Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MSF's move a Game Changer for Crash Study

The Motorcycle Crash Study has been mooted since 2005, there has been a lot of negotiation and to and fro between the stakeholders, both on the financing issues and around the helmet law problems. So what has changed in October 2009 that has bikesafer.com organizing a biker petition?

I'll explain this way: 2005, AMA has been trying to organize a game, and deals the hand. Transportation committee is dealt a pair of jacks and opens with 2.8 million. MSF, with a pair of aces, sees the 2.8 million and raises 300K given by friendly equipment manufacturers.

Transportation gets together with DOT, hustles some cash from the states and AMA, sees MSF's 3.1 million and raises 87K.

October 2009: DOT announces the start of the study, assuming MSF will see, but MSF throws in its hand.

See what I mean? The hand has ended, and someone has to take the initiative and deal a new hand. There is no obvious next move, no fairy godmother to wave a magic wand and make the missing funds appear.

That said, I don't think MSF's move is intended as a spoiler. It's hard to know what they are thinking, but they did put out that long statement.  I am inclined to take them at face value. I think what they saw was what we discussed in Saturday's blog, the costs being given are way out of whack. A 'good money after bad' type of judgement. I am inclined to agree with them, the cost factors need to be reviewed. On the face of it, with the little information we have, the taxpayer and MSF are being asked to pay eight times what Hurt paid, fout times what Maids paid for the exact same work using the exact same OECD methodology, and a third more than was talked about last February. There is something very wrong with the numbers.

That's why bikesafer.com is following the money. The resolution lies there.

And that's why we started out petition. It's there to raise awareness, and so that bikers can force the way to the table. The petition is coming along very well, by the way, we are already receiving dozens of petitions daily. Southern Cruisers has stepped up and endorsed the petition drive, and we are talking to other biker groups to enlist their support. Thank you, everyone who filled one on, and keep them coming. It is our gas tax money that is being spent right now, and our lives that are on the line. If the other stakeholders can't or won't do it right, it is up to us to make our presence felt and show that we care about the outcome.

Pass the word, and sign the petition.

Visiting the Crash Causation Study Researchers

In our continuing series on the Motorcycle Crash Study Petition, we were confused. A lot of well-meaning people messing up a perfectly good crash causation study.

We have a rule at bikesafer.com, when in doubt, ride somewhere. So I checked out the ST1300 and set out on the 1500 miles of slab time to Phoenix. I have to admit I took a few detours, along AZ route 264 through the spectacularly beautiful Hopi mesas, and then a short jaunt between Jerome and Prescott, where there are some very cool twisties.

Our other rule is 'follow the money', which in this case is to the subcontractor for the study crash data collection.

I emailed the president of Dynamic Science last week and got no reply, so yesterday I turned up at the Dynamic Science office at Black Canyon Highway. Didn't know what to expect, but I've been escorted to parking lots by security before, so no worries. I was expecting to find maybe a bunch of gnomes knitting up gnarly business scams.

After dallying with the receptionist, being told that there was no-one there until hours later in the afternoon, and offering to wait, the harried 'Director of First Impressions' went and got Ralph Rockow, a tall gentleman in his seventies. He introduced himself as an engineer - which turned out to be a bit of an understatement, as he is a rocket scientist. He is the owner and founder of Exodyne, the parent company of Dynamic Sciences.

As a geek, I understand engineers, and Ralph is a very genial guy. He was the head of the design team for the lunar lander mission, and devised the scheme that saved the Apollo 13 astronauts after their oxygen tank blew up, a huge feat of extemperaneous engineering. His other accomplishments include developing airbags and doing all that vehicle testing that led to the post-Nader improvements in car safety. Check out his resume, he is an intellectual giant and I don't mind admitting, I was out of my league. But I staggered through the basic facts about the study and the shennanigans I have been documenting here and on the bikesafer.com site.

Well, I promised to keep the conversation off the record, and he didn't promise anything other than he'd look into it, but his brother is a biker and he obviously cares hugely about saving lives.

But with Ralph Rockow looking into the problems with the Crash Causation Study I have no doubt that light will be shed in stellar quantities.

I've looked into Dynamic Science and they are highly qualified to do the crash research. They should be well able to make up for the motorcycle knowledge deficiencies at OSU.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Crash Causation Study: Cost Comparisons

We've been examining in detail the Motorcycle Crash Causation Study problems that have been coming to light recently. Bikesafer's petition resources page has basic information, project financing and press releases, and our last three blog entries have additional details.

