Friday, July 10, 2009

TEAM OREGON and biker training

On hearing some comments about the effectiveness of the TEAM OREGON basic training model versus the MSF Basic RiderCourse, I talked to Steve Garets of Oregon State University, which provides statewide rider training services. I think a large part of the mindset in OSU and TEAM OREGON might be from a self-reliant pioneer heritage, but their take on things is surprisingly different.

Steve told me that, prior to the introduction of the new Oregon basic training course in 2004-5, that OSU conducted some research comparing the (new and current) MSF BRC to the MSF MRC:RSS (which it replaced) and found some shortcomings, which resulted in the new Oregon Basic Rider Training (BRT) Course.

The new curriculum is generally similar to the MSF BRC curriculum, but has more emphasis on paying attention to the road situation and a much bigger sight rule. They recommend a 10-second immediate path rule (as opposed to the MSF 4-second immediate path) and a 20-second sight distance rule, which is more than the 12-second MSF anticipated path rule. (we agree that the traditional following distance rules were never enough, see 2-second rule.

After field testing the BRT and comparing it with the then-benchmark MRC:RSS, Oregon hasn't done any formal follow-up research into the effectiveness of the new curriculum. They have been following up closely on motorcycle crashes and have some rather startling numbers. Oregon has about half the national average of fatal bike crashes, per registered motorcycle. An incredibly low 19 percent of fatal crashes (compared to Hurt's 75%) are caused by a car turning into the right of way of the biker. Half of the crashes are single vehicle crashes and a total of 87 percent of all crashes are the fault of the rider, including the bike rear-ending the other vehicle and head-ons with the bike in the oncoming lane.

Steve says that they haven't done anything to the driver training, so the difference might well be with the bikers. Steve is reluctant to attribute the huge difference in state fatalities to the TEAM OREGON training program, because they don't have the data, but it seems that the citizens of Oregon have every reason to be happy with these numbers.

Steve thinks that TEAM OREGON's defensive riding approach, with riders being conservative about the bike following distances and generally paying more attention is major. We talked about the victim mentality of riders in assuming that crashes are caused by cage drivers.

ET editorializes: The victim mentality will be a factor in our upcoming features on rider psychology, which will follow on our visit to Dragon Safe next week and a study of Lee Park's approach to rider psychology.

I'm reminded of one prominent local biker, who rear-ended a car one summer, was fairly lucky to escape with minimal damage, then rear-ended another car almost on the anniversary of the first crash. I had occasion to talk to him about it after the second crash, where his bike was written off and he spent time in the hospital. He inexplicably maintained that both crashes were the cage drivers' fault.

This rider was in huge denial and was exhibiting the victim mentality that Steve was talking about. Either mindset (victim or denial) will get you in trouble. Hurt, for all the brilliance of his study, helped establish the idea that the cage driver is always at fault, which, even if true, is not helpful to bikers who want to ride safer.

That said, we need to remind ourselves that the reduction in biker deaths per motorcycle would need to be adjusted by miles ridden to be a true measure of risk, and that the numbers here do not imply cause and effect. You'd expect that if biker ed was the cause of a reduction in biker deaths that the remaining accidents would predominantly be caused by the cage driver, and Oregon is reporting the exact opposite. I am puzzled and we'll be trying to follow up with the Oregon DOT to see if we can gt some insight into what's going on. Maybe the TEAM OREGON analysts are being harder on bikers because they are looking for defensive biker errors to help with improving their course material. We just don't know. One thing we can say, from general systems principles, is that when the developers responsible for a program follow the results closely and feed back outcomes into a redevelopment process, generally the program responds better to real-life conditions over time, and this may be one of the strengths of the Oregon program. Off the top of the head, you would expect wet and/or icy conditions and mountainous terrain to be more of a factor in Oregon than elsewhere, and we have the impression that there is a high level of bike and scooter usage for commute purposes in some of these Western cities. You would expect that a program like TEAM OREGON would adapt over time to specific conditions in Oregon, which is not a feature of a one-size-fits-all program like MSF's BRC. Our expectation is that if two programs start out equivalent and one is incrementally redeveloped, that the second program would soon produce better outcomes. We have more questions than answers, which often happens in the bike safety realm.

From the POV of riders in the other states, if we are riding around with insufficient stopping distances, not paying attention and with a built-in victim mentality, we'll have more crashes. We could all use a good dose of Oregon rationality.

This is why we will be following up on rider psychology in depth after we do some homework. Now we're going to have to totally revamp our site. As always, bike safety is a ride, not a destination.

We want to thank Steve for his generosity with his time and insights, and to congratulate him and his colleagues what seems like an incredible job in Oregon. Steve has invited us to visit TEAM OREGON and audit one of their BRT sessions, and we intend to take him up on that offer as soon as we can organize the 5K ride.


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