Does MSF’s Incident Report Legend indicate training has become more deadly?

Two years ago, I reported that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Incident Report now had a series of check boxes for injuries and included some disturbing ones: Loss of consciousness; Possible head injury; Possible Life-threatening injury—and a check box for “Death.”

At that time, I raised the question whether these injuries were occurring more often than we suspected—after all, why put a box and a category there if they weren’t expected to be used? Back then that was outré and many thought MSF was just expressing an abundance of caution.

A few months later, those dire boxes were needed in the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program (PAMSP) after a death and a case of quadriplegia occurred in two separate training crashes at two different sites about two weeks apart.

MSF has once again changed its incident report form—at least in Pennsylvania. That state now has a new and innocuous check box: Complaint of pain—the complete opposite of that oh-so-ominous death box.

According to the “PAMSP Incident Report Legend” document distributed and discussed at the 2009 Updates to instructors in Pennsylvania, the “Complaint of pain” box is for: “Authentic internal or other non-visible injuries and fraudulent claims of injury.” It doesn’t explain how instructors are to determine if injuries are fraudulent.

That, though, is the least of the information the Legend document contains. It’s an 8-page document of definitions, explanations, descriptions and clarifications intended to help instructors to accurately fill out the 2-page incident report form that has a total of 45 items to be completed.

Upon examination, Legend may be the most chilling and damning document ever issued by MSF because it takes as a given severe injury and fatality crashes are both expected to occur and to occur with regularity in rider training—and it assumes that these crashes will result in litigation.

It may do that because of an “abundance of caution” in the words of one administrator in a way that’s “excessive overkill” in the words of another. If this is the case, the instructions taken an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach.

Otoh, the million dollar lawsuit and the crashes in Pennsylvania in 2006 prove MSF has deliberately hidden severe and fatal crashes from the riding community, the public and government agencies. As a result, we do not know how many severe and fatal injuries have occurred from training crashes—and thus the Legend might portray exactly how bad it’s become. We just can’t know while MSF refuses any transparency at all.

Before we get to the specifics in the document, here’s the provenance:

A scan of the document was forwarded to me by someone who had access to the documents handed out at one of the Updates. According to a source, the same information in the document was conveyed verbally at the 2008 Updates. This year, it was written and distributed at the same event. The chief instructors spent the first hour of the day going through it line by line. Discussion was not encouraged. Internal evidence in the document suggests its not exclusive to Pennsylvania and it’s unknown who wrote the document.

Instructors were told that the document had to be posted in every shed at every site in the program and the purpose of the form, was “CYA”—Cover Your Ass. Whose derrière was to be covered—the instructors’ or the program’s or MSF’s or all of the above was not asked or the answer volunteered. While none of the chiefs directly said it directly, participants understood the purpose of the extensive form and its legend was to be forearmed against future litigation.

Because we do not know—and MSF has prevented us from knowing—how many of these crashes have occurred and how many lawsuits have been filed, are filed and how many settled, we cannot know whether the world Legend assumes is a misguided abundance of caution or a reality that MSF alone is aware of fully.

Odd—and more dangerous—crash configurations

It’s certainly not the training world that the several rider educators I contacted about the document know. That’s a world where virtually all crashes are single-vehicle and minor—tip-overs, step-offs, drop and flops and so forth—all of which almost always result in either no injury or minor injuries and very rarely a single fracture. Litigation is very rare and rarely proceeds.

The legend document, otoh, assumes a very different training reality. In the section where the instructors are to fill in their version of the crash, it says, “When multiple incidents occur rising out of a single incident and are identified as separate stabilized events, RiderCoaches shall complete a separate incident report for each student. The summary should make reference to each report.”

While the above is rather confused and incoherent, it gives the impression that multi-vehicle crashes happen regularly—and to support that idea these crashes are more frequent than anyone suspects, the document has “Sketch Symbols” for different crash configurations.

