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We've been visiting with rider groups and following the discussion of the Crash Causation Study on numerous blogs and forums, and we compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about the study and the petition. The questions include:
The good news is that the petition count is at 300, and we are getting an average of over 50 per day, and rising. Bikers really care about getting good information, and are willing to stand up and be counted.
The study getting great support from members groups like SCRC, AMA, HOG, various ABATE chapters, CMA, MRF and many others.
We reviewed the MSF's book, and it is a nicely-produced volume aimed at riders in their first few years. It deals with issues like countersteering, traditionally ignored by the MSF and has a comprehensive overview of basic riding strategies, bike issues, skills and technical issues which every bikers should know about. As an adjunct to the relatively skimpy Basic RiderCourse text, it will take you to the next level, although, with a bit of digging, you could find equivalent information on the web for free. For twenty bucks, less on the online discount sites, a biker at any level could read something here that could save his life, and if you work better with books than live instruction or electronic media, this is a good early choice for your reading list. We do point out a few areas where we disagree with MSF's approach, the two-second following distance rule and the downshift when braking rule, but if you follow up on those issues and anything else you have questions about, a little controversy.
We have more book reviews coming up, including David Hough's 'Proficient Motorcycling' and the UK police roadcraft manual.
As the Motorcycle Crash Causation Study folks have decided to do the study with 300 instead of 900 crashes sampled, time to review previous statements from study stakeholders on the matter.
This story from Examiner.com from last week reveals that Dr Ahmed, the study Principal Investigator, is now working on some statistics to prove that the 300 number will be OK. (We can confirm the Examiner story from our own sources) This is ludicrous on the face of it. The workings of the 'chi-squared' test make it impossible to predict which data will be further studied to see which of the almost 2000 crash data items are important in causing -and preventing - crashes. These might be items like ABS, running lights, HID headlights, which might prove effective in preventing crashes if present in sufficient numbers in the population sample. As we don't know what these numbers will be, we can't predict the outcome of the 'chi-squared' test done on these data at the 300 and at the 900 level. No statistical calculations can override this presumption.
On the other hand, Dr Ahmed, the Principal Investigator from OSU, is on record, in this LA Times article from July 2007, by the prescient Susan Carpenter, as saying "900 is the least we consider adequate from a statistical point of view.". Right on, Dr. A, you were right first time.
This Pooled Fund solicitation, from Carol Tan, the FHWA Project Leader, is similarly firm on the subject, and in fact has a contract with the six state motorcycle administrators from New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin.
Not to mention the Transportation Committee could reasonably have expected that they were approving 900 crashes when they approved SAFETEA-LU measure 5511, if they were going by the published information on the subject.
And, for good measure, we include other 900 supporters who are safety experts, including MSF, the Hurt and Maids studies, Motorcycle Safety News and Safety Net.
The good news is that study petitions have gone viral and are coming in too fast to count. We are well on the way to 1000 petitions, and have been getting them from organizations like AMA, SCRC, Blue Knights, ABATE members from several states, Christian Motorcyclist Assoc and many more. Thank you all for your support, and we are still investigating the issue.
It's hard to find research by experienced motorcycle accident researchers where the researchers had an open mind about helmets, and protection in general.
The helmet law debate in the US has muddied the water. Bikers rights advocates have pointed out NHTSA-funded research which suffered from obvious bias, and there is a lot of propaganda on the issue, from both sides.
Up to now, we have avoided the issue by going with expert opinion on the matter as conventional wisdom, but we can do better. Today we published a new page on the issue, summarizing the helmet data from three studies that are somewhat free of the current US controversy on the matter. The papers look at helmet effectiveness in the Hurt study, whose late-70s data is from pre-helmet-law California before the current battle lines were joined. The other two studies were the Thai and Maids studies. In Thailand, about half the bikers wear helmets, and Maids, in Europe, only 8% of riders in accidents had no helmets. All the Maids countries have helmet laws and the casualties were mostly moped and scooter riders.
As a counterpart, we also linked the current NHTSA crash data which actually claimed lower, but still substantial, benefits from helmet wearing. In the light of the other studies, their claims do not look excessive.
We were also unable to find any linkage between the 92% helmet wearing European riders and increased neck spinal injury. Total spinal injuries were only 5% compared with the 68% of riders who had reduced head injuries because they wore a helmet.
