those low expectations and how much is simply a fundamental societal assumption about motorcycles. It is clear where that notion had led: if little can be done to make them safer then anything can be done to make them more dangerous without government regulatory interference.

By whatever means it occurred (or the attitude was maintained), as it stands now if motorcycle safety is possible at all it won’t be found in the machine. And it’s only this E—engineering—that affects the profits and liability of the manufacturer.

As a result, motorcycle safety has been defined along three lines: what riders wear (helmets/gear); riding under the influence; rider training and licensing. In short: motorcycle safety is in what the motorcyclist does or doesn’t do. And riders bought into that along with everyone else. Needless to say, all of these have nothing to do with the motorcycle and everything to do with the motorcyclist.

And that’s the dubious (and some may say diabolical) genius of the motorcycle industry compared to the automotive industry: overwhelmingly, all stakeholders still regard motorcycle crashes exactly as they use to regard all road accidents for over 100 years: it’s the rider’s fault. The rider could’ve or should’ve done something to prevent it or at least mitigate the damage. Iow, the motorcycle safety issue has been framed entirely in terms of the motorcyclist.

Therefore, if motorcyclist safety is possible at all, it has to be found in the other two E’s—education and enforcement. And that’s where the MIC came up with their brainchild and sister organization, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. And that’s what the next entry is about.

TEAM OREGON wins settlement in Motorcycle Safety Foundation lawsuit

January 6, 2009

TEAM OREGON wins settlement in Motorcycle Safety Foundation lawsuit


TEAM OREGON wins settlement in Motorcycle Safety Foundation lawsuit

Corvallis, Oregon, Jan. 6, 2008 – The TEAM OREGON Motorcycle Safety Program is pleased to announce that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has agreed to drop their copyright infringement lawsuit against Dr. Edward Ray, on behalf of Oregon State University, and Steve Garets, Director of TEAM OREGON. The Settlement Agreement was finalized on December 19, 2008. The MSF agreed to abandon its lawsuit without any payment whatsoever from TEAM OREGON and “With Prejudice,” meaning that the MSF cannot file such a lawsuit against TEAM OREGON ever again.

“The MSF was unable to present any proof that TEAM OREGON had, in fact, violated their copyrights,” said Steve Garets, Director of the TEAM OREGON Motorcycle Safety Program. “We consulted with numerous copyright experts before and after these curricula were published. We felt confident all along that there never were any copyright infringements. We are glad to put this behind us and move forward in providing high quality training for Oregon’s riders.”

The MSF, a California-based corporation owned by the major motorcycle manufacturers including Harley Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha, sells their training materials nationally. The MSF initially filed their suit in 2006 after TEAM OREGON refused to subscribe to the latest MSF curriculum and instead developed an Oregon-specific motorcycle training program of its own. MSF pressed the suit forward after the Oregon Department of Transportation denied their request to approve the MSF curriculum for a waiver of motorcycle license testing.

”TEAM OREGON built on over 40 years of experience and research to develop our own original curricula,” said Garets.  “There are some ideas in motorcycle safety that nobody can claim as their own intellectual property.  Many of those concepts existed long before the MSF was founded and have been in widespread use ever since.”

In the Settlement Agreement, the MSF recognizes that TEAM OREGON has valid claims of copyright in TEAM OREGON curriculum materials. As a condition of the settlement MSF insisted that TEAM OREGON accept a free license to incorporate MSF’s copyrighted materials in TEAM OREGON’s publications.  As in the past, however, TEAM OREGON will not incorporate any MSF copyrighted materials in any of the TEAM OREGON curricula. “We didn’t want or need this license but they insisted that we take it and they gave it to us for free,” Garets said. “We have no desire to include MSF-owned material in our publications and we’ll continue to preserve the integrity of our curricula.”

“TEAM OREGON never marketed this program outside of Oregon, although a number of state motorcycle safety programs expressed interest,” he remarked.  “We will continue to do exactly what we have been doing in providing the best possible motorcycle safety training for Oregon.”

“This case was a test to learn who, if anyone, really owns motorcycle rider instruction,” said Garets. “We have an obligation to provide training that fits the unique needs of Oregon’s riders. It is now clear that we have every right to design and deliver that training”

“I am very satisfied with this outcome and would like to thank the Oregon Department of Justice and Oregon State University for defending this suit so ably and tenaciously,” Garets added. “In protecting our freedom to design high-quality motorcycle training programs they’ve done a great service to the citizens of Oregon and to the entire country.”

The TEAM OREGON Motorcycle Safety Program is sponsored by Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Transportation.  TEAM OREGON’s goal is to foster and promote safe motorcycle operation through quality rider education programs and public information campaigns.  TEAM OREGON is funded by a fee on motorcycle license endorsements.