Archive for January 2010

New study finds hands-free cellphones no better

January 29, 2010

I’m interrupting the series on the motorcycle safety puzzle with breaking news–though, if you think about what you’re about to read, it really does have something to do with rider safety:

Ten days ago, a study was released that found cell phones were responsible for 28% of crashes. Now, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety has released “definitive proof” that hands-free cellphones are no safer than holding a cell phone to the ear while driving. The study was done by a IIHS affiliate, the Highway Loss Data Institute found that hand-held cellphone use decreased by 41-76%, yet, despite the decrease,  there was no significant difference between crash rates before and after bans.

“Insurance collision loss experience does not indicate a decrease in crash risk when hand-held laws are enacted,” said the study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “There is no evidence that bans on hand-held use by drivers has affected . . . collision claims.”

We can’t even see a blip in the data for crashes,” said Mr. Lund. Furthermore, there was no indication that increased cellphone use was resulting in more crashes nationwide, despite what studies and common sense would indicate. Lund is president of both the IIHS and the Highway Data Loss Institute.

While the reasons aren’t known, Lund said, “We still don’t think we understand this fully.” But one possibility is that while cellphones are a distraction, maybe they are not “all that much worse a distraction than many of the other things that we do.”

He went on to say that another reason could be that those who used hand-held cell phones simply switched to hands-free which carry no less risk. “Our real problem is to do something about the bigger problem of distracted driving, whether that’s cellphones, whether that’s the baby crying in the back seat, whether it’s the CD you dropped on the floor, whatever it is.”

The Washington Post article added, “The District has made an effort to enforce the hand-held ban, issuing 7,519 warnings and 12,936 tickets in 2008. The institute study found that in the first two years of the ban, collision claims declined by about 5 percent. Baltimore, Virginia and Maryland, which do not have hand-held bans, experienced similar declines during the same period.”

Otoh, “New York, which banned hand-helds while driving in 2001, was compared with three states that allow them — Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania — and there was no significant difference in the number of accidents recorded. Crash patterns after California imposed a ban in 2008 mirrored those in three neighboring states — Arizona, Nevada and Oregon — that allow hand-held use.”

Further study is needed, they say. So studies find hand-held cell phone users are four times more likely to have a crash, that texting while driving is like driving drunk and that hands-free is no less risky than hand-held.

Although it appears no study has been done, on-board GPS units may be as distracting as cellphones. In fact, any electronic device that requires visual attention to be directed away from the driving task (particularly manually inputting directions into a GPS unit or trying to read the screen) or intense mental concentration may be as distracting as cell phones.


Re-examining the motorcycle safety puzzle: crashes, fatalities and injuries

January 28, 2010

We’ve been looking at the pieces of the motorcycle safety puzzle in the past several entries. Now we’re going to get a snapshot of what been happening on the roads to put the dismal safety picture into perspective.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcycle registrations increased 84 percent from 1998-2007[i] At the same time, both injuries and fatalities also increased. In the early 2000’s NHTSA explained this as merely a function of the numbers: the more motorcycles on the road, the more crashes there will be. Given the way of the world, it would not be unreasonable (however regrettable) if injuries and fatalities rose in proportion to the increase of motorcycles—or an 84% increase. And that’s what it seemed to be until mid-decade–simply having more motorcycles in traffic meant more crashing. But then it became clear this was not simply a function of the numbers:

Crashing increased 48.8% more than motorcycle registrations did in the same time span

Change From1998-2007
Registrations +84
Fatalities +125
Injuries +110
SVA fatalities +121
MVA fatalities +142
SVA injuries +108
MVA injuries +112

By 2007, injured motorcyclists were up 110 percent[ii] while fatalities increased more than 125 percent.   That meant fatalities were almost half (48.8%) and injuries were (30.9%) higher than what could be reasonably expected.  As NHTSA pointed out by the latter years of this decade, these increases cannot be explained simply by increased motorcycle sales/registrations.

NHTSA tracks three kinds of crashes: fatality, injury and crashes where only the vehicles are damaged. The rates of crashes are determined by vehicle miles traveled—a very dubious method when it comes to motorcycles and per 100,000 vehicle registrations. The latter method adjusts for increases or decreases in the kinds of road users.

Motorcycle registration is also a less than perfect system to determine anything about riders since a great many riders own more than one. The Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) uses a formula: 1.5 motorcycle per actual rider. However, the per 100,000 registrations has been a traditional way of providing context and so it can reveal trends. But as you read, remember that the rates are actually much higher–but then they were higher pre-1998 too.

Motorcycle Crashes by Crash Severity and  Involvement Rate per 100,000  Registered Vehicles[iii]
1998 2007
MC Fatalities 60.11


(23.65% increase)

MC Injuries 1,148


(16.44% increase)

MC Property-Damage Only 222


(20.14% increase)

If we look at the involvement rate per 100,000 registered motorcycles by crash severity we see the rate of all three kinds of crashes increased.

Both fatal and property-only crashes increased a similar amount. When it comes to injury crashes, though, there’s a 3.97 difference in the rate of increase between injuries and fatalities and a 5.54 percent difference between injury and property-damage crashes. Iow, fewer crashes are ending with an injury-free walkaway. And more are ending in death.

So the most lethal and least lethal kinds of crashing had a greater increase than injuries.[iv] But the numbers (and rate) of fatalities forms a pyramid: they are the tiny tip, property-only is the small middle and injuries form the vast bottom of the pyramid. Iow, there is no safe crashing because even safe crashing almost always ends in injury. The questions are: Why have fatalities increased so much more than injuries? And why have fatalities and injuries increased so much more than motorcycle registrations? Those are puzzles that need to be solved.

Has the pattern of crashing changed?

From 1998-2007, the proportion of single vehicle accidents (SVA) and multiple vehicle accidents (MVA) remained about the same and account for about the same percentage of fatalities (SVA 46%, MVA 56%) as they have for far more than ten years. When it comes to injuries, though, SVAs and MVAs have been almost exactly 50-50—and that was the proportion before 1998.

The percentage of frontal and side impacts have remained the same as well. When it comes to the kind of crashes nothing has changed.

Iow, crashing increased across all three kinds of crash outcomes in the same patterns it had prior to the motorcycle boom. This suggests that the influx of new riders and returning riders—and the large contingent of 40 and older riders—did not result in a bulge (or bubble) of a certain kind of crash. Rather, those riders appear to be absorbed into the existing crash pattern riders did in earlier years.

However, in that time frame:

SVA fatalities increased 121 percent and MVA fatalities increased by 142. The SVA fatalities are in line with the overall 125 percent increase in fatalities (which is 48.8 percent higher than reasonably expected). However, MVA fatalities are over-represented.

SVA injuries increased 108 percent and MVA injuries increased 112 percent–iow, it’s the fatalities–the tiny tip of the iceberg–where the real problem lies.

