What can we learn from looking at all four states?

Now that we’ve looked more closely at Pennsylvania, Illinois, Idaho and Oregon, let’s do a little reflection and examine some things that emerged by looking at four states:

In all four states, training expanded enormously: In Oregon, it increased over 220%. In Idaho, training increased over 660%. Illinois increased almost 82% and in Pennsylvania it went up 86%.

The untoward increase in Idaho was directly related to the state program’s inception—but not entirely. Illinois, for example, trained only 200 the first year and 4,500 the next as it was established statewide—but between 1977-1987 didn’t increase 660%.

These states are not unusual; across the nation—except in, notably, the MSF-administered state of West Virginia—training numbers have increased enormously. This is nothing new—however, that training has increased so greatly in specifically Oregon and Idaho, is of special note:

Does length or rigor of the course affect numbers trained?

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has consistently claimed—and a great many rider educators believed—people didn’t take training because the course was too long. Each new iteration of the MSF curriculum has been shorter. When it sold the rider training community on the Basic RiderCourse, MSF then claimed that people didn’t take training—and many failed or dropped training—because it wasn’t fun and relaxed enough.

As a result, many in the rider ed community have believed that training numbers have increased because the course was both shorter and more relaxed/fun. However, even with only looking at four states, we find that assumption is unfounded:

Oregon and Idaho taught the longer RSS course then switched to the BRT, which is shorter than the RSS but still longer than the BRC. And Illinois’ BRC is significantly longer than MSF’s standard BRC.

So with longer and less “student-friendly” courses, training increased far more in Oregon and Idaho than in Pennsylvania and Illinois. Iow, neither the length or the pedagogical basis of the course seem to drive student participation.

In fact, it appears to be the opposite. MSF claimed the MRC:RSS was too rigid and demanding and TEAM Oregon’s course, the BRT was too much like the RSS—both reasons MSF had sold the motorcycling community on as reasons why more riders weren’t trained. Yet the  states that used longer, more “rigid” courses than the BRC saw far more significant increases in enrollment year after year. In fact, enrollment in the BRC-only Pennsylvania dropped as it was still increasing in Oregon and Idaho (although training in Illinois increased every year as well).

Only in Pennsylvania, a state where the pass and fail rate changed dramatically with the BRC so that more students passed did training rise then fall then rise then fall.

In fact, Illinois had dropped it’s fail rate and raised it’s pass rate soon after the switch to the BRC and training numbers continued to increase. But, when the state lowered the percentage of those who passed and raised the fail rate to what they were under the RSS student numbers kept increasing.

Length of course and how fun/relaxed or student-centered/adult-learning does not appear to influence student participation in a negative way—if anything, the longer course in Illinois and the less adult-centered courses in Oregon and Illinois (and in one region in Illinois) may have a positive influence on student participation.

Is it true that “something’s better than nothing”?

MSF has convinced rider educators that poor students should be allowed to continue, counseling out should be rare and students should self-select to opt out if at all possible.

Rider educators overwhelmingly tell me that if they didn’t keep these poor riders in class “they would go out and ride anyways” and “something is better than nothing”. The assumption behind the second is that a poor but trained rider is a safer rider.

And rider educators at least in MSF-controlled states overwhelmingly report the supposed objectivity of the test forces them to pass students who should not pass, are not competent and should not ride in traffic.

Otoh, in complete contradiction to this common thinking among rider educators, Billheimer’s study said that one of the greatest benefits of rider training is that it convinces those who should not ride not to—and therefore lowers the fatality rate.

Yet here, in three out of four states (and we didn’t do these graphs for Idaho), we find this odd little correlation that may be just that: When the percentage of “Did not graduate” goes up fatalities go down. And we see in states that teach the BRC there’s at least a visual correlation between trained and passed numbers and fatalities.

Every study has found that trained riders were less crash-involved, no less traffic offense involved than the untrained at best. At worst, they had a higher probability of crashing. The one study—one of the Dr. Mortimer ones done a very long time ago—found that training only made those who rode small bikes and rarely rode, didn’t ride far when they did and were women were safer.

While this is hardly conclusive it suggests that MSF is wrong and Billheimer is right: failing a student or counseling them may save their lives by convincing them they aren’t cut out to ride.

Iow, nothing is better than something and they don’t go out and ride anyways—and yet MSF—whose manufacturer members benefit from selling more motorcycles if riders take training—and whose manufacturer members get product liability from riders taking training—keeps pushing this notion that instructors shouldn’t be gatekeepers and something is better than nothing.

And that should be a problem for good-hearted men and women who sincerely believe that training should be saving lives.

And it’s also something that should be studied further. One of the ways that it could be examined further is if the comprehensive accident study was actually done—but, once again, it’s the motorcycle manufacturer members behind MSF and MSF itself that has made that happening less and less likely.

Explore posts in the same categories: Instructors, Motorcycle Industry Council, Motorcycle licensing, Motorcycle Rights, Motorcycle Safety, Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Motorcycle Training, State Motorcycle Safety Programs, Uncategorized

2 Comments on “What can we learn from looking at all four states?”

  1. gymnast Says:

    Wendy, you have done a terrific job in compiling this data and presenting it in such a cogent manner. The data does indeed lead to further question and helps to provide context with which to frame the questions.

    I still remember the “drop dead” reaction many years ago that that I received from some of the then “tyros” at the MSF when I said something to the effect that the students that took the course and made a personal decision to never ride again were as important to motorcycle safety efforts as the students who chose to take what they learned and use it as the introduction to their beginnings as a motorcyclist.

  2. wmoon Says:

    And thank you for that effort–I’m positive that mine observation will be as ignored as Billheimer’s and yours was. If only the manufacturers weren’t so insanely teleopathic and could see that it’s only by being gatekeepers that they will ultimately create a far greater pool of motorcyclists…but they are just too stupidly focused on the pennies-per-share and quarterly results to do what’s best for the companies–and riders–in the long run.

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