We did find that these studies were done by researchers who had previously done helmet research and were in favor of helmet use, but also point out that it is impossible to find any serious researchers who have not formed a pro-helmet position.
Nothing surprising here.
We also added Maids data on all the protective gear items in our Injury Mitigation section. Every protective item, helmet, eye protection, jackets, leg protection, boots and gloves, plays a significant role in reducing injury.
Bikers might exercise their freedom to wear a helmet and gear, and still resist big brother attempts to limit freedom.
Firstly, I need to correct an error, the Maids and Thai study was done by professional researchers, not grad students as we had assumed incorrectly. We have updated the site accordingly. We apologize to all concerned and anyone we misled. We have corrected the information here. We plan to refine and correct our information in real time and are researching the issue constantly.
That does mean that the 2.5 million Euro Maids study costs are directly comparable to the current OSU study, which has more than twice the potential funding.
We found that Westat completed the pilot study, crash data collection training, systems development and administration work for $942K. As far as we can tell, Dynamic Systems did three months of work and collected the data on 53 crashes for their estimated rate of $350 an hour (for the team) and about 3.5 mandays per crash. Although it might seem like a lot, it is not the cause of the cost overrun. They bid competitively for the work and collected much more than the estimated number of crashes for the pilot, still completing on time. Although we don't know the exact amount they charged, we think they executed well and probably earned their pay.
More than half of the estimated $8.5K per crash went to QA work, consultancy and administration costs, best we can tell.
A large share of this probably went to QA. The QA work for the pilot project was overdone. Instead of the OECD mandated 10 percent QA rate, it was done at the 100% level in the pilot and it is planned to do it at a 70% rate for the entire sample. We don't know what Westat charged for administration, but OSU should be doing this for their cut of the study funds. This, plus maybe some consulting and any overtime or additional work charged by Dynamic Science probably accounts for the lion's share of the pilot per-crash costs.
In addition, Maids created technical support committees for their project from personnel seconded by the bike manufacturers, and organizations like MSF, AMA, msgroup.org, the Head Protection Lab and the state mororcycle safety officers might be willing to provide consultancy support. This would help minimize any additional technical support needed.
We think that part of the problem was the funds voted for the Westat work in 2006 was this $944K. If they got the project overhead part of the project - the training, system work and admin - done for maybe a bit over a half million, and had (say) about 450K left to collect the 53 crash studies, with QA, admin and consulting, then they had an incentive to either spend the approx $8.5K per crash or leave cash on the table. This is not necessarily indicative of the true future data collection costs, especially if the QA issue is corrected and consultancy costs and admin reduced. This was a costs-plus-fee contract and the amound was fixed in the 2006 SAFETEA-LU allocations, so we don't know if Westat had any incentives to do the job economically.
The encouragement to spend a big chunk of the per-crash funding on QA, at ten times the level mandated by the OECD methodology, came from OSU. They cited quality issues in Maids and the Thai study, which are not warranted. Besides a few teething problems getting the methodology right for control group recruitment, soon sorted, we can find no-one else that alleges quality issues in either study, and we spoke to several knowledgeable people and study participants on the issue. These studies were of excellent quality, because they followed the methodology, executed well and had over 900 crashes sampled. We should consider ourselves fortunate to have studies this good.
Unfortunately, the current study in its apparent state of disarray does not seem likely to produce anything as good as Maids. To the detriment of the many bikers who might needlessly die as a result.
We think, if you can get the MSF funds back on the table, there is more than enough funding to produce a good study with the full 900 or more samples.
OSU has been quoted as being reluctant to commit to the right numbers for fear they might be liable for the full study. But they had no hesitation in taking public funds for so doing.
We think the House Transportation Committee should look into this problem. The fact that the original projected 900 to 1200 crash objective has been overridden by the officials charged with its administration is, in our view, sufficient grounds for the committee to look into it, and hold hearings if necessary.
Maybe if someone waved a big stick, the study stakeholders might be encouraged to get around a table, accept responsibility for this sacred trust, and sort out a reasonable project plan that gets the job done.