Multiple studies have shown that MVAs result in more injuries and more severe injuries than SVAs—but that’s always been true. Iow, crash for crash, riders are hurt worse in MVAs over the last ten years and that’s one of the reasons why there’s a difference between SVA rates and MVA rates–because there’s more MVAs than SVAs.

Fatalities v. Injuries

Let’s look more closely at the 15 percent difference between the increase in injury and fatal crashes.

Fatalities are injuries to the max. Survival or death depends to a great degree on the kind of injur(ies), the number of them and/or their severity. And those are usually determined by crash configurations and what the rider hits (and  to a degree where the crash occurs as emergency medical response and access to a Trauma 1 hospital can affect survivability).

The 15 percent difference between the overall increase between injuries and fatalities first of all suggests more serious injuries—thus resulting in fatalities instead of “just” injuries occurred more frequently—and thus more severe crash configurations happened more often.

However, it also suggests that MVA crashes in particular in the past ten years became more lethal than in previous years. Since the differences in fatality v. injury rate increases and between the rate of increase in SVA fatalities and MVA increases are among the only things that have changed, they are of special interest and deserve a closer look by researchers.

This suggests that perhaps crashes that would’ve ended in injury in the past now end in death for both SVAs and MVAs. This is particularly troubling since emergency response time in both urban and rural areas has improved over this same time span and so have medical procedures—iow, medicine is capable of saving more riders today than in 1998 yet less riders can be saved.

Additionally, although training has exploded over the past decade and helmet use has gone up since 2005 (though, as we’ll see in the next entry, that’s not a wholly positive benefit), speeding-related crashes have not significantly changed and BAC-involvement has gone down.

Yet crashing itself has gotten more deadly.

It suggests, then, that there are other factors that are driving the death and injury toll—only we don’t know what they are because–in part because the motorcycle industry has, behind the scenes, done everything in its power to prevent the new crash causation study from being done.

The motorcycle safety puzzle pieces have not solved the problem—and we see once again we are in critical need of more information on all levels.

[i] Motorcyclists Injured in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes (2009 )  DOT HS 811 149

[ii] ibid.

[iii] Table 3.

[iv] Which still can mean permanently disabling injuries including complete paralysis or lifelong head injuries.

What can we figure out about the motorcyclist fatality?

January 24, 2010

Someone posted a comment and I thought deserved more attention:

Dennis wrote: “Curious thing about statistics. You can make things look the way you want, depending on what gets factored in”

Me: In my experience, one of the curious thing about statistics is that the only people who say things like “You can make things look the way you want, depending on what gets factored in” are those who don’t like what the statistics show. Having no proof to counter it–which is the intellectually responsible thing to do, they dismiss it with a statement like that. However, had you read the other entries on the motorcycle safety puzzle, you’d know that is one of the main problems with the motorcycle safety puzzle–The Things They Don’t Ask–or don’t bother to find out–or tell us if they know. But it also speaks to the difficulty (or at least expense) of finding out those things. All of which I’ve discussed ad nauseum.

But what I find amusing is that once you belittle the statistics, you ask not only for more of them but me to find more of them to prove your implied point (that the 5 safety messages actually work). But since I’m a very nice person, I’ll do it–but only for one year. You are welcome to do the work on as many years as you want:

Dennis: “The article said things like 56.7% were helmeted. But how many of those helmeted were not sober or had not taken a safety class. Of the fatalities, how many had followed all 5 of you [sic] safe riding items? Statistically you have only listed them out one item at a time.”

Me: I’m going to come back to the “how many had followed all 5” part. First of all, they aren’t my 5 safe riding items. They are the Motorcycle Safety Foundation safety messages–but they are ones that most safety experts would agree with–and it seems that you do as well. And had you read the other motorcycle safety puzzle piece items, you wouldn’t ask some of these questions–or you could use the data there (or read the material cited) and figure it out for yourself.

In 2008, 5,290 riders were killed. Of that total, 1,322.5 riders were not validly licensed–meaning 3,967.5 dead riders were. So, the vast majority of riders were following at least one of the safety messages. When it comes to training, depending on the state, up to 100 percent of riders are licensed through the waiver earned by passing a state (or state-approved) motorcycle training course. In Florida, for example, in 2009 all riders had to pass a training course to obtain a license.  Iow, in the majority of cases, practicing one to two of the safety messages did not prevent a fatal crash.

Of those 5,290 dead riders 1,587 had a BAC equal to or over the legal limit meaning up to 3,703 were following the safety message to ride sober (though the probability is likely to be high that some of them had a legal BAC at the time they crashed–even so, they were riding legally).

If the improperly licensed and illegally intoxicated cohorts perfectly overlapped (meaning that all improperly licensed riders also drank to excess), then then 264.5 of the dead drunk were legally licensed–meaning that they followed at least one safety message but not the ride sober one.

Of those 1,587 drunk and dead riders, 730.02 were both drunk and unhelmeted. If the overlap was perfect, that means at the very least 856.8 drunk riders were wearing helmets, once again, it reveals that some riders pick and choose among the safety messages–at least on occasion.

However, the above assumes a perfect world where those who don’t follow one safety rule follow none of them–something highly unlikely–particularly in universal helmet law states.

And if you go through media accounts (usually based on police reports) of motorcycle fatalities (as I have extensively) you’d realize that the par for the course isn’t as nice and neat as you’d like to believe. Good riders who make safe choices all too often–it’s unrighteous (in the old-fashioned biker sense), unfair and downright dangerous to try to reduce the carnage on the roads to such simplistic terms.

Dennis: Also, how many of the atgatt riders survived due to having on the safety equipment?

Me: NHTSA/FARS does not calculate the number of ATGATT riders in terms of injuries or deaths. Nor do any studies examine the difference between fatalities with helmet AND gear, gear but no helmet and helmet but no gear in terms of survival. But I would caution you not to confuse wearing a helmet with ATGATT as you seem to have done–as even the most cursory observation on a hot (or even cold day) will show, riders wear helmets and no gear and (at least some) gear and no helmets.

But the problem is this: While MSF’s safety message is ATGATT, in fact not even MSF nor NHTSA claims that gear (jacket, pants, boots, gloves)  prevents fatal injuries. Gear cannot prevent the kind of injuries (head or chest trauma, severed limbs or arteries or internal bleeding) that kill riders. What gear does do is reduce abrasions and (minor) lacerations and may minimize some sprains. It doesn’t prevent (most) fractures.

If you mean the helmet part, NHTSA estimates helmets would save 37%–however, going to your point about statistics–there’s many questions about how they determined that figure that many want answered.

If MAIDS findings can be generalized to American populations (big IF there), then we could guess that 23-50 percent of the time jackets, pants, gloves or footwear reduced injuries.And, in terms of the helmet, in 33.2 percent of the cases a helmet reduced injury and in 35.5 percent of the cases, it prevented injury.

Dennis: “Another factor that hasn’t been considered is rider experience. Less experienced riders are more likely to have an accident. What percentage of the helmeted riders had been riding less than a year?”