We have identified study funding from various sources of $3,187K, and an additional $3.1M being withheld by MSF and its associates. We also saw, in the last blog entry, where OSU (the researchers at Oklahoma State U. Dept of Transportation) want $8000 to $9000 per crash and probably about a 20% levy for college overhead to make a total of $9M to complete the 900 accident study. We're going to ignore the $10M to $12M numbers they have been talking about lately.

We're going to air some comparable numbers and see how this cost compares with the competition.

The first comparison is from OSU itself. The Safetyresearch.net blog entry from February of this year quotes the OSU researchers as mentioning a number of $7M - that's an uptick of two million in eight months. At this figure, the per-crash cost, assuming 20 percent for OSU overhead, comes out at about $6220 per crash, a much better deal than the one now on offer. One wonders what might have changed in eight months to cause an inflation of about a third in per-crash costs.

We could also compare with Hurt itself. The Hurt study cost $501,814. Schlepping 20% for the institution as before, that indicates a per-crash cost of $446. Adjusting for inflation at about 230 percent between 1981 and 2009, that Hurt numbers are worth about $1.15M in today's dollars for the total cost and about $1025 per accident. Hurt has some costs that the current study doesn't - in 1981 the computing was probably done on a mainframe, and the 29 listed project personnel included two analyst programmers, for example. It is true that the OECD methodology requires some additional steps, and records about twice the number of data items per crash, but the OECD methodology is based on Hurt's and both studies require the same basic steps. Hurt interviewed 2310 bikers for his control group as opposed to OSU's proposed 900. And the project personnel currently recognized for the OSU study are Dr. Ahmed and three researchers from Dynamic Research, Inc., a much smaller effort than Hurt's 29-person team. There is no obvious reason why the current study should cost eight to nine times what Hurt's did.

Our next example for discussion is the Maids study. This was done in Europe and the data was collected in 1999 and 2000. The total study cost was 2.5M Euros. The average exchange rate in 1999 was 0.94 and 1.08 in 2000, so the dollar and euro were roughly at parity during this time. I'll just leave the numbers in Euros. Schlepping 20% for the five institutions as before, that would indicate a per-crash variable cost of 2170 Euros per crash sampled. The OECD methodology used in Maids is exactly the same as for the current study, but the Euros had the added complication of five locations in five different countries with presumed travel and translation costs, whereas the current study is being done in Los Angeles. Maids lists 48 project personnel. It seems like the Europeans also got a much better deal than the one on offer here.

ET editorializes:

In summary: the current project per-crash costs are more than four times the Maids cost, more than eight times the Hurt cost as adjusted for inflation and a third more than the cost that OSU was talking about less than eight months ago.

A part of this cost differential can be laid at the feet of Senator Daniel Inhofe, who has turned bikers into pork in a fit of virtual cannibalism. He forced the study to go to OSU, who have zero qualifications in motorcycle research, and who basically farmed out the work to Dynamic Research, Inc. Any biker who meets Sen. Inhofe should remind him of this, and opponents might note this issue come election time.

My current ride has taken me to Phoenix, and I plan to visit the Dynamic Research head office on Monday, maybe we'll find out more. It remains to be seen why the numbers are like this.


Monday, October 19, 2009

More details on Crash Causation Study

We've launched our Crash Study Petition. Please sign it.

We promised more information on the states that have supported the Pooled Study initiative, details from FHA are here. The states that have already chipped in a total of $560K are: New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin. Good work, states, and if any readers feel like contacting their state's Motorcycle Safety Officer, the contact details are in our petition resource page. Or you could talk to your state DOT or your state reps about it.

According to the SAFETEA-LU fact page, $2814K of the $3187K has been paid out.

Our best estimate of the study costs, based on informed sources, is that Dynamic Science is charging between $8000 and $9000 per crash. That would make their part of the 300 crash study worth something like $2.55M, and OSU's maybe $637K, each give ot take 100K. Universities customarily keep a percentage of grant money for overhead and salaries, this percentage looks about usual. Dynamic Science has three researchers in South California, who did the pilot study starting in December 2008 and finished this spring. They are scheduled to start on the rest of the initial 300 crash studies soon.

The SafetyResearch.net blog for Feb 1, 2009 has a lot of background info. It details how Senator James Inhofe, R-Okla, rewrote the crash study to award the contract for the study to University of Oklahoma as pork. Dr. Samir Ahmed, reportedly, was unhappy at being stumped with the project. The OSU Transportation Center is known for road infrastructure research.

