MSF speaks out about the deaths–and reveals up to three more training deaths?

Yesterday evening, someone who calls himself ET commented on the entry on the bystander injury case, “I asked MSF to comment on student deaths, and they did, here’s what they said: http://www.bikesafer.com/blog/2009/06/msf-responds-on-student-deaths.html”

I went and looked and will post it along with a different version of the reply I made him last night.  First let me note that ET is a computer programmer named Fergus Nolan of Memphis TN who has been blogging since May 2009–or for just a couple months.  In another entry, he says that he “asked Stacey of MSF about this, she promised me a press release”.  OK, only there is no “Stacey” listed in the latest MSF Contact list. Well, MSF does have a revolving door when it comes to employees so perhaps Stacey is a recent hire. So that’s one issue–who is “Stacey” with no last name?

The next issue is that I could not find this “press release” anywhere else except his blog.  However, this morning, MSF sent out a letter to state and military administrators that says, “We received an inquiry regarding the subject of the statement below.  Below is our response which we are providing to you as a courtesy copy and as an update to what we provided to you at the conference last August.”  So it is legitimate and I suppose one man’s press release is another man’s letter–or MSF looks upon state and military administrators as members of the meda? Who knows.

With those issues already raised, let’s see what allegedly MSF has to say about the deaths:

“Riding, especially learning to ride, has inherent risks. MSF is concerned about any crash that occurs, whether it’s on the road or during training. We take safety seriously in creating the best environment to pursue one’s dream to ride. A primary goal of the MSF is to ensure a low risk, positive learning environment for beginning students so that they can make the best choices while learning and riding.
Since its founding in 1973, more than 4.6 million students have been trained using Motorcycle Safety Foundation curricula, including approximately 2.5 million since 2002. MSF prides itself on making the highest quality research-based and field-tested motorcycle training curricula available to riders and prospective riders throughout the United States and the world.
MSF is unable to disclose details related to fatalities because of privacy considerations. However, since there has been some misreporting on this subject, MSF welcomes the opportunity to provide factual information.
Since 2002, out of the roughly 2.5 million students trained, there have been six crashes that resulted in the death of students, including one that was caused by a serious medical condition. In the past year, three additional students died from medical conditions while not riding. Every fatality has been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement, insurance investigators, or others. The curricula, and the delivery of the curricula by RiderCoaches, have never been determined to be a factor. MSF employs a stringent quality assurance program as part of its ongoing effort to review and refine policies and practices to minimize the inherent risks associated with training.”

For something that’s supposed to be “factual information” there’s precious little facts or information to be had. So let’s look at what MSF has to say–and what it doesn’t say in this “release”:

First of all, though it mentions that 4.6 million have been trained, which means  2.1 million were trained prior to 2002, it does not mention that in those 28 years only one rider died from injuries sustained during training (in 1998 in Valley Forge, PA) and in those 28 years, only one student, apparently, died of a heart attack sustained while at training (though not while riding).

Yet it does mention that with 2.5 million supposedly trained six have been killed from 2002–though it doesn’t mention the case of paraplegia, nor the other life-threatening incidents–and further reveals that three more have died in the past year and implies these weren’t training crashes. This represents a dramatic change in the number of deaths anyway you look at it.

But note how it describes the three deaths in the past year: “from medical conditions while not riding”.  However, if a student ran into a wall, for example, and suffered head and/or thoraic trauma that could be truthfully described as a “medical condition.” Of course in a crash, a rider ejects from the bike. If the rider did not literally die on the bike but succumbed after ejecting from the bike–and even weeks later in the hospital–it could be legitimately though misleadingly described as the rider dying “while not riding.”  Iow, MSF’s tricksy and bizarre way of presenting this “factual” information does not exlude fatal training crashes. Absent complete disclosure of the incidents–of which no one has heard that I know of–we can not rule out 3 more fatal rider training crashes precisely because of the lack of “factual information” in the press release.

It appears to try to fob the Uke’s Harley-Davidson Rider’s Edge death off again by citing the heart attack–even though the student was not treated for a heart attack at the scene but was treated for head trauma. He did suffer a heart attack after five days in intensive care and that was the final medical straw.

