Motorcycle puzzle piece: training, part III

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?
GENERAL
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.
LICENSING
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?
TRAINING
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.

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Explore posts in the same categories: History, Instructors, Motorcycle crashes, Motorcycle fatalities, Motorcycle injuries, Motorcycle licensing, Motorcycle Safety, Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Motorcycle Training, State Motorcycle Safety Programs

4 Comments on “Motorcycle puzzle piece: training, part III”

  1. gymnast Says:

    Wendy,
    In addition to the points made in your analysis, the significance of the content in summaries in tables 4.1 and 4.2 is straight-forward and and elegant in the simplicity of the wisdom contained therein. Someday, perhaps when motorcycle crash and injury reduction becomes a serious endeavor in this country rather than using unproven and increasingly inferior “rider training” programs as a means of selling motorcycles, those that have been “self or officially annotated” will realize the need to change direction and contribute to some actual improvements.

  2. StormRider Says:

    First, I would like to thank you for all the work you have put into this exhastive analysis.

    British Columbia, Canada has adopted a graduated licensing program. Unfortunately, it is linked to the standard motorvehicle license so that if you have passed through the graduated program in a car, it no longer applies to a motorcycle (I am not sure if any studies have shown automobile driving experience to be effectively related to motorcycle safety).

    I find the expectation interesting, although un-proven, that tougher licensing requirements would result in decreased exposure. The general increase in motorcycle licenses would seem to indicate a steady increase in riders dispite current changes to the licensing requirements. I am finding it difficult to obtain reliable data which shows how mileage, geography (rural/urban) and accident rates interact. I have always thought of my tour riding as a separate skill from my city riding.

    Your analysis is an interesting read, I have found it extremely useful.

  3. wmoon Says:

    I don’t know of any studies that positively relate car driving to motorcycle operation but I do know of at least one study that found riders were more observant and safer drivers.

    I, too, am curious why the otherwise excellent Australian researchers assume that tougher requirements would lower the number of riders–though I have to say, as a rider, I have absolutely no problem in bad riders deciding to stay off the road! While I’m familiar with many things about Canadian riding, I’m not with Canadian (or provincial) statistics. If it’s like here there then reliable VMT is impossible to find. Here it would be possible (in many states) to find out roughly where the crashes occur by county–and so get some idea of urban/rural and geography. It may be possible to find those sources by province…I don’t know.

    I’m working on some other entries and one of the interesting things is a study that claims that exposure isn’t linear–i.e., the more miles you travel the greater the risk–but rather curvilinear. Years ago I did a rather exhaustive state by state comparison and found the highest per capita motorcyclist fatalities were in states with the LOWEST average VMT and yet an over-preponderance of urban road miles to rural road miles. It would be interesting to see what you find out about Canada.

    Btw, I think B.C. has a great motorcycle training program.
    W.

  4. Anne Says:

    Hi there!

    I happened to come across your website tonight and have spent more time reading interesting articles on the computer tonight than I have in a long time! This comment is not intended to post but just to say thanks! Very interesting and well written articles!

    I work for San Diego Motorcycle Training and we use the National Motorcycle Training Institute’s open source curriculum (www.nmcti.org). Among others, you might find this document interesting:

    http://www.nmcti.org/docs/curriculum/MotorcycleDMVPrepGuide.pdf

    Keep it up!

    Anne


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