Motorcycle Safety Foundation coming out with new licensing test

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)

Range

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.

Scoring

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.

Speed

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.)

Stalling

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.

Braking

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.

Swerve

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.

U-Turn

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.

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7 Comments on “Motorcycle Safety Foundation coming out with new licensing test”

  1. Jeff Brenton Says:

    I’m curious about the need for “turn from a stop” to not include any forward movement. If you’re stopped at a stop sign in the real world, you are going to have to move forward to reach the traffic lane, if you’re making a turn. The perimeter turns, as laid out on the BRC range, do represent a realistic representation of what I’ve encountered on the road.

  2. wmoon Says:

    Jeff, you really stop 10 feet from the intersection to check for traffic and then roll forward to begin your turn? Remind me never to ride behind you! : ) That’s what the diagram in the new RST motorcycle test shows.

  3. Jeff Brenton Says:

    I stop at the traffic stop line, if present. At a minimum, it is 6 feet from that line to the NEAREST EDGE of the traffic lane. Any closer, and many cars would have a portion of their nose in the cross-traffic lane, while stopped at the line.

    For the minimum 8 foot lane width, 10 feet puts you turning into the left tire track of the cross street’s near lane.

    That isn’t to say there is no value to knowing how to do a full-lock turn from a dead stop. However, it is less likely you will use that skill on the street, compared to starting out straight, then turning at low speed with control, after a few feet. If you have your head in the game, and plan your stops properly, turning from a dead stop will be even less of an issue.

  4. A. Tam Says:

    Just to play devil’s advocate… I can think of numerous intersections, uncontrolled and controlled, that require the vehicle to inch out so the operator can have see if the cross-traffic lane is clear before executing the right turn.

    If the rider cannot make a right hand turn with minimal or no forward movement in these circumstances, it’s a liability, imo.


  5. As a beginning rider,I first got a permit to practice before taking the Oregon BRT class. I received good instruction and did well except for the offset cone weave which I failed. We were only allowed a few practice attempts and I now realize I was probably looking at the cones. My question is when in real traffic would one need this slow speed weave skill. It is a difficult maneuver even for some experienced riders. I don’t feel this should be part of the skills for a motorcycle endorsement. I am going to continue to practice when I get the limited opportunity because I have to be with a licensed driver.
    Just my opinion, Bob

  6. wmoon Says:

    Bob, I hope the instructors chime in here–but, for my part, slow speed skills say alot about whether the rider is controlling the motorcycle or the motorcycle controls the rider. The offset weave gives a good indication of the student’s ability to control the throttle and clutch but about balance and the ability to corner–to steer without manhandling the bike, line choice, entry speed, etc–or, in two words, cornering judgment. While slow-speed offset weave doesn’t indicate whether a rider can take curves at road speed, if they can’t manage a slow speed weave, they will likely have judgment and control problems on anything except long wide sweepers.

    Frankly, the course and the test–even Oregon’s BRT–is child’s play compared to really riding in real traffic on real roads. imho, if you can’t pass the offset weave, you have not demonstrated enough ability to operate your motorcycle on public roads. Why don’t you sign up to take another course–I know TEAM Oregon offers other kinds of courses that can help you master the basic skills. Good luck.
    W.


  7. There is a problem with the specified ‘goals’ of the skilled rider Quick Stop tests that your readers should understand.

    Basic riders are expected to be able to perform a stop from 20, 25 and 30 mph within 23, 31 and 44 feet of stopping distance. Those goals represent relatively easy braking performance as they represent deceleration rates of 0.58, 0.67, and 0.68g’s. Still, you would think that the tests would use THE SAME deceleration rates, not proximates.

    But the skilled rider ‘Goals’ for the quick Stop tests are DANGEROUS. They specify that a skilled rider SHOULD BE ABLE TO stop within 15, 20, and 30 feet from starting speeds of 20, 25 and 30 mph respectively … OR BETTER.

    Achievements those goals would require a student to attain and maintain deceleration rates of 0.89, 1.04 and 1.0g’s respectively. While a skilled rider certainly should be able to reach a deceleration rate of about 0.9g’s, only riders world class braking skills should be able to achieve deceleration rates in excess of 1.0g’s. Further, many sport bikes will do a stoppie or end-over before they reach 1.0g’s of deceleration.

    It appears the ALT-MOST skilled Quick Stop goals are stopping distances that are no more than ROUNDED DOWN TO THE NEAREST 5 FEET, without regard for deceleration rates. Clumsy and dangerous ‘expectations’ or goals, in my opinion.

    And worse, they even publish the words ‘or better’ when describing what a skilled rider should be able to achieve.


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