MSF says, “Every fatality has been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement, insurance investigators, or others. The curricula, and the delivery of the curricula by RiderCoaches, have never been determined to be a factor.” However, neither law enforcement nor insurance agents are qualified–nor concerned with–whether the curriculum nor delivery is to blame. Their interests are concerned with other things. Note that MSF doesn’t say rider educators investigated this–nor even that its own QAV specialists did or what their conclusions were.

Now let’s deal with the “low-risk” environment that MSF says it’s so concerned about creating: the death of an instructor (of which ET is  erroneously informed) in Valencia, CA, the death of a student in Honesdale, PA, the paraplegia case at the range in Sugar Notch, PA and the near-fatal crash in West Virginia were all in programs administrated by MSF on ranges certified directly by MSF employees. So one wonders exactly how MSF defines “low-risk”.

The release does say that it has a “stringent quality assurance program” however, in all but the cases mentioned above, MSF was not in the position to exert QAV on those sites nor instructors–or even the programs. Nor, of course, did it’s QAV program make an iota of difference in California, Pennsylvania or West Virginia where MSF employees were directly supervising training.

It says that it “unable to disclose details” because of privacy reasons–though in previous years it’s claimed that it couldn’t because of pending litigation. Neither excuse holds up–the personal information on the student (and instructor(s)) could be redacted and all the relevant information needed by the true experts be viewed.

What the real news is–and thank you very much Stacey–is that there have been three more deaths in one year–deaths that cannot be assumed to be not related to training crashes.

So now let’s return to this “press release” that Stacey gave Nolan aka ET. I find it interesting that after years of MSF stonewalling every rider education expert and magazine writer and refusing to say anything at all about any of the deaths that they should suddenly become so forthcoming with someone who has been blogging since May of this year. Especially when Nolan says on his About Us page on the BikeSafer.com site that he has “no qualifications to run this site” and has almost no knowledge of motorcycle safety–let alone training.  He also describes himself at another point as just “a simple-minded bike rider who has some time on his hands, access to a web server.”

Especially since Tim Buche impressed upon Dave Searle and Fred Rau an I during a personal tour of MSF/MIC/SVIA how very carefully they vet those the communications department will talk to–let alone come up with their very own press release on something as controversial as the deaths.

After years of stonewalling and a very rigid, paranoid relationship with the media, MSF choses to come out of the closet to a newly-minted, self-proclaimed uninformed blogger. And if that don’t just beat all… Not to mention that had MSF examined his site–as Buche claimed the communications department does before treating with the media–they would’ve found numerous factual errors in what he writes. So why this blogger? I have no idea.

Nolan says in another blog entry he’s sure he’s going to be accused of being part of some conspiracy “pretty soon”.  I hadn’t heard of him until he himself drew his blog and this “press release” to my attention. He says he contacted MSF and Stacey of no last name nor listing as an employee sent him a press release. As this is very much in the open, it hardly seems to be a conspiracy–though perhaps Nolan has confused the word “conspiracy” with “self-promotion” or perhaps “meglomania”.

But just who is this ET, Fergus Nolan? On the About Us page on his site it says he’s employed by FNSK Company INC.  However, according the Tennessee Secretary of State site, that corporation was dissolved in 1995 and he was  the principal agent–so even though that corporation doesn’t legally exist anymore, it appears in search engines with Nolan’s home address (the one he incorporated under).  I suppose one could say they are employed by a company that they themselves own–just like one could say a rider that ran into a wall or off a slope died from a medical condiion but not while he was riding.

Nor is BikeSafer is registered as a dba in Tennessee–or rather not one I could find at any rate. It is owned by FNSK Company, which is owned by Nolan. Iow, “ET” creates the illusion that there is an “About Us” when there really is an “About Him”.

He is a programmer who works out of his home as a consultant–in fact, he’s listed as Fergus Nolan Corp–but there is no business entity listing for that either on the Secretary of State site. I presume the laws must be looser in TN and anyone can claim they are something they have not legally registered to be. Sortof like MSF claimng it’s curriculum is both research-based and field-tested and of the “highest quality”.