The funding for the study went through the Federal Highway Administration, not the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., which usually does motorcycle-related studies. The hand of the AMA (American Motorcyclist's Assoc.) can be seen in this odd decision. NHTSA had developed (deservedly) a reputation among bike groups of slanting their research to make political points about helmet use, leading to distrust of NHTSA research findings. The use of Federal Highway Admin bypassed this problem.

In fact, there is very little chance that this study will be used in the helmet wars. AMA has been policing the issue and as the study is to be done in California, a helmet state, there is not likely to be any data about the effects of crashes without helmets. Informed sources suggest that the researchers don't consider helmet use to be a significant cause of crashes, so it is just not part of their brief to consider this factor. In practical terms, unless it is proposed to collect data in some other state as well as California, we are safe from the helmet issue becoming a factor. In addition the OECD research methodology was developed for the Maids study initially and helmet use is not an issue in Europe. Looks like AMA has done a good job in keeping this study clean of the helmet issue, so nobody need fear that it will come up.

So far, the other research problem has not cropped up yet, no-one has flown the insurance industry's pet issue of mandatory speed governers, hopefully we won't see this either. Speed governers would be counter productive, anyone who wants to hop up their engine computers can bypass the governer, and we are pretty sure that modified bikes are a major safety issue, again from Maids. What would happen, if a mandatory say 120 MPH speed governer law was enacted, would be that the bike manufacturers would start putting in 120 MPH brakes, tires etc., so when bikers swapped out the chips for 200 MPH chips, the 120 MPH components, especially tires, would fail in huge numbers, giving us a net safety downgrade. So the speed governer issue is a non-starter, even though nobody expects the new study to conclude that speed in not a factor in crashes, as Hurt did.

If the numbers can just be got up to 900 somehow, we'll get a good study, free of at least the usual biases. Judging by what happened after the armed forces did some studies of their members crashes, it's more likely that training will be the big issue.

Upcoming: we'll look into the OECD methodology, with Maids as an example, and see how these studies work.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sign the Crash Study Petition

Our recent blog postings detail the trail of tears that the Motorcycle Crash Causation has dragged in its wake, amazing because of the huge work that had been done to date by the study stakeholders.

We decided to get up a petition and organize some folks to ride to Washington in the spring to deliver them.

The Petition Page has your choice of electronic or mail petition form, a discussion list registration feature, a 'tell a friend' mailaway to help spread the word and a page of resources, including a full set of press releases, contact info for the stakeholders, news and blog reports and previous Bikesafer bloggings. Fill out your petition, and tell your friends and organizations.

We have the complete info dump and finally, a way we, as bikers, can put our viewpoint on the prospect of a study that is expensive, yet too small to get definitive crash causation information. The petition asks, rather mildly, that the stakeholders get around a table and hammer out some way of getting a study that is big enough to produce good statistics.

Apologies the petition page was thrown together in a hurry. I am jonesin' for a ride so, now that I have a version of the petition out there, I'm going to take a couple of weeks off and ride west for a while. But I'll continue to update the blog on the road with breaking news, and I promise a total rebranding of the study page, when I get back, to emphasize the total independence of the study from any organization.

By the way, Bikesafer blog's reporting of the crash study saga has consistently been the most up-to-date and complete coverage of the issue, and we plan to keep a close eye on things.

We think we have identified all the money coming into the study, coming Monday, a new blog report on where it is going.


Friday, October 16, 2009

New Crash Causation Study Details

The AMA has issued a statement on the crash study, and we have coverage from roadracingworld.com, ClutchandChrome.com, a blog from sanantonio.injuryboard.com and local coverage from the OSU location in Stillwater, OK.

The news is basically the same as our blog from yesterday, except that we can correct the funding sources: The public funding is $2M from the highway reauthorization bill, $500K from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, $560K from pooled study funds from six state DOTs, $100K from the American Motorcyclist Assn, $27,000 collected by AMA in its fundraising drive. The withheld MSF-controlled funds include $2.8M conditionally pledged by the motorcycle manufacturers who are MSF's members, and an additional $300K they helped raise from a group of equipment manufacturers. That seems to total $3,187,000 from public and AMA funds, and $3.1M embargoed by MSF.

Sources quote numbers ranging from $7M to $12M, and OSU has apparently mentioned numbers like $9M in the past. The LA Times article quoted OSU as saying 10-12 million, but that might have been for a 1200-sample study that was in the original plan. 1200 samples would be great, but first we need to get to 900, which most experts seem to consider the minimum for good statistical evaluation.

