This is a blog about slightly safer motorcycling. Bikesafer.com is a collection of links for the practical biker focused on motorcycle safety. It looks at riding risks as a hierarchy, with graphic tools and hundreds of sensibly linked articles on bike safety.
Monday, June 29, 2009
MSF responds on student deaths
Last week, I asked the Motorcycle Safety Foundation for a statement on student deaths while taking the MSF's courses. Here is their response, received today as promised:
Riding, especially learning to ride, has inherent risks. MSF is concerned about any crash that occurs, whether it's on the road or during training. We take safety seriously in creating the best environment to pursue one's dream to ride. A primary goal of the MSF is to ensure a low risk, positive learning environment for beginning students so that they can make the best choices while learning and riding.
Since its founding in 1973, more than 4.6 million students have been trained using Motorcycle Safety Foundation curricula, including approximately 2.5 million since 2002. MSF prides itself on making the highest quality research-based and field-tested motorcycle training curricula available to riders and prospective riders throughout the United States and the world.
MSF is unable to disclose details related to fatalities because of privacy considerations. However, since there has been some misreporting on this subject, MSF welcomes the opportunity to provide factual information.
Since 2002, out of the roughly 2.5 million students trained, there have been six crashes that resulted in the death of students, including one that was caused by a serious medical condition. In the past year, three additional students died from medical conditions while not riding. Every fatality has been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement, insurance investigators, or others. The curricula, and the delivery of the curricula by RiderCoaches, have never been determined to be a factor. MSF employs a stringent quality assurance program as part of its ongoing effort to review and refine policies and practices to minimize the inherent risks associated with training.
Today, a new feature in BikeSafer.com. On being reminded that the site was a bit MSF-centric, possibly because they control all the training near where I live, I dug around a bit and couldn't find a comprehensive list of alternative - or just other - motorcycle training providers. So I did a bit of homework and found 29, and started a list. Which is in the link.
If you are due some training, or maybe you already did the Experienced Rider Course and didn't find it sufficiently advanced for your needs, check out this list of training providers.
This is an old saw with us at BikeSafer, but we think that training, repeated early and often, backed up by on-road strategic thinking and constant emergency skills practice is the best tool we have as bikers to improve our odds of avoiding a crash. Check out these providers and consider taking some of these fun and informative courses soon.
I've been coming across a lot of critics of the MSF lately. MSF is not perfect. It is a creature of the motorcycle manufacturers. Course participants die and are injured during training. MSF, as a capitalist entity, might engage in some competitive practices that could be considered a bit dodgy, and they do some lobbying. But, for most of us, it is the only local bike training organization available. Gymnast of msgroup.org, a site I like and have referred to on my site many times, challenged me to read Wendy Moon's blog, Moonrider, which I did. Here's my analysis of some fairly big chunks of the blog.
In summary, MSF is a 501 (c) 6 organization, which is actually a non-profit trade group representing the interests of the motorcycle manufacturers, not a 501 (c) 3 charitable organization. I did not know this, and MSF confirmed it. Moon is upset by MSF acting like a capitalist entity and knocking off the competition, I guess I am sort of used to capitalism being red in tooth and claw.
Some MSF course participants, according to Moon, died during training. When I asked Stacey of MSF about this, she promised me a press release this coming Monday, which I will publish here when I get it. I guess rider training is dangerous, like riding in general. All death and injury must be regretted, but if there is a general benefit from training then maybe lives are being saved overall. It seems to me that all bike safety is a trade off, to get a safety benefit that reduces risk in one area sometimes you have to accept a (hopefully lesser) risk in some other area, like when you change lanes to be more conspicuous. Which is no consolation to the relatives of those unfortunates who died.
That brings me to the main course of today's blog. I analysed one of Moon's entries, actually the first I came to on the subject of the efficacy of the MSF courses, and did a bit of basic fact checking. My notes on the research is here, check it out for yourself. After checking the cited papers carefully, I found that Moon selectively chose items that made training look bad, and ignored points that made training look beneficial. She also used data which the study authors said were invalid due to poor investigative technique. Her hypothesis was not supported by the data she cited, and in one case was contradicted by her own citatons.