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10 Comments on “MSF speaks out about the deaths–and reveals up to three more training deaths?”

  1. CaptCrash Says:

    As an instructor, I often worry about “on bike” injuries–student’s crashing. However, during the summer I worry more about Heat Related Stress! It seems to me in my 8 years of instructing that the rider pool is getting marginally older AND not in as good a physical shape.

    Let’s be honest here: an out of shape 64 year old man, carrying 40 extra pounds, on a bike, on asphalt, in 90+ degree weather scares me a little. I’ve taught in heat that was oppressive enough that the other instructor and I stopped after every other exercise to make sure students stayed hydrated.

    Bluntly: I worry about someone keeling over due to heat stroke…or regular ole’ stroke or heart attack.

    With the amount of middle aged first time riders, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people who suffered non-riding health issues…

  2. wmoon Says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised either. But I would be surprised if 3 people in one year died from such injuries. But to your point–riders over 40 have always taken training and riders with severe health issues have always taken training–and we have the same age profile now as we have said for several years. Even so, that’s no excuse for instructor negligence if they did not notice that the student was getting into difficulty. After all, if one single high school athlete dies of heat stroke, it’s a huge deal, isn’t it?The public doesn’t excuse coaches, etc. when they’re dealing with the young and fit. I’m glad to hear you’re responsible at watching out for it.

    You raise a point that needs to be addressed, though.

  3. Rainman Says:

    In a decade of teaching MSF about three weekends a month, RSS and BRC, including Rider’s Edge, at the same sites, I have sent two students to the hospital, one with a possible leg fracture, one with a collar bone/knock-out. (MRI showed no concussion.)

    I have in the same period had one student taken to hospital for heat exhaustion, and sent at least five others home for the weekend because they were affected by heat. (Three were sent home because of issues with blood sugar and the heat.)

    I think the stats are probably pretty accurate, although that’s a seat-of-my-pants, coaching-every-weekend gut feeling and not based any statistics other than my two training sites.

  4. wmoon Says:

    I’m not sure what stats you’re talking about Rainman. That people get sick from the heat–don’t I know it from my own unfortunate experiences! I have a lot of questions for you: when did the two incidents occur when you had to send someone to the hospital–how long ago, in a state program or Rider’s Edge? While you say you have sent five home for heat-issues, how many students in your decade of teaching have had injuries (other than fractures/knockout) that they had to withdraw from class as that would be the equivalent to sending someone home with pain. From interviewing hundreds of instructors, I would say that you have a much, much higher home/hospital rate than others–and that so many of your students have had heat issues suggests that you and your co-instructor need to pay more attention to how the students are doing, learn the symptoms and watch for the early signs. It also sounds like you aren’t taking the heat into account and giving enough breaks, making sure students are in the shade and hydrated. This is not to criticize but to observe that your experience does not match other instructors I’ve interviewed or the overall view that administrators give of their programs.

  5. injured guy Says:

    I had a pretty good fall during a class held in poor weather at a school in California several months ago; scrapes and broken bones, etc., and I’m still having various pains that I’m hoping won’t be permanent. If anyone has successfully sued a CA motorcycle school, could you you post or forward your contact information if you’re an attorney, or post who your attorney was. Thanks.

  6. wmoon Says:

    Tell us more about the fall and the situation–we’d all be interested.

  7. aidanspa Says:

    W- No offense, but I would encourage injured guy to refrain from posting any details of his experience in a public forum such as this, and to restrict his communications regarding the crash to his legal counsel in the interest of preserving his rights.

    My .02

  8. wmoon Says:

    That’s one way to look at it–but otoh, there’s been far too much hiding these kind of crashes and injuries and too little known to be able to find out if there are patterns that indicate what underlies these incidents.

  9. aidanspa Says:

    I didn’t say it isn’t a good idea for you to offer injured guy your email address… 😉

  10. wmoon Says:

    Ah! good point–so, Mr. Mystery Injury Man, send me the details about your crash and I won’t post them–but will add them into what is known about crashes in MSF’s Basic RiderTraining course.


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