It has ones all rider instructors would agree would be needed: a moving vehicle in a straight line and a turning vehicle.

Then there’s others my sources agreed happened very rarely: a diagram for a rear-ender and another for an overtaking sideswipe. There’s also a box to represent an object and one for a parked vehicle. These also made sense to my sources—as long as it was a motorcycle in the staging area.

These not only represent the crashes rider educators are familiar with they also produce either no injuries or the typical injuries mentioned above—bruises, cuts, scrapes/abrasions, sprains—and, very rarely, a fracture or dislocation. And these are the crashes and injuries that have happened since the beginning of rider education.

“That’s one serious accident report”

However, those were the minority of the symbols depicted—and the majority included mystified the rider educators I consulted: head-on; overturned (the symbol indicates a somersaulting motion); head-on sideswipe; a pedestrian; right of way violation; overtaking turn; broadside; and spinout.

One said he doubted that a 125 cc or 250 cc (the sized of the overwhelming number of training bikes) were even capable of a spin-out. The Buell Blast, however, is capable of that. “You mean an endo?” is what two of my sources said when I described the symbol that looked like somersaulting for “overturned”. The motorcycle would have to be going very fast for that to occur. Iow, the additional symbols represent the kind of crashes that regularly in occur at far higher speed than what’s typical in range courses and/or happen in traffic.

According to these sources, these kind of crash configurations shouldn’t and couldn’t occur in the kind of training environment laid out in MSF’s curriculum where every possible obstacle has been removed and enough space on the range is available. They shouldn’t occur if instructors are properly trained and properly positioned to observe riders to prevent it and exercise paths-of-travel have been precisely designed to avoid anything like that from occurring.

Consequently, to say they were surprised by the list would be an understatement. All said they had never heard of such crashes as those symbols depicted ever occurring in their program. Ever. Why on earth were these symbols included?

Green Boy said, “that’s one serious accident report,” and so it had to be, he guessed, taken from something with much higher risks and put in there because of an insurance company or attorney insisted it be in there. But—like all the others—voiced similar sentiments to Birdwatcher who said, “If all that stuff is happening, that’s disturbing.”

Impression Management

The symbols alone, then, suggests it’s the abundance of caution approach—the “put everything in there just in case it’s ever needed, there will be a symbol for it” mentality. If this is the case, rider educators were quick to point out it had two effects: simply by including them in with common configurations, it creates the impression in instructors and administrators minds that these kind of crashes do occur—or else why include symbols to diagram them? Which reminded me of my own thoughts back in 2007 about why death, life-threatening injuries, etc. had check boxes.

The second effect is that it creates the impression for those who use the legend or even see it that these configurations are both normal and expected in training. Horse pointed out that even if MSF said it was for an abundance of caution, a plaintiff’s attorney would respond, “hey, you have a symbol for it, you must think it could happen.” He thought the mere fact the Legend includes such configurations could weaken a program’s case—especially if one of that kind had occurred. The Legend, of course, would be part of discovery in any lawsuit—even if it didn’t happen in a state program that uses that particular document because of MSF’s role as curriculum publisher—and author of the definitive incident report form.

At least one administrator worried about the Field of Dreams Effect—if you create the diagram for those kind of crashes and the expectation they both happen and aren’t any more serious than the common configurations, those kind of crashes will happen.

If the Legend is supposed to be an abundance of caution, it certainly has created an impression management problem.

The abundance of caution theory does seem to have some weight then, but is it true that these crashes don’t happen just because these crème de la crème of rider educators weren’t familiar with them?

Truth is stranger than abundance of caution

The million dollar settlement MSF tried to hide says no: It was one of those crashes that just don’t happen. In that incident the student ran off the range and hit a pedestrian—that diagram, had the motorcycle had the Legend “Sketch Symbols” would’ve used the moving vehicle, parked vehicle—not meaning a motorcycle in the staging area—pedestrian and area of impact symbols.