So the gap, for a 900 crash study ranges from $713K to $ 2.7M depending on who you talk to. A combination of new funding and cost cutting might do the trick, but that will require negotiation between the stakeholders listed above, plus Dynamic Science of Phoenix, who has the contract to do the work.

Guys, make it so. And watch Bikesafer.com for more updates as the story unfolds.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

LA Times confirms study money withheld.

If you click the link in the blog header, you'll see the LA Times article, which confirms our blog post from earlier in the week about the study funding. The news seems to be worse, as the LA Times suggests that only another 247 crashes will be studied over the 53 already done as part of the pilot study just completed. The public funding is $2M from the highway reauthorization bill, $500K from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, $500K from pooled study funds from the state DOTs, and $100K from the American Motorcyclist Assn. The AMA conducted a campaign to persuade the states to chip in, and have done amazingly well helping bring the study to this point.

Our conversation with Dr. Samir Ahmed, the Principal Investigator at Oklahoma State U., suggests that they might be able to get a total of 400 crashes studied, more than the LA Times suggests, and it is possible that future highway funding legislation might include additional funds.

The MSF has cited the 900 crash requirement as a reason for renaging on their matching fund commitment. They said:
... with a limited sample size of approximately 300, we believe the study will not provide sufficient statistical significance of the OECD identified study variables and the MSF Board of Trustees has determined that MSF must continue to make its commitment of funds contingent upon a sample size of at least 900 cases.

The MSF is right, as far as the above comment goes, but their action, in withholding funding, is likely to scupper chances of having the Feds throw in the additional cash required to get the numbers to 900. Here's the MSF full statement on the issue.

In our opinion, the MSF would be better advised to support the current study and look for ways to get it funded and/or cut enough costs to make it happen. After all, the contract was signed in easier economic times, and factors are cheaper now than they were then. And business harder to find.

Friends of bikers, like Rep. Steve Cohen of the Transportation Committee, the various State motorcycle safety administrators who contributed to the pooled study, the AMA and the many individuals and organizations that have supported this measure, have reason to feel betrayed by this attempt by the MSF to avoid their obligations. Plus every biker in the country, who ultimately are the customers of the MSF members (the bike makers).

We say: the major players: the NHTSA, AMA, MSF, OSU and Dynamic Sciences of Phoenix, the contractors for the study, should get their heads together and figure out some way of making the study go forward with at least 900 crashes reported. Is there someone out there who can call a meeting and make the various parties to this debacle see some sense? Are we going to waste this $3m in public and 100K in AMA money on a study that has been frittered down to a useless nub?

We might not see another chance for a definitive crash causation study in our lifetimes, and bikers will continue to die if we don't figure out for sure what is causing bike crashes.

We need the new study. Make it so, MSF.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New training features in Bikesafer.com

Bikesafer.com reviews the MSF's Experienced Rider Course, which is aimed at intermediate riders. The course might well be replaced by the much more interesting Advanced RiderCourse - Sportsbike Techniques, reviewed here by ducatinews.com. Despite the name, it is applicable to all bikes. The new course derives from the MSF's MSRC, their new course created for the Army and Navy. It has had limited availability so far, but RiderCoaches are being trained in the new course all over the country and we'd expect to see it readily available by spring of 2010.

Noting that the Marines and Air Force also have a new sportbike course developed by Lee Parks and associates, which also has limited availability, we note the sudden interest in new riding courses. Both these new courses are the result of some studies done by various branches of the military - we believe at least three - which found some interesting changes in crash causations in recent years. According to military regulations, this type of study is never made available to the public, and must be destroyed after a year, which we think is a shame. We'll have to wait for the new Crash Causation study to know for sure what the military found.

It is well known that the Marines complained that they were losing more members to bike crashes than they were due to the occupation of Iraq, so we think it's safe to assume that they identified a training deficit as a major cause of the increase in bike deaths.

When you think about it, all branches of the military are now requiring an initial Basic RiderCourse, followed by a period of riding, and then the follow-up advanced course. We note the similarities between this sequence and the European motorcycle training/testing model, as practiced in Germany, the UK and Ireland, and probably other jurisdictions. Typically there, a new rider takes an initial course and assessment, is given a probationary, restricted license for something like two years, and then takes additional training, a range test, a road test and written evaluation before getting his final license. Could we infer that the armed forces, with their two-phase training, is moving towards the European model? The armed forces are in a better position to enforce training standards than either the states or the Feds are.