Me: While some studies show that riders with 6 mos or less riding experience are more likely to be in a crash, others have found that the  “more experience, less crashing” thing doesn’t hold up when the study takes into account variables such as mileage and how much of the year they ride and age. In fact, more experienced riders tend to ride more often, farther and in more riding conditions–and hence any safety experience gives is mitigated by increased exposure.

However, to my knowledge no studies have attempted to determine how much experience those who died had.

Dennis: “Riding does present more risk. But think about how many more injuries and fatalities there would be if all riders ignored the 5 messages that you list.”

“All riders”, “ignored” all 5? That’s a  meaningless thing to say as it’s impossible to prove or disprove. Nor was I, for one, suggesting that anyone let alone everyone should “ignore” the safety messages. How silly. What I am suggesting that riders shouldn’t take on more risk because they follow them or think they’re safe or even safer on the roads because they follow them.

I want to return to your statement, “how many had followed all 5 of you [sic] safe riding items?”  There is no magic formula for safe riding. Please note that MSF does not make a direct or even implied claim that following those 5 “key messages” is “safe riding” or will reduce anyone’s chances of being in a crash. If you–as others have–taken them to mean that, it’s on you.

What are the odds of winning the lottery v. crashing?

January 18, 2010

Research shows that most riders don’t think they’re likely to crash. In fact, they believe other riders are more likely to crash then they are. This is particularly true for those who follow the five messages of motorcycle safety: believe they ride within their limits, wear safety gear—including helmets, have been trained and licensed and ride sober. Doing the right thing, they believe, will diminish their chances of crashing— and those who consider themselves safe riders swear by their safety practices.

For example, the 2006 Scottish study, “Risk and Motorcyclists in Scotland”[i] found that riders overwhelming agreed that riding was risky—even very risky. But 42% of the participants didn’t think the risks of riding applied to themselves because they were good riders who did the right things.

Those that don’t do those things, riders and safety experts alike believe, are more likely to crash.

It’s almost as if “safe” riders think that their chance of having a crash is like their chance of winning the Powerball lottery. To win the Powerball jackpot, you have to choose 5 white ball numbers correctly and the number of the red ball.

And the odds of doing that, according to Dr. Math, are 1 in 80,089,128.

He explains it this way, “There are C(49,5) = 49!/(5! * (49-5)!) = 1,906,884 ways to pick your five numbers. And there are C(42,1) = 42 ways to pick the powerball… Thus there are 1,906,884 * 42 = 80,089,128 total number of ways that the drawing can occur… Hence the probability is 1/80,089,128.”, however, gives the odds of winning the jackpot at 1 in 195,249,054.00 because it includes the chances of not picking the wrong numbers.[ii]

People pick their combinations all kinds of ways. Some play meaningful numbers like birthdays and addresses. Some play the same numbers religiously week in and out. Some play the most frequently drawn numbers. March 30, 1995, a married couple—separately—bought a ticket using the numbers suggested in a fortune cookie and both won—and so did a third person (no word whether he had gotten the same fortune cookie). A decade later. Then there are those that let bakeries do their choosing: On almost to the day, 110 people won the second largest pot in the Powerball and all of them had played the numbers they had found in a fortune cookie.

Those who are very serious about the lottery swear by their methods—they will pay off some day. And there’s just enough stories about how this method or that one did win that it encourages all the Method-players to keep buying tickets by the numbers.

Then again, there are those who are casual about it and let the computer do the picking for them. Studies show that it doesn’t matter whether you pick the numbers or the numbers pick you—neither way wins more often.

While the chance of winning the Powerball are remote, according to, the odds of winning $3 are 1 in 61.74. The odds of winning some prize, however, are much lower—1 in 35.11 once all the ways of winning are factored in.

If you’re an optimist those don’t seem to be bad odds considering tickets cost one buck. In fact, “safe” riders bet their lives on a helmet that has a 37 percent chance of saving their life and a 25 percent chance of eliminating injury.

But the big jackpot? You have a better chance of being in a plane crash (1 in 11  million) or being killed in a motor vehicle collision (1 in 5,000) on your way to the store.

That actually happened to Carl Atwood of Elwood, Indiana. He won $73,450 and that evening was on his way to the grocery store a block away when a pickup came around the corner and hit and killed him.

But he did win the lottery before he died despite high odds. And people do amazingly often.  Lottery expert Tino Sundin wrote, “According to the TLC television show, “The Lottery Changed My Life,” more than 1600 new lottery millionaires are created each year. That doesn’t include people that have won jackpots of, say, $100,000 because than the number would be much higher. Still, 1600 is quite a high number. If 1600 win at least a million in the lotto every year, it means that there are more than 130 each month, more than 30 each week, and more than 4 each day. That’s a lot of winners.”

Others—some would call them pessimists others would call them realists—would argue that millions of people play each week so investing in the lottery is foolishness. Sundin, who wants to win the lottery one day, would agree with them, “1600 yearly jackpot winners isn’t that big of a number when you consider how many people actually play.”

But that’s a common mistake about the lottery—that it matters how many people play. It doesn’t. The more players increase the value of the jackpot, the chance that someone will win, and the chance others will chose the same numbers you do. But it doesn’t change the odds of your ticket  winning: each set of numbers is up against the odds—not the other players.

And those odds are always millions to one for the jackpot—and still significant for the lesser prizes.

Last year, thirteen tickets beat the tens of millions to one odds and won the Powerball.

And on January 16, 2010, no one won the jackpot but there were 435,682 winning tickets for the lesser prizes—true, almost 85 percent of them won between $3.00-$4.00—but they still won something.

Iow, for a series of random drawings with enormous odds, it’s amazing that lotteries are so regularly won—and that there are so many winners of one degree or another week after week, year in and year out.

The truth is, you have a far, far, far greater chance of being crash-involved than you do of winning the Powerball jackpot.

What are your chances of being in a crash? In 2007, there were 4,758,984 motorcycle owners[iii] and 123, 306 police-reported crashes.

The chance, then, of any one motorcyclist having some kind of crash isn’t anything like the Powerball odds at 1 in over 80 million. Instead, it’s 1 in 38.59. It’s a lot more probable than you probably expected.

That’s roughly the chance any one ticket has of winning some prize in the Powerball lottery—something that 435,682 did last night.

In 2007, there were a total of 123,306 crashes (fatal 5,306; injury 98,000; 20,000 property-only).[iv]

Injury crashes, then, were 79.47 percent of all collisions.

Fatalities were 4.3 percent

And property-damage only crashes were 16.21 percent.

Iow, if you’re in a collision, your chance of suffering anything from a minor injury to a fatal one is 83.77 percent. This means your chance of being hurt in a crash is even higher than the percentage of winning tickets in last night’s lottery.

The early edition of the NHTSA Annual Traffic Safety Facts 2008[v] reports 5,387 motorcyclists were killed and 90,000 were injured in 2008. That translates to 103 fatalities and almost 1,730 injuries per week. Iow, more motorcyclists are injured every week than millionaire lottery winners are created in a year.

