One more puzzle piece on motorcycle licensing

I had cited this earlier this year but it’s good to remind ourselves what MSF knew almost 22 years ago about the efficacy of its motorcycling products:

MSF’s then licensing director, Carl Spurgeon, wrote in the Spring 1988 edition, “When testing is administered by a state licensing examiner…only basic skills and abilities are evaluated. To be blunt, these tests screen out the bottom 20 percent or so and send the rest on their way with a license.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Motorcycle fatalities, Motorcycle injuries, Motorcycle licensing, Motorcycle Safety, Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Uncategorized

5 Comments on “One more puzzle piece on motorcycle licensing”

  1. Dave B Says:

    Wendy, this is a reply to your post about my last post…

    I don’t think riders need to learn new skills to reduce the motorcycle accident statistics. In the Hurt Report, almost 75% of the multi-vehicle motorcycle accidents were the result of the driver breaking a right of way law. Those numbers haven’t changed much based on the accident reports I’ve reviewed in NJ & NY. So much of the blame for the rising statistics should be directed toward motorists – those who are distracted while driving, drunk while driving, ignore the rules of the road, etc.

    Drivers will continue to have a hard time seeing motorcycles (because they aren’t trained to look for us), will continue to misjudge a motorcycle’s approach speed and will continue to ignore the right of ways laws (most don’t know them anyway). Maybe if lawmakers & law enforcement cracked down more on these issues, all kinds of accidents will drop sharply. Heck, even pedestrian fatalities are drastically up. And let’s not forget work zone accidents.

    These are the “dangers” we face when we ride and we choose to accept them or deal with them when we ride. And the number one place where motorcycle accidents (and for that matter, all motor vehicle accidents) occur and will continue to occur is at intersections. Judgment is required when at an intersection and quite frankly, many people have poor judgment. And you can’t teach judgment overnight.

    These factors need to be imbedded in the subconscious of all riders, whether they take a training course or not. When you hunt tiger, sometimes the tiger wins. Riders need to be reminded of what they will encounter when they start their motorcycles – Jungle Habitat.

    The BRC, as watered-down as it is for various reasons, does contain many of the accident avoidance skills, techniques & concepts recommended by the Hurt Study, the National Safety Council, AAA and the Smith System. (There is one critical skill not mentioned in the BRC that should be in the BRC. It was dicussed in the old ERC. More on that later).

    A rider who takes the BRC, BRT, RSS is better trained/informed than a rider who doesn’t take any training. An argument can be made that untrained riders are less likely to be involved in crashes based on the data presented but as I stated in an earlier post, a lot of information is missing from that data. Which group rides more often? Which group rides more in groups/clubs? Which group rides more in heavy traffic? I know a lot of untrained riders that ride maybe once a week, on Sunday, don’t put that many miles on a bike in a year, etc. They may ride in more less-risk environments than trained riders. Who knows?

    I think riders need to develop, constantly practice and master the basic skills. Just like any skill that involves danger. Us MSF instructors happen to be lucky to get that constant practice and reinforcement by teaching the classes and doing demos. Some of us practice more often.

    If riders had to take the BRC & the ERC to get the waiver, I think they would practice some of the testing skills on their own motorcycle before taking the ERC, and get to practice more in the ERC – more reinforcement & more practice help to develop a skill. In addition, riders get more used to their motorcycles and get to take the Skills Evaluation on the motorcycle they will be riding on the street. You stated in a previous post that you were in favor of what SC did under Ross McClellan where students had to take the second half of the course on the bike they would be riding and take the test on it. You stated the results were amazing and the students left the course not only licensed but feeling much more confident in their ability to ride. I’m suggesting taking it a atep further. Did anybody track their accident rate?

    As long as the MSF runs the show, on-road testing will never replace the MSF Skills Evaluation. I personally would like to see the system Europe uses to grant motorcycle licenses used in the States. Never will happen. The MSF has too tight a grip on the whole package. We’re dealing with the Borg.

  2. wmoon Says:

    Dave, A few things:
    About half of all mc fatalities are single-vehicle and about half are multi-vehicle–that’s been the case for over 15 years. While some unknown number of single-vehicle crashes were precipitated by an action by another road user (violating lane space in a curve, etc.) it still remains that year after year riders do or don’t do something that kills themselves about half the time.

    While motorists, nationally, still seem to be at-fault in the majority of cases, that percentage has shrunk since the Hurt Report. In some states, motorcyclists are more often at-fault than drivers nowadays (though that may or may not be because of poor training of police when it comes to motorcycle involvement and/or bias).