Because the contrary has been suggested, I must say that I have a postgraduate degree and some publications in my own field, and I am qualified to read and understand academic papers. I have ridden motorcycles since 1973. In any event, all the citations are in the link and readers can judge for themselves. The misuse of the material is pretty egregious, imho. I also have to say that I have taken some training from MSF and read some of their publications, but otherwise have no connection with MSF or any of their affiliated organizations, not do I or have I ever worked or had any connection with any PR or lobbying organizations who deal with MSF or any of the corporations that control it, other than using their products. I am not part of a conspiracy, which I am sure I will be accused of pretty soon. I am a simple-minded bike rider who has some time on his hands, access to a web server and a concern about bike safety.
I guess it all goes to show that the internet is what it is, anyone can say anything. The fact of the matter is that bike safety is the responsibility of the rider, that training and skills deficits (probably) contribute to many or most crashes, and the MSF, with all its faults, is what we have for safety training in most cities. If you have a beef with MSF, you can start your own training organization, or help MSF develop better training practices, or you can lobby your House reps to include provision for getting the overdue crash causation study funded and started. Or maybe find some other way to make a difference. Having a big body of good data will dispel misinformation and maybe make it possible to come up with better and more effective training.
I think it is irresponsible to suggest that bike training is not beneficial, without cast-iron proof, which certainly does not exist. The person who reads that today might skip his MSF training tomorrow and be dead by the weekend.
Check us out again Tuesday for the MSF's press release on biker deaths during training.
Kathy Mellembakken of Mid-South ASMI, a MAST (Motorcycle Accident Scene Training) organization has been drawing attention to the issue of lost pillion passengers.
What happens is, a bike with a passenger crashes in some rural spot, paramedics arrive and find a rider who is dead, unconscious or otherwise not making a lot of sense. They roll away with their casualty and miss the pillion passenger, who is out of sight somewhere, behind some country furniture. Apparently several women have died this way in recent years, their corpses often not found for months.
Kathy recommends that both riders wear a dog-tag or med-alert necklace when riding two-up, to alert paramedics to the other rider. Paramedics always check for a med-alert bracelet or neck-tag. You can buy them in any pharmacy. Wouldn't do any harm to include the other person's cellphone which might help find the missing rider. Wearing some high-vis or autoreflective material might help too.
In a pinch, both riders could set each other up as the cellphone ICE contact for the other. Paramedics might make a triage mistake this way, and treat a less-injured person first, but the phone ringing might help find the other person.
Bikesafer.com is focused on avoiding accidents rather than responding to them, but we encourage all bikers to take MAST training, because any of our fellow riders might some day need our help. We should also encourage paramedic and firemen friends to take MAST training, where available, as part of their continuing education. Bike casualties are specialized and MAST-trained paramedics do a better job of saving biker lives.
That said, training and skills practice is what helps bikers avoid crashes in the first place.
Here's motorcyclecruiser's article on bike-animal crashes. I have been looking into this subject since almost hitting a deer on the Blue Ridge Parkway earlier this month. The deer ran across the road within feet of my bike, I didn't have a chance to hit the brakes, but we did not hit. A riding buddy hit a deer in Arkansas last year and survived.
I looked at deer whistles and other devices, but the available research (see the article above) suggests they don't work and might even attract critters.
Best thing to do is scan for animals, bearing in mind that when you see one, there may be more. Deer seem to be more prevalent at dawn and dusk, and when there are a lot of bugs. Don't approach animals on the road, they might have territorial issues. I have seen land crabs swarming on roads in Florida, I don't think you can ride over them as their hard shells can easily puncture tires.
Motorcyclecruiser.com suggests braking as hard as possible prior to the crash, and don't swerve around large animals. Conventional advice suggests you just ride straight over smaller animals of squirrel size and smaller. Oftentimes the quality of your personal protective equipment makes the difference.
Ok, this is a pretty lame post, it doesn't look like there is a good technique or fix for this problem. Anyone who has any suggestions on this issue, let us know.
At Bikesafer.com, we are very interested in the new bike crash causation study. We think that better information will help produce better decisions, from the federal level to the individual biker. The out-of-control biker death rate might improve. We wrote our House Rep, Steve Cohen, who is on the Transportation Committee, and he sent us a considered and informative reply, which we link to near the end of this bikesafer.com page.