In fact, the odds of being injured in a crash are 1 in 48.56 or over 60 percent lower  than the chance of choosing one white ball number plus the Powerball correctly (1 in 123.48).

The chance of dying is 1 in 896.9—or somewhat greater than the odds of picking two correct white ball numbers and the Powerball number.

But, of course, you’re different—you follow the 5 safety messages, after all. You ride trained and licensed, ATGATT, sober and within your limits. Surely you have those Powerball jackpot odds.

Except, in 2007, that 73.86 percent of the fatalities were licensed,

64 percent were sober,

and 56.7 percent of them were helmeted.

In 2005,[vi] 56 percent of multi-vehicle crashes occurred on urban roadways that are considered within the skill level of even new riders.

And study after study showed that those who were trained were no less crash-involved than those who weren’t.

Iow, those who depend on those safety practices to keep them safe are no different than those who depend on winning the lottery to pay their rent.

No, the motorcycle safety puzzle hasn’t been solved by relying on the five safety messages promulgated by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Isn’t it time we started to look at the actual puzzle and figure out what’s really going on and what we really need to do to protect ourselves?

Or maybe we should just go out and buy a Powerball ticket and play the odds on the road.

[i] Stradling, Stephen G and Sexton, B and Hamilton, K and Baughan, C and Broughton, P (2006) Risk and motorcyclists in Scotland. Scottish Executive Research Unit .

[ii] see:

[iii] NHTSA reports 7,138,476 registered motorcycles. The Motorcycle Industry Council’s formula of 1.5 motorcycles per owner, equaling 4,758,984 owners.

[iv] Traffic Safety Facts 2007. NHTSA.

[v] Traffic Safety Facts 2008, Early Edition. NHTSA.

[vi] 2005 is the latest date for which detailed information is available. See “Fatal Two-Vehicle Motorcycle Crashes” (2007). DOT HS 810 834.

Motorcycle puzzle piece: training, part III

January 14, 2010

The twenty-third study is a 2008 Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland report, “Identifying Programs To Reduce Road Trauma To Act Motorcyclists”[i] While it deals with many issues a significant part of it looks at motorcycle training and licensing programs.

The report is for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), a tiny little bean-shaped area  surrounded by New South Wales. Canberra, the capital of Australia is in ACT. The population of ACT is roughly the size of Raleigh, NC or Tulsa, OK or Minneapolis, MN.

It has relatively few riders and few deaths since most riders crash in New South Wales. This report outlines the best motorcycle safety program for ACT.

It highlights two ways to reduce crashes: exposure reduction and risk reduction. Exposure reduction limits the number of riders and the miles they ride—something that neither riders nor the motorcycle industry would support. Risk reduction cuts down on the hazards and numbers of them that riders take/are exposed to. The report points out that risk reduction rather than exposure reduction “that can also work to reduce the severity of injury in the event of a crash.”

Training programs, the study points out can result in exposure reduction when people choose not to ride because of the difficulty of taking/passing a course. But it is in risk reduction where training programs would be expected to shine.

The situation in Australia is somewhat different than in the USA. It has a variety of programs—basic and beyond—available in the various states—and has graduated licensing—first a learner’s permit, then a provisional permit and then a full motorcycle license. There are training programs for the first and second level and in some states training for the first level is compulsory. Training programs to obtain the learner’s permit last between 6-16 hours and the second level of training lasts between 6 and 12 hours. Iow, Australian riders can take more than twice the training before being fully-licensed.

Nor is there one specified curriculum in a state as in the USA. In Queensland, for example, the state sets a strict set of standards that “quantify what a learner must do and how well it must be done to enable them to apply to Queensland Transport for the issue of the class of licence they have been trained and assessed for through Q-RIDE.”  But it does not publish a curriculum that every training provider must use.

The report finds that all programs are not created equal: there can be a positive, neutral or even negative effect on motorcycle safety:

“Programs which may possibly have a negative effect on safety are those that aim to, or are likely to increase exposure… [or] which knowingly or unknowingly promote or encourage increased riding,” or “produce over-confidence in riders” if it “lead[s] to riskier riding behaviour.”

The reports says that some training programs are “likely” to be “beneficial” if they are:

  • training programs that are research-based,
  • use risk reduction and/or exposure  measures and
  • reaches a large number of the audience for which it was intended.
  • Motorcycle safety should increase by addressing a combination of road user, vehicle, and environment-based measures as well as
  • a combination of crash prevention measures and the reduction in the severity of injury and treatment improvements.

Many would argue that the USA’s Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum does exactly that.

However, the report states, having the elements is not enough. The researchers pointed out that determining what programs could have a beneficial effect is difficult.

“In terms of identifying effective programs, the most serious limitation was the lack of evaluation of program effectiveness.”  The authors remarked it wasn’t surprising on a local level but that “many large statewide programs had only limited (or no) process evaluation available and very few had an outcome evaluation. Thus, very few programs can be said to be “proven beneficial,” although there are quite a few that are “likely beneficial”.”

The report later states, “There is no strong evidence in support of training leading to marked improvements in rider safety (Haworth & Mulvihill, 2005). An international review of motorcycle training concluded that compulsory training through licensing programs produces a weak but consistent reduction in crashes but voluntary motorcycle training programs do not reduce crash risk (TOI, 2003).  On the contrary, these programs seem to increase crash risk.  This may be due, in part, to the increased confidence felt by many riders who have completed training, despite minimal improvements in rider skill.  Such riders may therefore take more risks in situations where they lack the skills to safely avoid a crash.”

In short: while training has the potential to be beneficial, there’s little-to-no proof that it is:  “Many authors have concluded that the apparent lack of success of rider training in reducing accident risk or number of violations may stem from the content of the training programs (Chesham, Rutter & Quine, 1993; Crick & McKenna, 1991; Haworth, Smith & Kowadlo; 1999; Reeder, Chalmers & Langley, 1996; Simpson & Mayhew, 1990).   Rider training programs currently in use focus mainly on the development of vehicle control skills.  This is not necessarily through choice but is often brought about through time constraints and the need to prepare a rider for an end test that is skill-based.”

“In their review of motorcycle licensing and training methods throughout Australia, Haworth and Mulvihill (2005) argued that motorcycle riding requires higher levels of vehicle control and cognitive skills in comparison to car driving and suggested that future motorcycle safety initiatives need to incorporate activities promoting higher level cognitive and control skills.”

