Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Motorcycle Crash Causation Study Issues Drag On

We've been working around the Crash Study issue for the last couple of weeks, promoting our petition, which now has more than 430 signatures. If you haven't signed yet, there's still time.

One of the things we had not mentioned was pointed out to us in the course of those discussions.  MSF, in its statement, pointed out correctly that a study with only 300 crashes sampled is unlikely to increase the sum total of our knowledge, which is more or less true.  But they are being disingenuous as the best estimate for the number of crashes studied, assuming MSF paid in their matching funds, is closer to 700.  The 300 assumes the MSF withholding their money.   As the Thai study investigated 729 crashes in its separate Bangkok report, which is pretty good, maybe 700 would have been enough, and it would have left the door open to getting more funding later.  The MSF statement could be paraphrased as '300 crash samples are not enough, so we are withholding our cash and making it so'.   It would have been much harder to make the same case for study inadequacy if they used the 700 number.

In fact, even at the 300 level, the new study might well point out training inadequacies and skills/roadcraft deficits in the large, older rider segment of the biker population.   Recent new training offerings have concentrated on the younger, sportsbike riding population, with two new courses recently launched for the military and two spinoffs (MSF's ARC-ST and Lee Parks Intermediate course) targeted at the civilian market.   This Minnesota report points out that 40 of a total 72 (56%) of rider fatalities in that state in 2008 were aged 40 and over.  Our sense is that this is pretty typical for the country.  Even in its mutilated and truncated form, the OSU study is likely to highlight training and perhaps fitness shortfalls in this part of the population.

We have little doubt that the real loss in the 300-sample truncated study will be in the identification of countermeasures employed by bikers in the control population.  Hurt, after all, identified always-on headlights as a successful strategy among the rider population that protected those riders using their lights during the day from crashes, and Maids found that cagers could be trained to see bikers better.  We anticipate that the 900 crash study might find benefits in engineering improvements like ABS, conspicuity benefits from lighting improvements, possibly riding strategies or advanced training, and who knows what other information might emerge.   Large population-controlled studies are able to find new survival factors which surprise the researchers. 

We can't avoid speculating that business difficulties in the very elastic motorcycle market have made the MSF manufacturer-members averse to spending money on bike safety.  Harley Davidson's business problems are well documented, and, except for the scooter sector, we assume that the other manufacturers are hurting too.   This, in our view, is shortsighted.  In the long haul, a good study will reduce accidents and keep thousands of riders alive and unmaimed, able to buy their products.   And tens of thousands of crash-involved riders give up riding after their accidents.  We can't help thinking that if their economic difficulties are part of the reason for MSF to withhold the matching funds, that the decision is short-sighted, and that the manufacturers have a stake in keeping their customers alive and buying the product.   And we notice that Harley Davidson gave $4 million to Muscular Dystrophy in 2008.   That's an excellent cause, but charity begins at home.   You look after your own first.

Our research into the disorganized findings of the study continue.  It is clear that Westat completely mismanged the pilot study and should not be considered as prime contractors for the full study.  

The petition total is now over 430. Bikers are making their views known on this subject. 


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