As far as the somersaulting vehicle symbol—that would’ve been used in the crash in Eastern Pennsylvania that resulted in the quadriplegia when the rider failed to make a turn (moving vehicle), hit a berm (object) as the rider left the range, motorcycle and rider became airborne and somersaulted (overturned) down the hill. The rider hit her head on a rock (object and area of impact) and somersaulted further down the hill (overturned) and the motorcycle came to rest on top of her (area of impact).

Those symbols that mystified the best of rider educators, then, may not be so useless after all. Rather than an “abundance of caution”, they’ve already been needed to properly describe events that have ended in tragedy. Birdwatcher should be disturbed, then, because these kinds of accidents are happening. We just don’t know how many or if the symbols for broadside, head-on, head-on sideswipe and the others have also been utilized already.

Additionally, over a year ago two administrators analyzed the compact range exercises in terms of paths of travel. Both had noted that some exercises could have problems unless timing was expertly managed—which they said would be very difficult with only one instructor on the range. That could result in some of the other crash configurations represented in the legend such as head-on, head-on sideswipe, ROW, overtaking turn and broadside.

It is the very kind of crashes these rider educators had said don’t happen in their programs—the multi-vehicle, higher speed, angle, head-on and into objects ones—that we know have happened. And they are exactly the kind of crashes that can and have caused the kind of severe and fatal injuries MSF describes in the next section of the Legend, No. 18: RiderCoach Description of Student Injury. That’s the next entry.

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5 Comments on “Does MSF’s Incident Report Legend indicate training has become more deadly?”

  1. Jeff Brenton Says:

    “You mean an endo?” is what two of my sources said when I described the symbol that looked like somersaulting for “overturned”. The motorcycle would have to be going very fast for that to occur.

    No, it doesn’t. I’ve seen a student do a wheelie, followed by an endo to near vertical, at a walking pace, during power walking. With a 200cc bike. This was during an exercise that is pretty much common to every beginner’s curriculum I’ve heard of, at least those which teach learning the friction zone.

    At least a component in the training crash picture, in my opinion, is that we’ve spent a long time opening up motorcycling to people who wouldn’t have considered it in the past. The lack of information on crashes and injuries during training make it impossible to tell if a “diluted training pool” could be a factor, however. The fatal and severe injury crashes we do know of, though, seem to be a result of sustained loss of control of the motorcycle. At least some of that can be attributed to panic. 20 years ago, would someone prone to panic have entertained the thought, “Gee, I could ride a motorcycle!”?

    The secrecy is not helping with exploring the demographics of crashing. In the past, you posted a comparison of crash counts between the BRC and BRT by exercise, which was going to be part of the Illinois report on the trials being run. It would be interesting to factor in which exercises were “most prone” to out-of-control range excursions. I’ve seen brain-fart runaways most any time an engine was running, including sitting in the staging area.

  2. wmoon Says:

    Jeff, I’ve heard of what you describe, but that wasn’t what I wrote about–which was a motorcycle somersaulting down the range. That wouldn’t happen in the error you described–the bike would most likely fall over backwards and come to rest immediately. I’ve heard of students standing the bike on the rear wheel inadvertently but, with instructor guidance usually, landing it safely. what you describe though–even if there was a crash certainly wouldn’t result in the kind of severe injuries the Legend describes.

    While I appreciate your point–and have heard it often–about a diluted training pool. I’d say it’s an easy argument to make as there’s no way to prove or disprove it. One could as legitimately say it’s a diluted instructor pool that’s causing the problem. The incident you described, for example, could as easily been the result of inept or inadequate teaching–letting the students move forward under power before they truly understand or have enough feel for the throttle.

    But let’s say it’s true that people who don’t have what it takes are taking training. Wouldn’t the just, ethical and responsible thing to do is counsel them out of training? MSF has spent a great deal of time trying to avoid just that–instructors aren’t gatekeepers, let them struggle on till they want to leave, etc. If you’re right and these people are prone to panic–it’s highly irresponsible to let them go on and graduate and go on to the road where there’s a far greater likelihood that situations will arise that cause them to panic.