Based on years of intense, comprehensive and global research, the experts put forth the best practices in training and licensing:

Table 4.1    Summary of best practice components for motorcycle licensing system

Component Effect on crash risk Effect on crash severity Effect on amount of riding Reason for effect Is this current practice in the ACT?
No exemptions from licensing, training or testing requirements for older applicants Facilitates other measures Facilitates other measures Reduces it Older riders need to develop riding-specific skills.  May make licensing less attractive. NO:  Exemptions are made for older applicants and those who already hold a car licence.
Minimum age for learner and provisional motorcycle licences higher than for car licences Reduces it Reduces it Consistent with graduated licensing principles. Crash risk has been demonstrated to decrease with age among young novices.  Increasing the minimum age would also almost eliminate riding and therefore crashes among riders below this age. YES
Zero BAC for L and P Reduces it Reduces it Reducing drink riding will reduce crash risk.  Zero BAC will also reduce the amount of riding after drinking. NO: 0.02% for L & P
Restrictions on carrying pillion passengers for L and P Reduces it Reduces it Pillions have been shown to increase crash risk and severity. YES: for L, and P in first 12mths
Power-to-weight restrictions for L and P Reduces it(severe crashes) Reduces it Reduces it Crash risk may be reduced if less powerful motorcycles result in less deliberate speeding and risk taking or problems with vehicle control.  Restrictions may dissuade some potential high-risk riders from riding. YES
Minimum periods for L and P Facilitates other measures Facilitates other measures Unknown To ensure that other requirements have sufficient duration. YES

Australia already has a graduated licensing and power-to-weight ratios (that can be offset by training). Already there’s on-road testing in some of the states. Already, then, at least some states in Australia have stricter standards than almost all USA states.

The report then summarizes the best practices for motorcycle training:

Table 4.2    Summary of best practice components for motorcycle training

Component Effect on crash risk Effect on crash severity Effect on amount of riding Reason for effect Is this current practice in the ACT?
Compulsory training to obtain L and P Small reduction Unknown Reduces it Ensure a basic level of competency.  May make licensing less attractive. Yes for L, no for P
Comprehensive roadcraft training at both L and P (may require longer training duration and better educational skills of trainers) Reduces it Reduces it Reduces it Improved ability to detect and respond to hazards by novice riders.  Longer and potentially more expensive training may deter some applicants. NO
Off-road training for L, mix of on- and off-road training for P Reduces it Reduces it Reduces it Ensure a basic level of competency gained under situations that are appropriate for current level of competency.  Allow safe practice of responses to hazards.  Longer and potentially more expensive training may deter some applicants.

As we see, many of the components of both training and licensing that would lead to more competent and possibly safer riders on the road are also ones that would likely reduce exposure even if they don’t–or while they do–reduce risk.

The bottom line? The  best experts in motorcycle safety conclude that the best chance of motorcycle safety will have the side effect of reducing the number of riders.

[i] Greig Kristi, Narelle Haworth and Darren Wishart. “Identifying Programs To Reduce Road Trauma To Act Motorcyclists”, The Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety—Queensland. Australia, February 2008.

Motorcycle Safety Puzzle Piece: Training, Part II

January 12, 2010

As I wrote in the previous entry, motorcyclists believe that training is a key part of the motorcycle safety puzzle. Rider educators are particularly committed to the notion–even though they rarely know how their students perform after leaving the course. The  Motorcycle Safety Foundation itself has not claimed for more than a decade that training is effective in reducing crashes. Then again, few motorcyclists are aware that rider training–and, in particular, MSF’s training–has been studied over and over again.

Here’s a list with summary[i] of twenty-three training and/or licensing studies that have been done over the past thirty years. Bibliographic detail is given in footnotes. Quotations are drawn either from the study or abstract itself or from “Evaluation Of Rider Training Curriculum In Victoria”.[ii]

A twenty-third paper, the most recent, will be presented in more detail in the next entry.

1. In 1979, a British medical journal reported, “A University of Salford team tried to assess the effectiveness of training. Overall, 65% of the riders had accidents in their first three years, the untrained group faring slightly better than the trained. But the groups may not have been sufficiently comparable, Raymond pointed out; and intrinsically poor riders who would have given up without training could have affected the results.”[iii]

2. In 1978, Canadian researchers Jonah, et. al, evaluated the Motorcycle Operator Skill Test (MOST).[iv] “It was expected that the greater the riding experience and training, the higher would be the skill scores….skill was greater among the more experienced riders (i.e. miles ridden motorcycle)but unexpectedly it was lower among trainingcourse graduates. Further analyses revealed that course graduates had less skill than untrained riders even when experience differences were controlled.”

3. A Ph.D. dissertation published in 1980 on the South Dakota training program[v] found that, “Survival Rate Analyses indicated that Course riders who did not pass the course were not more likely to have accidents than riders who passed. Course graduates had a higher accident rate for mileage covered before and after the course than the untrained subjects.”

“This result also occurred when subjects were matched on relevant background variables. It was concluded that MSF Rider Course graduates are as likely to become involved in accidents as untrained riders.”

When the MSF course scores were analyzed in conjunction with the Motorcycle Operator Skills Test (MOST), “There were no relationships found between skill test item scores and types of accidents which implied some deficiency in those skills.”

4. Also in 1980, R.S. Satten produced a report for the Illinois Department of Transportation[vi] based on a group of 200 riders. He found MRC riders were less likely to have had crashes or citations but they also tended to be female and had fewer years of experience and rode less per week.

5. Another 1980 study by J.W. Anderson on 40,000 San Diego license-applicants at six months and a year out[vii] and found, “The improved procedures programs had significantly lower motorcycle accident rates after 6 months than the control group and the lowest rate belonged to the group with remedial training (30 minutes classroom and 2.5 hrs. skill training). After one year, riders in the group which included remedial training for those who failed had 14% fewer total fatal and injury accidents than those in the current procedures program. This was still true when controlling for riding exposure.”

6. In 1981, Jonah, et. al.[viii] did a study to determine whether trained riders (MTP) “were less likely to have had an accident or committed a traffic violation while riding a  motorcycle  compared to informally trained (IT) motorcyclists.” However, they found that those who had successfully passed  MOST were 42% more likely to be crash-involved than those who failed.

However, “Multivariate analyses, controlling for the differences in [sex, age, time licensed, distance travelled [sic], education and BAC] revealed that the MTP graduates and IT riders did not differ in accident likelihood but the MTP graduates were significantly less likely to have committed a traffic violation than the IT riders. Although the lower incidence of traffic violations among graduates could be attributed to the training program, it is possible that the graduates sought formal training because they were safety conscious and this attitude also influenced their riding behaviour.”

7. In 1984, in a study involving 516 trained and a control group of untrained riders over three years, Rudolf G.Mortimer found that, ”when controlling for age and years licensed, those who took the course did not have a lower accident rate than the control group; (b) there were no differences in the violation rates between the groups; (c) the cost of damage to the  motorcycles  per million miles was not less for those who took the course; and (d) the estimated cost of medical treatment of injuries per million miles was not significantly less for the group which took the course.”[ix]

8. There was another study done in 1984 for the Illinois Department of Transportation that “compared a group of participants in the training program with a control group of people who had a current valid motorcycle licence. Some members of each group never actually rode. The trained riders rode less often, rode less powerful machines, were less likely to own a motorcycle and were less likely to hold a licence. Not surprisingly, trained riders were less likely to report having been involved in an accident or obtaining a moving violation or infringement notice. They had, however, been involved in fewer accidents per mile ridden.”[x]

9. A study published in 1986 comparing almost 60,000 riders who took either the  California test or Alt-MOST[xi] and either took training (basic or remedial) or not. It  found, “applicants assigned to the MOST II group had more fatal and injury motorcycle accidents and motorcycle convictions than applicants assigned to the Standard Test. When the analysis was restricted to the licensed riders, the MOST II riders had more total motorcycle accidents at the 2-year stage and more motorcycle and total convictions than the riders in the Standard Test group.”