Some food for thought. It would suggest that all bikers might benefit from taking basic training, then coming back for more training after a year or so, either the ERC, the ARC-ST or one of the other courses in our biker ED section.

On a related note, Bikesafer, had reworked its skills practice page, with more tips on how to practice essential riding skills on the cheap. The essential survival skills of emergency braking, swerving and turning maneuvers go away if not practiced often, and you'll never know when you'll need them.


Crash Study Blues

Good news last week on passing the SAFETEA-LU authorization of the new crash causation study. The Oklahoma State University Transportation Center is doing the work, and Dr. Samir Ahmed has been appointed principal investigator. Currently they are involved in getting approval for the study from an Institutional Review Board, which is a requirement for all studies involving human subjects. As the study is non-interventional, we'd expect the IRB would issue a waiver after issues like consent to access personal and medical records, and anonymity of personal data are sorted.

All is not well in academia, though. One issue is funding. As we reported in Bikesafer.com, the AMA and other biker and industry sources raised about 3.1 million by fall 2008 in response to the Feds' request for 2.8m in matching funds. Various government sources indicate that a total of $2,402,000 was budgeted in SAFETEA-LU allocations for 2006 and 2007, and we think that something like 4 million might have been allocated from various government sources, including pooled study funds from the states.

The real problem right now is the 3.1 million in matching funds that was promised by the MSF and other industry sources. The MSF money came with a number of restrictive conditions, including the requirement that 900 crashes be studied, and the money has not been forthcoming, and might never be, as the university thinks they are about 2 million short of being able to collect data on 900 crashes. They are estimating 8000 to 9000 per crash, and they have some overhead too. The MSF needs to modify their conditions, or another couple of million, needs to be found to allow the 900 crashes to be studied.

Various estimates put the study cost at between $7M and $9M, depending on who you talk to. We don't have a firm word on what the budget is to date, but the researchers at OSU engineering department indicated that funding has fallen short of requirements and that the number of accidents to be researched might be cut from the proposed 900+, perhaps to as low as 400 crashes. As both Maids and Hurt felt that 900 examples were needed, we must be concerned about any watering down of the stats from the new study. It might be back to the trenches here when someone figures out the real numbers.

Another matter for concern might be the intent to do the whole study in California, apparently because that's what Hurt did, and they want numbers to be comparable. It seems self-evident to me that multiple states should be studied: a helmet state and a non-helmet state, for example, and maybe an MSF training state versus one of the non-MSF states like Oregon, Idaho or Illinois. It would be criminal to not use this hopefully definitive study to settle the burning questions of the day. Sorry, guys, but Hurt is no longer relevant. For sure, the results won't look a bit like Hurt, some work will need to be done to figure out what needs to be studied, and where.

If I were asked, biker training will probably turn out to be one of the major factors in bike safety. The example of the armed forces, where a little research into crash causation (which we don't have access to), resulted in two brand-new rider courses, the MSRC and related ARC-ST from MSF, and Lee Parks advanced course for the Marines and Air Force. Combined with rising evidence for more biker causation, speed and alcohol factors, I think we are certain to see very different outcomes from Hurt.

It occurs that the military innovation, of requiring a more advanced course some time after initial training/certification could be interpreted as a move towards the two-level licensing system common in Europe? The military is in a better position to enforce their idea of better licensing and training standards than the states are. Why is everyone else except for the US states requiring initial training and an interim or probationary period followed by final qualification and/or more training?

Sorry, more questions than answers here, but we are in a time of asking questions, and if we, and the crash researchers ask the right questions, maybe some useful answers might be coming.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Track Days

New feature in Bikesafer.com - track days. Rather than risking your neck riding your sports bike around town, why not take it to track days? It's as much fun as you can have with your leathers on, and we guarantee, you'll learn a lot about your bike and how to ride it. Our new Track Days feature will get you started.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Feds finally move on Crash Causation Study

Bikesafer.com has, from its inception, been a supporter of the section 5511 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), the new crash causation study. Yesterday, DOT announced the approval of the study, which will probably take about four years to complete. Approximately 20,000 bikers died while waiting for the study to get to this point, probably more than another 20,000 will die before it's done, and don't even start on the almost one million other casualties.

The work has been granted to the Oklahoma State University Transportation Center and we've spoken to their Dr. Alan Tree before.

This is a giant step forward for motorcycle safety, and we'll be watching progress at OSU very closely. In the meantime, bikesafer.com will continue to try to find what we can about crash causation.

Now we need to update the site again, coming soon.