    Since numbers went up on both sides of the equation (svc v. mvc) it’s not accurate to blame the rise solely on motorists.

    As to the visibility problem–the number of pedalcyclists killed over the same period of time shows little change even though bicycling (for adults) has become more popular as well. Even though bicyclists have even a smaller visible mass than riders, remarkably few are killed (253 in 2008, for ex.). Iow, motorists can small in given cases (which is its own discussion). They can even see small and fast in a moving, complicated environment (we see the baseball or football being thrown, the puck shooting across the ice, etc. as both amateur players and spectators). While it’s true that we have a harder time seeing small and fast approaching and none of us are top tennis or baseball players, we still have a much better judgment of time-to-contact than you suppose. Iow, people can see them–we just don’t too often.

    Pedestrian numbers have been fairly constant as well and have dropped in the past two years–not risen.

    As to judgment not being able to be taught overnight–there’s nothing more critical to safe riding than judgment and it isn’t taught in 2.5 days (or, even worse, in one day as the course is taught in at least one place).

    What hard evidence do you have that a rider who takes the BRC is “better trained/informed” than one who doesn’t take the training? Though you’re right that the USA hasn’t done the work, research in other countries finds that untrained riders have greater exposure. It’s true that we are missing much essential data–something that could’ve been built into the accident study that has been delayed so long. But it’s illegitimate to argue from ignorance–since we don’t know then training is better than no training. That is comforting, I suppose, to instructors but it’s not just a fallacious argument, it perpetuates the current statement of ignorance by affirming the status quo.

    While basic skills are important, studies have found it’s not a matter of poor skills that end in crashes but two things: poor perception or judgment but most importantly and by far and away more common and deadly–simply the lack of time to be aware and respond in time. Then factor in panic or choking on top of that…Once again, your comment that instructors get to practice is self-comforting but, in reality, doesn’t have any data to support it.

    It’s true that ERC students take it on their own motorcycles and that should help. The question I raised is whether the content of the ERC is valuable or if it merely repeats what is offered in the BRC but in a shorter time.

    I, too, think there’s much to commend the UK training system and EU licensing, and I agree that the motorcycle manufacturers behind MSF will never allow that to happen here.

  3. Dave B Says:

    Went back to look at the report – pedestrian accidents in crosswalks were up.

    In the ERC’s I’ve taught, BRC students do the exercises better than non-trained students. I also conduct the ERC Skills Evaluation after the ERC’s I do. The BRC-trained students score better than the non-trained students. Just my personal observation.

    The ERC does have some value even though it’s a rehash of the BRC. Students tell me it helps them control their bikes better, good reinforcment of the skills taught in the BRC and a good course to take every year after the winter layoff.

    The old ERC was much better. Some new information was in it and some good perception/scanning exercises. I’m told it was revamped because the students felt it was too long a day.

    What’s missing in the BRC and the new ERC (might be in the new MSF course) is what to do if you go into a turn too hot. You would think this would be covered since it’s a very common cause of single-vehicle motorcycle accidents.

  4. wmoon Says:

    Of course they do, Dave–they’re repeating what they did in the BRC, so it makes sense that it’s easier for them to do better. I couild swing dance better than someone who hasn’t taken lessons but it doesn’t mean I’m a good swing dancer.

    But it says nothing about either type of rider’s ability to ride in traffic. If it was such a good course, it would be much more popular–but while you hear some good comments, it’s not translating into good word of mouth enough to get others to take it.

    And yes, you’re very right about what’s missing and why it’s terrible.

  5. vstromer Says:

    In teaching the BRC it is typical to have students who run wide in Exercise 13, Negotiating Curves. When they stop next to me at the end of their run I ask them to explain what happened, and how they would fix it. Typically their fix is to reduce their entry speed on their next run. Good answer, I say. But, how about if you are already into a corner and think you are going to run wide? How do you fix it? They almost all come to the answer I’m looking for – press and lean more, keep your eyes looking where you want to go. This is also a concept I cover during the classroom – usually the students bring it up, but if they don’t I will. So, when I teach a BRC, running wide in a corner is definitely covered.

    In my state, Washington, the Motorcycle Rider Safety Task Force Report (available on-line, google it), based on 2006 data, found that half of all motorcycle crashes were single-vehicle crashes, defined as no other vehicle involved, and two-thirds of all fatal motorcycle crashes were single-vehicle. Although I don’t have the numbers at hand, I believe those percentages have risen even higher since then.


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