10. Wisconsin produced a report in 1987.[xii] It used three-years of data involving almost 3,000 MRC graduates and about 43,000 untrained riders. When “Z” tests were applied, it  found, “[T]here seem[s] to be no significant differences between the group with MRC training and the group without MRC training. Based upon this analysis, the effectiveness of the MRC program in reducing accidents among motorcyclists has been very small or not significant at all.”

MRC graduates did have a significantly lower ratio of citations—but once again, the authors point out that they weren’t able to control for things that might change that—and they point out that 50 percent of graduates did not go on to get their endorsements.

The study points out that the majority (56.8%) of MRC graduates were female—and that significantly affected the ratios of citations and crashes in a positive way while the control group was overwhelming male (93.4%). Women had much better safety records than males in both groups—but the disparity between men and women in the two groups did make a difference. When just male trained and untrained riders are compared, the accident ratio of all male MRC trained was 0.043 compared to 0.53 for untrained males. Trained women had a 0.10 and untrained women 0.11 ratio for crash-involvement as percentages of the whole.

11. A study on the New York licensing system that compared the state test with MOST[xiii] was published in 1988. While the attrition/failure rates were similar between both groups, it found there was no differences between groups that received shorter or longer training or no training or took one test or the other and got their license. Nor were there differences in crash severity between licensed and unlicensed groups one year later.

“Neither the skill test nor the training course was shown to be any more effective for riders who had previous riding experience compared to novice riders.

“Riders who attempted the MOST II had higher failure rates on their first attempt at a licence than control group riders who attempted the current New York test. Trained riders did not do better on their first attempt at the MOST II than untrained riders. Riders in the twenty-hour training group did worse than those in the three-hour group on their first attempt at the MOST II. The untrained riders performed better than the trained riders on their first attempt at the sub-tests of the MOST II that assessed correct braking procedures and obstacle avoidance.

“Those riders who were assessed by the MOST II as showing higher skill levels were not significantly less likely to be involved in subsequent motorcycle accidents.”

12. In 1988, Mortimer published the results of a further 913 graduates and a control group of 500 untrained riders. Once again he found that graduates of the MRC did not have a lower violation rate, accident rate, total cost of damage to accident-involved motorcycles, a significantly lower mean cost of injury treatment per accident, or a lower total cost of injury treatment. Mortimer’s study found that 30% of those who took the course did not ride afterwards. MRC graduates had more loss-of-traction crashes (gravel/low-friction pavement). Untrained riders had twice as many multi-vehicle crashes as trained riders. [xiv]

13. A dissertation published in 1989 on the Texas program[xv] matched trained and untrained riders and followed 988 of them. At the end of four years it found, “…the trained respondents were not significantly different from the comparison respondents.”

“The trained motorcyclists had 2.4 times the rate of a motorcycle crash compared with untrained motorcyclists,” and that “Most of the excess risk experienced by the trained group occurred within two years of training.”

14. A 1989 study, this time by McDavid, et. al,[xvi] was done on the British Columbia’s Safety Council’s 37-hour training program. It found, “Trained riders tend to have fewer accidents of all kinds (all motor vehicle accidents combined), fewer motorcycle accidents, and less severe motorcycle accidents. Although these differences are not large in a statistical sense, they suggest that when care is taken to carefully match trained and untrained riders, training is associated with a reduction in accidents.

15. In 1990, a paper, “The promotion of motorcycle safety: training, education, and awareness”[xvii] found, “Very little support for the beneficial impact of education/training can be found in the evaluation literature.” And suggested one of the reasons for that is “the need to focus more on rider motivations and attitudes than on skills….”

16. A 1990 evaluation of the Ohio state program with 2,000 trainees and a 6,000 licensed but untrained control group[xviii] found that, “A higher percentage of the trainees who had scored in the highest skill category had been involved in a motorcycle crash than those in all other skill test categories. However, those trainees who obtained scores above 85% on the knowledge test appeared to have a lower motorcycle crash involvement rate in 1989.”

17. In 1991, Billheimer, et. al., published his report on the California program.[xix] Overall, trained students had less crash-involvement six month after they began riding—however, most of that effect came from true novices—those who had not ridden more than 500 miles before training. Those who had more than 500 miles of experience had a slightly higher rate of crash-involvement than untrained riders, but it was not a statistically significant difference.

At one year, comparisons “show no significant differences between the accident rates of trained and untrained riders one year after training.” Nor were there any differences at two years.

18. In a 1994 report to the California state legislature on the MRC:RSS published in 1995 Wilson, et. al,[xx] found that 44% of students failing to complete the course said they no longer rode when interviewed a year after training, compared with 24% of those who passed and of those who no longer rode, 16 percent said taking the RSS influenced their decision. “Preliminary analyses showed that accident rates for untrained riders appeared to be 10% higher than for their trained counterparts in the six months after training.”

19. Though not a study on training or licensing, the European accident causation study, Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study (MAIDS) found: “”When the accident population and the exposure population are compared, the data indicates that a similar number of riders in both groups have received no PTW training (40.1% of the accident population and 48.4% of the petrol station population). However, it is important to note that the PTW training status for 93 riders was coded as unknown. … The data indicates that 47.2% of those riders without any type of training failed to attempt a collision avoidance manoeuvre. Similarly, the data indicates that 33.2% of those riders who had compulsory training also failed to attempt a collision avoidance manoeuvre. These results are difficult to interpret since there were many cases in which there was insufficient time available for the PTW rider to perform any kind of collision avoidance.”

20. Motorcycle safety researchers at Monash University Accident Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia, produced a review of current licensing and training practices  around the world[xxi] in 2005. Assessing all the evidence in a multitude of countries (as well as their previous literature review published in 2000), the authors conclude, “There is no real evidence of particular programs or components leading to reductions in crash risk….” “Standard motorcycle training courses leading to standard motorcycle tests have not been shown to result in reductions in crash involvement.”

21. Another Monash study published in 2006[xxii] done on older riders found “no significant relationship between involvement in one or more crashes in the past five years and having completed a training course at some time for fully-licensed riders … although there was a trend towards (p<.01) an association between having completed training and involvement in multiple vehicle crashes.” Nor was there any relationship between trained or untrained and crash severity. Nor was there a significant relationship between how recently or distantly one took a course and crashing.

