Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Sunday, December 13, 2009
As winter creeps in and riding opportunities become rare in most of the country, we can take time to work on our bikes and study up on technique. This book, written by a group of police motorcycle trainers in the UK is a seminal work, often quoted by serious motorcyclists. It's a textbook for any rider who is interested in pushing his skills to the next level.
Visit our reviews page for reading and training ideas for the off season and for the next riding season. Our biker ed section covers a broad range of training issues. You'll find some training ideas here.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
We've included a study milestones section, which summarizes the main developments so far. We added a cost comparison study which we had previously blogged, then we provide the little we know about the funds spent, mainly the $994K provided in the 2006 SAFETEA-LU allocation. We expect to learn more from our pending Freedom of Information Act request for additional FHTSA documents on the pilot study. We briefly air the study sample size issue and challenged Dr. Ahmed to demonstrate his knowledge of the literature and basic bike skills.
We are still frustrated at the lack of progress and good information on this issue, and our petition is gathering signatures daily.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Nobody seems to have studied this and there is no proof either way. A full-time, rear-facing noise maker is probably not the most effective conspicuity measure, and it does have community noise issues, but nobody can say that they are not of some help in getting attention and reducing crashes. Hurt was inconclusive on this issue, as there were slightly more (30.1% versus 27.3%) modified pipes in the crash sample. The difference is probably not significant and the types of exhaust system modifications were not broken out.
Maybe the current OSU Motorcycle Crash Study might actually prove that loud pipes do save lives (or not) and settle the matter? At the reduced sample size of 300, this might be the only fact that gets proven in the compromised study.
Friday, December 4, 2009
We spoke to the Principal Investigator, Dr. Ahmed, in November, and he was very specific in saying that QA work was done by Jim Ouellet at his rack rate, and that this was the reason why the per-crash cost was so high. When I asked him to spell 'Ouellet', he referred me to the Hurt study report, where Jim Ouellet is listed as co-author and Motorcycle Specialist. I called the Consultants Bureau, the only contact available for Mr Ouellet. They confirmed the rack rate as specified by Dr. Ahmed, but Mr Ouellet did not return the call. Jim Ouellet did some consultancy work for the pilot but I confirmed today that it was done for free, like his pro-bono work on the OECD methodology and the Thai study.
When I called Dr. Ahmed today to ask him why he misinformed me about Mr Ouellet's involvement last month, he first denied that he had said what he said, and then said 'it shows what sort of a website you run that you would not check your facts'.
Well, OK, I am not a professional journalist and I did make a mistake in this matter. But surely I should be able to rely on information provided by a prominent academic like Dr Ahmed? I'm going to be charitable and assume that he was somehow misinformed, and also has a bad memory about what he said on the phone. This is important information that goes to the core of his assignment with the Crash Causation Study and he should have known what he was talking about. I'll take his comment today as an expression of annoyance about my asking him for information, and I'll hope he's a lot more careful with his facts in the crash study.
In the meantime, I have fixed the information on the Bikesafer site, and I have put in a Freedom of Information Act request for the full pilot technical report and contract documentation from NHTSA. We'll publish it when we get it.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
We singled out data on helmet use, alcohol, rain and rider training/skills issues as being relevant to the US situation.
The helmet data is extremely good, as the principal investigator, is a neurologist who performed an enhanced autopsy procedure on the head and neck of the dead riders. The data is instructive on neck injuries in particular, and is an effective counter to contentions that helmets increase neck injuries. The study did find that neck injuries are under-reported in most routine autopsies, but it is clear that serious cervical neck injuries are very few in relation to the reduction in head injuries claimed for helmets. Although the HPRL consultants are widely published on the helmet issue, the actual researchers were not significantly influenced by helmet-law issues and the information is of very high quality, in our opinion.
We did feel that injuries where helmets came off during the crash, which are reported separately in the report, should have counted towards the head injury totals, and we did take the liberty, as best we could, of trying to break out those injuries and adjusting the injury totals. We didn't count helmets which were incorrectly fastened in this crude adjustment. It is clear, even with these tweaks, that helmets provide significant protection when they are used. They reduce or prevent head injuries and death in more than 50% of crashes, and helmetless riders die 150% more often and have massive, disabling head trauma three times more often than their helmeted counterparts. The scope for additional severe neck injury because of helmet use is relatively small in comparison with the benefits of helmets.
The information on alcohol, unsurprisingly, has detail on the effects of alcohol on rider performance. Nothing we didn't know, but good information. Alcohol is a major killer of bikers.
On the rain issue, neglected by both Hurt and Maids, the Thailand practice of collecting exposure data by videoing and counting traffic at the crash sites in equivalent day-of-week, time-of-day and weather conditions successfully countered for the reduced ridership in the rain, and identified rain, principally due to its effect of rider vision, as a cause in two thirds of the rain crashes. We had taken this view but it is good to have our instincts on weather confirmed.
There are a few other notes of interest. The totally alien nature of the Thailand riding environment doesn't provide much additional data of interest in the US, but as the study is not widely available as a free download, we feel that our article, based on a copy kindly provided by one of the researchers, is a useful addition to the discussion on the OSU study and crash studies in general.
We feel that the contention of the OSU investigators that there were quality control issues in the Thailand study is unwarranted. Their enhanced autopsy procedures and methodology improvements in the exposure data over Maids are worthy of note. They used a control exposure population of 2100 for their 723 crash samples in the Bangkok part of the study, instead of the Maids approach of using the same number of control samples as crash samples, and their additional population controls obtained from their traffic count and video procedures proved to be of value. The data was entered and coded by hand into Excel spreadsheets and crunched by SPSS, a standard statistical package, so by the nature of the work, some human error would probably have crept into the data and calculations. The US-based pilot is using a customized Access database with enhanced data validation and built-in coding features.
We don't know what the study cost. It was financed privately by three Honda subsidiaries. Costs in Thailand would probably not convert easily to US conditions.
As we have said before in relation to the Maids study, we should consider ourselves very lucky to have a study this good in the USA.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
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.