We have a list of Transportation Committee reps and their contact details on that same page. If you feel inspired to let them know how you feel on the matter, here's some talking points:
Bikers have already paid for the study via fuel taxes and what we pay for motorcycles.
We might have 10,000 biker deaths per year in another decade if nothing is done to stop the rising road death toll.
The Hurt report was instrumental in reducing the death rate by a third in its time.
Congress promised $2.8M if the industry matched the funds. The industry came up with more than the money Congress asked for, now Congress is renaging by cutting its share to 2.1M. They are welshing on their own deal.
The study is shovel ready.
This is the time to put pressure on the politicians and get some good information on motorcycle safety.
As promised, we have a new feature in bikesafer.com, you can get there by clicking the link in the yellow box from bikesafer.com. Last Sunday, Special ED and I took our bikes, a Harley Davidson Road King and a Honda ST1300 out with a cheapie Aiptek hd camcorder. It was a bright summer day in Bartlett, Tennessee so viewing conditions were optimal. The effect would probably be much more noticeable if we shot in poorer visibility. The videos were edited to remove excess footage where nothing was happening, the frame size was reducedto fit PC screens and we added captions, but otherwise we did not alter the images. All video was shot inside twenty minutes on the same settings,with a slight camera move at one point.
Special ED and I did four passes each. Special ED ran first on low beams, then on high beams with modulator, then on low beams with running lights and finally with high beams, modulator and running lights. I ran with low beams, high beams, then with high beams and running lights and finally with high beams, modulator and running lights. The passes are captioned so you can keep track of what's going on. Special ED's basic lights are enhanced with direct relay power to the headlight, and has PIAA bulbs, and my ST also has these mods plus an upgrade from 45 watts to 65 watts on both headlight bulbs.
You can judge for yourself, but look particularly at the longer shots of Special ED's Harley clip, where his bike imho jumps out of the background much sooner with the added lighting in later passes.
Check out our conspicuity pages for details on light enhancements for conspicuity, and check out our other upcoming site improvements in a few days.
As promised, new revisions to bikesafer.com. We have a new visual treatment for the risk hierarchy, it has mouseover notes and links to the main sections. And the ultra-defensive riding strategies section has a new tab for weather strategies, after some field work in the rain and a bit of a reassessment of the conclusions in the studies on weather as a crash causation.
Over the weekend, Special ED and I took our bikes out and demonstrated frontal conspicuity using low and high beams, modulators and running lights on video. This is in process of editing and I think the new feature will let viewers make up their own minds about the effectiveness of these conspicuity measures, once I figure out how to edit video. We used ED's Harley Road King and my ST1300 for the shoot so you can see the effect with different cycles.
We are also working on a new feature with photos of installing cheapie truck super-LED marker lights on my Honda 919 as conspicuity lights, total budget for the project about 30 bucks.
Thanks to gimp for their wonderful freeware video editor. It is a cool tool, and free is good.
We have dozens of site improvements and new features on the way, check us out again in a little while.
Bikesafer.com is less than two weeks old, and I've spent that time on my bike, did a Memphis - Blue Ridge - Montreal - Toront0 - Chicago loop, and stopped to talk to bikers and web experts along the way. The result is a list of new features for the site, which will be added in coming weeks.
We'll have new sections on adverse weather, restricted-access freeway riding strategy, a calculator for stopping time and distance and a new visual treatment for the risk hierarchy. We'll be adding new links and also RSS feeds and a mailing list for bike safety updates so you can use our content on your bike site or forum easily, providing updated seasonal and topical motorcycle safety content for your site users. We have a new feature in the works so you can judge for yourself the effect of using daytime high beam, modulator and running lights to a bike to improve conspicuity. These and a whole rack of improvements and visual aids.
Relating to the conspicuity page, I also found that many truck stops are selling clear, amber and red three super-LED flat-mount lights as truck marker lights, at about a quarter the price of the police super-LED flashers I quoted in the page. I think these might be a good option for bike conspicuity and we'll be experimenting with some of these and reporting the results.
We're also getting some advice on improving the site design from my friend Robert Hamilton and you'll be having a smoother and slicker user experience as we develop the site.