Five years ago IIHS petitioned NHTSA to make new rules for motorcycle safety. Half a decade later, the NTSB makes the same suggestion.
More than ten years ago, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted a blind test to see what benefits anti-lock braking systems (ABS) had on motorcycle safety. The results were clear and impressive. IIHS found that models with optional ABS were 31% less likely than the exact same models not equipped with the technology to be involved in a fatal crash. Reports in 2008 and 2010 by IIHS were published and sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). No new ABS rules were implemented. In 2013, with more data having been accumulated that showed ABS and combined braking had an approximately 33% reduction in accidents, IIHS formally petitioned NHTSA. No new rules were adopted.
Since that time, ABS has been mandated in other markets such as the European Union, which has required the technology on all new bikes with an engine displacement of over 125cc since 2016. This month, another U.S. government agency, The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a new report calling for ABS to be made standard on all new motorcycles.
Motorcycles are more difficult to brake than cars. They often have two sets of brakes. One for the front, and one for the rear. On a bike that has no ABS, a rider must be careful not to overbrake, or the tires may lock, the bike may lose stability, and stopping distances will increase. ABS allows a rider to apply full braking pressure and still maintain control. For more on how ABS helps motorcycles, please see the video above.
Motorcycle riders are almost 30 times more likely to die in an accident per driven mile than are passengers in an automobile. After slight declines in the 1980s, motorcycle deaths began to increase again in 1998 and have risen steadily since. In 1997, 2,056 people lost their lives in motorcycle crashes. In 2016, 4,986 lost their lives in motorcycle crashes, a 2.5X increase during a period where passenger vehicle crash deaths dropped by about 30%.
Motorcycle crash deaths also have their own circumstances that are different from car crash deaths. For example, NHTSA says that 27 percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers were operating without a valid driver’s license. That points to incomplete training as a cause of many crashes. Another interesting fact is that despite the many T-shirts and bumper stickers you read that say “Check Twice, Save a Life” nearly half of all motorcycle deaths don’t involve any other vehicle. 41% of those killed in a motorcycle crash have a blood alcohol content above the legal limit. Helmets are the most important piece of safety gear for riders. An unhelmeted rider is 3 times more likely than a helmeted one to sustain traumatic brain injuries in the event of a crash. However, the federal government estimates that wearing a helmet “only” reduces the risk of dying in a crash by 37 percent. That’s pretty close to the 31% reduction studies have found ABS can account for.
ABS on motorcycles weighs about two pounds and can add to the cost. Every BMW motorcycle has the technology standard. Other brands make it standard on some models and optional on others. A recent motorcycle highlighted by BestRide, the Honda Monkey, has ABS available. Without ABS the price is $3,999. With it, the Monkey costs $4,199, just $200 more. About the price of a decent helmet.
We reached out to the NTSB and asked why its recommendations have not yet been adopted. Chris O’Neil told BestRide, “The NTSB is not a regulatory agency, we only make safety recommendations. In this case, the industry can voluntarily adopt the recommendations, or, the regulator, NHTSA, can require it.” He added, “From the NTSB perspective, we want to see our recommendations implemented as soon as possible because we know they have the potential to save lives, reduce injuries and prevent accidents.” For more details on why regulators have not taken action, O’Neil pointed us to NHTSA.
We then reached out to NHTSA and asked why the agency has not mandated anti-lock braking systems for motorcycles in the U.S. market. NHTSA’s Jose Ucles replied to BestRide as follows: “NHTSA is the Federal agency responsible for establishing safety standards for vehicles, including motorcycles. To date, NHTSA has established performance tests to ensure that motorcycles equipped with antilock braking systems (ABS) have adequate antilock performance during emergency braking or on slippery road conditions. The agency established this performance requirement in a 2012 final rule amending the Federal motor vehicle safety standard (FMVSS) on motorcycle brake systems (FMVSS No. 122), to update requirements and test procedures and to harmonize with a global technical regulation. NHTSA has conducted a study of motorcycle ABS effectiveness (available here). NHTSA looks forward to reviewing the recent safety report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) once it publishes.”
Images courtesy of IIHS