We have been promoting our petition and speaking to bike groups around the country. I can say that motorcyclists are getting mad, and supporting the petition, once the facts are laid out. We are helping several conventional news outlets work on stories on the issue, and talking to bikers. How many angry bikers are the stakeholders trying to collect?
And we will continue to find the facts, follow the money, and obtain better information.
We are heart-scalded. The crash causation study is approved by DOT, a week later MSF piles in with their announcement withholding their funding. Resisting the urge to paint the MSF as the bad guys, despite their poor gamesmanship and the fashion in the motorcycle safety industry for MSF to be the root of all evil, we spent the month investigating the problem.
We found a lot of information, documented the whole issue, and we followed the money, identifying four institutions and enterprises who have had income from the study funds. We also started a petition, which has had very good support from groups like SCRC, ABATE individual members, Wolf Pack and Ride like a Pro.
But we felt bad. Faced with the fiasco that is the study, and taking on the task of investigating the problem among a web of confidentiality clauses and doublespeak, after identifying where the vast majority of funds went, including a lot of unnecessary spending and preferential contracts, we decided that we would be nattering nabobs of negativity no more.
Today, we are announcing our proposed fix for the study problems. Basically, it identifies several areas where the study managers strayed from the OECD methodology, points out five specific areas of overspending and makes recommendations to wind in the out-of-control per-crash study costs.
In our view, if these recommendations are implemented and the MSF funds are drawn back into the process, there is more than sufficient funding available for not 900 but in excess of the 1200 crash sample originally envisioned. 1500 crashes would be possible, at good quality. Study stakeholders, now you can make it so.
At least, rather than a stream of negativity, now you have some concrete proposals to discuss. Time to move forward on this issue.
Following up on our earlier postings about the Crash Causation Study, and trying to figure out why the study costs are so far out of whack with Maids and Hurt, I talked to some of the project personnel.
Carol Tan, the DOT / FHWA point person for the project, seemed frustrated with the problems. She says that we will see some useful results, but conceded that the larger study size of 900 would be better than 300. Apparently, the October 5th announcement, without securing the MSF funding approval, was necessary to preserve the public funding that is on the table, some of which might have been withdrawn if not used soon. Even if the other finances are not in place.
Dr Ahmed of OSU seemed similarly frustrated. He is doing a statistical analysis to see if 300 crashes will work, but in this 2007 LA Times article he was pretty clear that 900 is needed, as most experts agree. When pressed on the issue of why this study is costing so much more than Maids or Hurt, he points out that both these other studies used the cheap labor of research students. OSU is contracting out the work to professional accident investigation businesses, like Dynamic Science Inc, which provided the researchers for the pilot study. Additional consultancy and quality analysis was done by other accident investigators. Dr Ahmed refused to identify the consultants or what is being paid to them or to Dynamic Science, pointing out that the contracts specify confidentiality on these matters. Dr Ahmed also points out that although OSU is not a motorcycle research specialist, since USC closed down Hurt's department, there are no specialist university motorcycle research departments anywhere in the US, so they are as good as any. Of course, if they are doing the research in California, surely a local university with hordes of research students would have had an advantage.
We talked to Christopher Toale of Dynamic Science, who refused to comment. We don't know how much they are charging, but we would estimate that most of their guys command three-digit rates plus expenses. Other Dynamic Science personnel identified WESTAT as a primary contractor for the pilot study. It is not yet confirmed if they will be working on the main study.
We contacted several former Hurt collaborators and Head Protection researchers who are not involved, but we think some of them have consulted for free on the pilot project.
We don't know what the Dynamic Science researchers get paid , if they would come clean we would know, but in the face of their reticence, we'd estimate that some of their people get over $150 per hour, and that the team of three probably bills in excess of $300 per hour for project work.
The problem really is that Hurt had to start with nothing, recruit students and bike experts, and make it up on the fly. We understand the temptation for Dr Ahmed to use these readily available, but expensive, experts to make up for his lack of previous experience. This was not necessary.
As part of our ongoing petition drive, we have added a page on how the OECD methodology works. This initialese has been slung around a lot, and, although there is a good explanation on the Maids site, you do have to jump through a few hoops to see it.
We wanted to explain how the new study will identify bikers who have good riding strategies and equipment, and tell us with a fair degree of certainty what works for real bikers. And also get under the skin of why it is so important to get the full, 900 to 1200 study sample size.