22. In 2007, the Australians did a focus group study on 40 riders that had taken adult-centered training (various curriculum based on Q-ride).[xxiii] Participants felt/believed that training helped them avoid crashes however, in reality, there were several crashes and near misses where training didn’t help. The authors suggested “This suggests either a lack of learning transfer, a decay over time of information learnt, or that other factors not addressed in training (e.g. of an attitudinal or motivational nature) influenced rider behaviour once licensed. Training is therefore arguably not enough to always keep riders safe in the traffic environment unless skills are practised, honed and tempered with self-control.”

It also found that “that the most salient information from training is that which has been subsequently experienced on-road. 1) information from training may decay unless subsequently reinforced by experience; 2) learners may be more able to integrate information from training once they have had some riding experience as opposed to the pre-license stage where there is potential for ‘information overload’ due to the cognitive resources required in initial skill acquisition; and 3) the information may become more personally relevant to novice riders once some experience has been gained.”

23. Also in 2007, a study was done on Indiana riders.[xxiv] The authors found that riders who took “beginning rider training courses are more likely to be accident involved than those that do not – and that those that take the beginning course more than once are much more likely to be accident involved.”

“The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic Rider Course was found to be significant with three variables in the accident model. For the first variable, those that completed the Basic Rider Course were found to be 44% more likely to be accident involved. This may reflect the ineffectiveness of the course, the fact that the course is attracting an inherently less skilled set of riders and/or the post-course skill set is being used to ride more aggressively….Commenting on the effectiveness of the material taught in the Basic Rider Course is beyond the scope of this paper. In terms of the course attracting inherently less skilled riders, we do control for a wide range of variables in our model. However, it is possible that unobservable variables that are not correlated with those included in the model are still influencing our estimates here.”

The second course-related finding was that those that completed the Basic Rider Course multiple times were an additional 180% more likely to be accident involved. This finding may reflect the fact that people that take the course repeatedly are trying to improve an  inherently diminished skill set (or one that changes over time) that affects their accident likelihoods. Thus, this variable may be capturing one’s inherent ability to master, or the need to refresh, the relatively complex physical and mental skills necessary to operate a motorcycle. Interestingly, there was no significant age difference between people that took the Basic Rider Course once and those that took it multiple times (both roughly 45 years of age). However, those that took the course multiple times had, on average, almost 12 more years of experience. It appears that more experienced riders –perhaps those noting a decline in their skills or those having had recent experiences with near misses – are more likely to take the Basic Riding Course repeatedly.

“People that cited no need for taking the Basic Rider Course were 51% less likely to be accident involved (the average age of these riders was 24.4 years, and 85% of these riders had 5 or more years of experience). This seems to provide some supporting evidence that the people taking the beginner course may be inherently less-skilled riders. It is also interesting to note that 12% of our sample took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Experienced Rider Course (the sequel to the Basic Rider Course) but this did not have a statistically significant effect, positive or negative, on accident probabilities.”

In the next entry, we’ll look at the most recent work and what it has to say about training and licensing.

[i] Usually, the summaries are my own or drawn directly from the studies or abstracts of the studies. On rare occasions, I preferred to use a quote from Narelle Haworth, et. al.’s Evaluation Of Rider Training Curriculum In Victoria. Monash Accident Research Centre. 2000.

[ii] Haworth, Narelle and Rob Smith, Naomi Kowadlo. Evaluation Of Rider Training Curriculum In Victoria. Monash University Accident Research Centre. 2000.

[iii] Motorcycle And Bicycle Accidents Source: The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 6155 (Jan. 6, 1979), pp. 39-41 Published by: BMJ Publishing Group. The report referred to was, Raymond, S and Tatum, S (1977). An evaluation of the effectiveness of the RAC/ACU motorcycle training scheme. A Final Report. University of Salford, Department of Civil Engineering, Road Safety.

Research Unit. Salford.

[iv] Jonah Brian A. and Nancy E. Dawson. Validation of the motorcycle operator skill test. Road and Motor Vehicle Traffic Safety Branch, Transport Canada. 1978.

[v] Osga, Glenn Arthur. An Investigation Of The Riding Experiences Of Msf Rider Course Participants.  University Of South Dakota.

[vi] Satten, R.S. Analysis and evaluation of the motorcycle rider courses in thirteen Illinios counties. Proceedings of the International Motorcycle Safety Conference, Washington DC, Vol. 1, 145-193. 1980.

[vii] Anderson, J.W. The effects of motorcycling licensing and skills training on the driver records of original applicants. Proceedings of the International Motorcycle Safety

Conference, Washington DC, USA, Vol. 1, 381-401. 1980.

[viii] Jonah, B.A., Dawson, N.E., & Bragg, W.E.. Are formally trained motorcyclists safer?

Accident Analysis and Prevention, 14(4), 247-255. 1982.

[ix] Mortimer, Rudolf G. Evaluation of the motorcycle rider course. Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 16, Issue 1. February 1984. Pages 63-71.

[x] As reported in Evaluation Of Rider Training Curriculum In Victoria. Narelle Haworth, et. al. Monash University Accident Research Centre. 2000.  Lakener, E. A survey of motorcycle riders in Illinois. A report submitted to the Traffic Safety Division, Illinios Department of Transportation. 1984.

[xi] Kelsey, S.L., Liddicoat, C., & Ratz, M. Licensing novice motorcyclists: A comparison of California’s standard test and the MOST II (Motorcycle Operator Skill Test) administered at centralised testing offices. Research Report of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Research and Development Office. 1986.

[xii] Leung, Kam S. and Vernon A. Reding. Evaluation of the Wisconsin Motorcycle Rider Course. Wisconsin Department of Transportation. 1987.

[xiii] Buchanan, L.S. (1988). Motorcycle rider evaluation project. Report prepared for the US

Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,

Washington DC.

[xiv] Henderson, Michael.  Education, Publicity and Training in Road Safety: A Literature Review. Monash University Accident Research Study.. 1991.

[xv] Lloyd, Linda Elizabeth. An evaluation of the Texas motorcycle operator training course. 1989. The University of Texas at Austin.

[xvi] McDavid, James C.; Lohrmann, Barbara A.; and Lohrmann, George. Does Motorcycle Training Reduce Accidents? Evidence for a Longitudinal Quasi-Experimental Study. Journal of Safety Research, Vol. 20, pp. 61-72, 1989.

[xvii] Simpson, . M. and D. R. Mayhew. The promotion of motorcycle safety: training, education, and awareness. Oxford Univ Press. 1990.

[xviii] Rockwell, T.H., Kiger, S.M., & Carnot, M.J. An evaluation of the Ohio motorcyclists enrichment program, Phase II initial assessment report. Prepared for the Ohio Department of Highway Safety. 1990.

[xix] Billheimer, J.W. California Motorcyclists Safety Program; Final evaluation report. Prepared for California Highway Patrol, under contract to Crain and Associates. 1991.