    I would argue that those who are “prone to panic” are NOT the people even today who would say “gee, I could ride a motorcycle.” From my experience it still scares the crap out of them just thinking about it. But, yes, panic takes over especially when people have little knowledge of what they’re doing and less experience–and it happens to people who are not in any way “prone to panic.”

  3. Wobbles Says:

    Yamaha XT225s are easily capable of stoppies and endos in the novice courses. It is documented.

    Is it possible the new crash/incident report is designed for more than one course type? Don’t limit your assumption that this form will only be used for the BRC. Many programs use the same crash/incident forms for multiple course types.

    If the new form will cover the Military and Civilian Sportbike Courses, too, is is likely that “cartwheeling” has already occurred to someone on a short wheelbase sportbike doing quick stops from a higher speed? Probably.

    I recently had a discussion with an accident reconstructionist who found their Kawasaki Vulcan (cruiser) test bike was capable of stopping in a measurably shorter straight line distance than their new CBR. The CBR has such a short wheelbase and high center of gravity that only partial braking force could be applied to the front wheel (the only one still on the ground) without flipping it. The Vulcan could use full braking force on the front wheel. Yes, an over-enthusiastic sportbike rider can cartwheel his/her new machine; just watch the YouTube clips.

    What straight line approach speeds are suggested for the quick stops in the Sportbike Course? You can count on someone in a class at some time showing off to his/her classmates and stretching that upper limit by a fair margin.

  4. wmoon Says:

    The incident report form was created as it is before the sportbike course, and the information in the Legend document was given verbally to the instructors last year at the Update–as it says in the entry. That, too, was before the sportbike course. Which began to be used by the military last spring and wasn’t available to civilians. I do not know what incident form the military uses, but I’d bet it isn’t the MSF’s form.

    Speeds aren’t higher in the ERC than in the BRC–though it’s true that the bikes are owned by the riders. Then again, no one has been critically injured or died in the ERC yet. Students both have had these atypical crashes in the BRC AND have had the kind of injuries associated with them as a result.

    I would suggest your Vulcan/CBR friend go to Streetmasters, Lee Park’s Total Control or TEAM Oregon’s ART with his CBR and learn to brake correctly as it seems he has a lot to learn.

  5. Wobbles Says:

    I believe several points from my original query need clarification, Wendy.

    The speeds in all iterations of past and current ERC courses are well known. I had not inquired about that. My suggesting was that you not limit your thinking and application of the new MSF accident report (and the “cartwheeling” motorcycle diagram) to just the BRC. What you do with that thought is entirely up to you.

    And regardless of the competencies of the riders involved in the accident reconstructionist’s findings, any bike which can “endo” under aggressive braking before the front wheel/tire approaches impending wheel skid will end up with an extended stopping distance. A bike like the CBR with a high center of gravity (which always includes the rider) relative to the moment of rotation (front tire contact patch) may not always be able to approach the point of impending wheel skid if some additional braking force will result in an endo. A tall, heavy rider on a short wheelbase bike will exaggerate the effect and result in even longer stopping distance. That’s just physics. I don’t suspect Vulcan riders worry much about the effect, but neither do they have the ability to turn as quickly as a CBR. There are always design compromises.

    I have read articles about the Streetmasters Precision Cornering Motorcycle Workshop and talked to several riders who have completed that training. I understand it is an excellent resource for improving cornering skills. I would not have thought to recommend that course to someone to improve their braking skills though. Same for Lee Parks Total Control. I am only vaguely familiar with TEAM Oregon’s ART, but isn’t that largely a “cornering principles” workshop conducted on a go-kart track? Anyway, your suggestion that the accident reconstructionist riders could improve their skills with more training is probably true. But hey, can’t we all? 😉

    Keep up the good work, Wendy.

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