MSF to have BRC and licensing tests compared

MSF public relations sent out a press release on January 9th announcing MSF had just awarded “a motorcycle license testing validation study” to the Pacific Research Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE). The purpose is to compare the end-of-course written and skill evaluations in the BRC “with those used in state motor vehicle testing” in order to “ensure student knowledge and skill testing is equivalent and consistent with motor vehicle testing.”

The release was sent out two days after the new motorcycle licensing test, the Rider Skill Test, was sent out for final comments.

This marks the first time MSF has set out to compare MSF commercial training products and MSF commercial licensing products has never been done by MSF.

Most states use one of the MSF’s own licensing products—and most of them use the Alternate-MOST. New York—MSF just took over the state program—and California—a state MSF took over several years ago—are two notable exceptions. For the most part, then, the study, then, pits the current iteration of MSF’s training product, the Basic RiderCourse (BRC), against MSF licensing products such as the Alt-MOST.

The press release says it is a one-year study, but at the end of the same paragraph it says “Results are expected before year-end.”

The release also cites that the study is being done now because of “recent changes in state licensing requirements” though MSF doesn’t explain how it sees the two are related or what license requirements have changed in what states.

Al Hydeman who is now in charge of—well, just about everything at MSF—said that “Obtaining independent third party evaluation is in keeping with MSF’s overarching philosophy to base our curricula decisions on empirically sound research.”

Prior to his full-time employment at MSF, he himself was an independent third party evaluators whom MSF has hired in recent years. He used to operate Albert Hydeman Associates—a communications company and Motorcycle Industry Council member. According to the company website, which disappeared shortly after it was cited in a Moonrider Journalspace entry, specialized in “silencing the squeaky wheel”. Hydeman’s company did several evaluation projects for MSF:

  • Hydeman oversaw the rider survey that claimed to validate the superiority of the BRC but used two years of student survey data from MRC:RSS years as if those surveys were from BRC-run courses.
  • He also found the four “experts” that evaluated the BRC over the MRC:RSS and found it was as good as or better than the BRC. However, the experts were not allowed to see anything but the printed materials.
  • AHA also did a RiderCoach survey for MSF that also appeared to confirm the BRC was the preferred product. It, too, suffered from serious methodological flaws. It was in reference to that RiderCoach survey that the AHA website quoted MSF president Tim Buche as saying that Hydeman’s company gave MSF the results they were looking for.
  • Hydeman had been previously under contract to MSF when he contracted with SMSA to moderate the conflict between MSF and SMSA members about what changes were needed in the curriculum. SMSA was not informed that Hydeman was already under contract with MSF to both shape the direction the new curriculum (the BRC) would take and mastermind how to get rider educators to accept the BRC even though all administrators and chief instructors who has seen the BRC prior to the rollout had registered extensive and serious objections to it.

Time will tell whether or not PIRE also gives the manufacturers the results they’re looking for or not.

PIRE’s partners and sponsors as well as the research projects they undertake and conclusions they reach is worthwhile looking into. Here’s a link for the reader to check out what PIRE has done in terms of both motorcycling and driver licensing. Use the words “motorcycle” and a separate search on “driver licensing” as to whether PIRE has the background to credibly do the MSF project. In both cases, the reader can draw their own conclusions.

Coincidentally, some of PIREs sponsors and partners are names we’ve come across repeatedly as we’ve investigated what’s happening in motorcycling and rider education. The National Safety Council, for example, partnered with MSF for the online classroom course that was meant, at the time, to be at least an option to replace the classroom portion of the course, according to Ray Ochs at the Buffalo SMSA conference in 2007. And when a trial balloon course appeared on the NSC website that described the course it said it included a knowledge test that might be eligible for an insurance discount.

Another PIRE sponsor is a name very familiar to many motorcyclists—the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In the summer of 2007, IIHS came out with a report that damned sportbikes.

PIRE had $40 million in revenue in 2007 and is also involved directly and indirectly to a lot of lobbying firms on both federal and state levels. Both revenue and he amount spent on lobbying—not to mention lobbying at all—is far out of line with other similar research firms. PIRE paid Policy Impact Communications, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm almost $200,000 in fees according to their 2007 990 form.

This, then, is a little background on the company that will evaluate MSF’s curriculum against MSF’s licensing products.

In the press release, Sherry Williams, Director of Quality Assurance and research, says the current study is being done because, “The ultimate objective is to enhance rider safety in real-world situations” and that “Ensuring these tests are performing as intended is a major stop toward that goal.” Formerly, Williams was Hydeman’s employee and was key in those “independent third party evaluations”.

The RST changes the timing standards to what is used in the BRC. There is, perforce, more congruence between the end of course evaluations and the soon-to-be available RST than there was between the soon-to-be-defunct Alt-MOST and the BRC. However, that is not the case with other MSF licensing products. The press release doesn’t make it clear which MSF products would be tested.

While the course evaluations can be compared to license skill tests, the last time MSF’s skill tests have been measured as to what is needed to enhance rider safety in real-world situations was in the 1970s when traffic was much different.

Given that MIC and H-D have lobbied for legislation that would remove the knowledge test altogether from the DMV tests and/or would make training mandatory and so riders wouldn’t take the test at the DMV at all, why would MSF pit it’s one products against one another now?

The Mississippi legislation is suggestive—the proposed legislation does state that the training course must include “a similar test of both knowledge and skill.” Well, this validation study could prove exactly that.

The recent past and present are even more suggestive. One of the reasons TEAM Oregon gave for refusing to change to the BRC—a decision the ODOT upheld—was that the BRC evaluations did not measure up to the Alt-MOST and the Alt-MOST was the DMVs standard. The Oregon Department of Transportation upheld that decision and the Governor’s Advisory Board refused MSF’s request that MSF’s BRC-based training be accepted as a second and parallel motorcycle training program in OR and receive the driver’s license-waiver.

Harley-Davidson’s Rider’s Edge uses MSF’s BRC curriculum—and, as such, RE courses in Oregon cannot be part of the state motorcycle safety program and do not have the driver’s license-waiver privilege. However, recently Harley-Davidson has asked to have their Rider’s Edge curriculum reviewed in Oregon. If it is reviewed and approved, according to a source in Oregon, the ODMV could consider successful completion of the program as a substitute for some of the motorcycle endorsement testing.

The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety has been asked to do the review and will consider what Harley-Davidson submits to them. That review has not been scheduled as of now.

Iow, in many ways, it’s a Back to the Future moment with Oregon, MSF and H-D, the major funder of MSF. Last time it ended with the GAB turning down MSF’s request and MSF filing a lawsuit.

This time, though, H-D will be armed with what Hydeman calls a “independent third party evaluation” of the course evaluations compared to MSF licensing products.

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