[xx] Wilson, P., Dunphy, D. & Hannigan, M.J. (1995). The California Motorcyclist Safety Program: 1994 Annual Report to the State Legislature.

[xxi] Haworth, N. & Mulvihill, C. Review of motorcycle licensing and training (Report No. 240).  Melbourne: Monash University Accident Research Centre. 2005

[xxii] Haworth, Narelle and Mulvihill, Christine and Rowden, Peter. Teaching old dogs new tricks? Training and older motorcyclists.. In Proceedings Australasian Road Safety Research, Policing and Education Conference, Gold Coast, Queensland.. 2006.

[xxiii] Rowden, Peter J. and Watson, Barry C. and Haworth, Narelle L. What can riders tell us about motorcycle rider training? A view from the other side of the fence. In Proceedings 2007 Australasian Road Safety Research, Policing and Education Conference, Melbourne, Australia. 2007.

[xxiv] Savolainen, Peter and Fred Mannering. Additional evidence on the effectiveness of motorcycle training and motorcyclists’ risk-taking behaviour. TRB 2007 Annual Meeting CD-ROM. 2007.

Motorcycle safety puzzle piece: training

January 8, 2010

I apologize for formatting errors in the chart–for some reason, changes the font size part way through and won’t allow me to fix it.

Training is the next piece that’s supposed to solve the motorcycle safety puzzle. It’s the most important piece in this way: while helmets have their fervent and often vehement supporters and detractors, everyone agrees that training is axiomatic as an effective solution to the motorcycle safety puzzle.

As motorcycle rights organizations are fond of saying–don’t legislate, educate. Training (and to an extent licensing), it’s believed, keeps one out of situations that could lead to crashes.

Training in some form or another has been around since the earliest days. One of the first how-to-ride manuals,  Boy Scouts on Motorcycles, was copyrighted in 1912, and the earliest official course, the British Metropolitan Police Hendon Training System began in 1934 with a civilian version taught by the 1950s.  By the time the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) began in 1973 there were over 30 different courses, curriculum  and manuals–including Montgomery Ward.

In 1974, MSF claims it trained 15,000 students. Today it claims that “5,422,315 students have graduated from MSF RiderCourses since 1974. 400,000 motorcyclists enroll in our courses each year.”

We’re going to look at training in more than one entry. The first uses MSF documentation to show how the range section has changed from MSF’s Motorcycle Rider Course through the Basic RiderCourse.

The second entry will be as comprehensive a list and summary of twenty-one studies I’ve tracked down on training and licensing.

Thirty-something years of MSF basic training curriculum

MSF produced a chart for the state administrators who were invited to a private preview of the Basic RiderCourse in the summer of 2000. It outlines what was taught in the range portion in the Motorcycle Rider Course, the MRC: RSS and the then-new BRC.

Comparing the curriculums, the MRC taught 43 skills, the MRC:RSS taught 22 skills with 8 optional skills and the BRC taught 16 skills. The MRC tested  8 skills, the RSS tested 5 and the BRC tests 4.

The course went from 22 hours to 15 during these years.

Some of the skills listed separately in the MRC were clumped in the RSS and BRC so there’s not as much disparity as it appears—however, some of the skills are not included in the clumped skill exercises. A skill test for swerving was added in the RSS (and kept in the BRC) however swerving itself was taught in the MRC.

There are those who argue that some skills previously taught but not mentioned in the BRC portion of the chart are still taught—like the sharp turn. However, there is no portion of the BRC range cards that teach students how to do a sharp turn or a sharp turn from a stop. All we can go on is what is actually in the range cards and this MSF-produced chart to compare the curriculums.

Also, even if some of the skills are still taught, the shorter course length means they’re taught (and practiced) for a shorter time.

Please note that there are differences in the order of the BRC exercises between what MSF planned to do in the summer of 2000 and the current order.

1 Mount/Dismount Getting Familiar with the motorcycle Motorcycle Familiarization
2 Posture Moving the Motorcycle Using the Friction Zone
3 Controls Starting and Stopping the Engine Starting and Stopping Drill
4 Start/Stop Engine Riding in a Straight Line Shifting and Stopping
5 Walking Motorcycle Riding the Perimeter and Large


Adjusting Speed and Turning
6 Buddy Push Weaving (30’) Control-skills Practice
7 Friction Point Turning on Different Curves and

Weaving (20’)

Pressing to Initiate Lean
8 Straight Line Riding Riding Slowly Cornering
9 Rectangle Making Sharp Turns Matching Gears to Speed
10 Large Circles Shifting in a Straight Line Stopping Quickly
11 Medium Circles Shifting and Turning on Different


Limited-Space Maneuvers
12 Cone Weave (20’) Shifting and Making Sharp Turns Cornering Judgment
13 Sharp Turns Stopping with Both Brakes Negotiating Curves
14 Shifting in a Straight Line Stopping Quickly on Command Stopping Quickly in a Curve
15 Turning at Higher Speeds Stopping on a Curve Lane Change and Obstacles
16 Riding Slowly Level 1 Evaluation: 1.

1. Stalling


3. Sharp Turns

4. Stopping on Command.

Avoiding Hazards
17 Principles of Braking Gap Selection Skills Practice
18 Stopping at a Designated Point Turning from a Stop and

Changing Lanes

Skills Test:1. U-turns

2. Swerve

3. Quick Stop

4. Cornering

19 Figure 8-Turning and Adjusting Speed Controlling Rear-Wheel Skids
20 Turning in Tight Circles Stopping in the Shortest Distance (maximum braking)
21 Weaving Between Cones(20’ X 10’) Swerving to Avoid Obstacles
22 Shifting and Acceleratingin a Turn Stopping Quickly on a Curve
23 Stopping Quickly withBoth Brakes Selecting a Safe Turning Speed
24 Sharp Turns and Shifting Optional Exercises: Offset Weaving, Shifting

and Turning on Different Curves

and Weaving,

Stopping Quickly on Command,

Tight U-Turns

and Stop-and-Go, Counterbalancing

in Decreasing-Radius Turns,

Surmounting Obstacles

25 Simulated Traffic Situations Level Two Skills Test:

1. Cone Weave

2.Sharp Turns,

3. Quick Stop,

4. Turning Speed Selection

5. Quick Lane Change (swerving).

26 Passing
27 Turning Speed Adjustment
28 Circuit Training
29 Starting on a Hill
30 Stop and Go
31 Staggered Serpentine
32 One-hand controls
33 Engine Braking
34 Controlling Rear-Wheel Skids
35 Quick Stops
36 Stopping in a Curve
37 Riding on the Pegs
38 Crossing Obstacles
39 Countersteering
40 Quick Lane Change (swerve)
41 Carrying Passengers
42 Pre-Ride Inspection
43 Maintaining Your Motorcycle
Skill Test:


2.Shifting and Stop (in a circle),

3.Operating Controls (in a circle),

4. Straight Line Balance,

5. S-Turn,


7. Stopping,