Sunday, April 25, 2010

Questions about the Crash Study Pilot

At, we've been closely following the ongoing motorcycle crash study crisis.  Although the OSU study has been somewhat upstaged by the new MSF/VTTI naturalistic study, we are still interested in why the OSU study is such a basket case.  After being misinformed on various aspects of the finances, from OSU's estimates of up to $12M for a full study and a per-crash cost estimate of $8K to 9K per crash, we put in a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the pilot study, on which OSU seemed to be basing its own cost estimates behind their ever-greedier funding grabs.   These shennanigans presumably helped to persuade MSF to take its funding to VTTI's study, so we think the manner in which the pilot was conducted is critical to understanding why the OSU study disintegrated so spectacularly.   

We received the FOIA documents a couple of weeks ago, and we analyzed its detailed schedules, eight revisions and sparse money amounts.  We have our pilot study timeline analysis here.  The timeline just irons out a confused story containing four separate revisions of the project schedule, and ties things together a little.   It is a work in progress, but we think very accurate, as far as it goes.  We added some commentary here.  The contract was originally issued in September 2005 for a total of $467,103, with the work to be complete by February 8, 2007. In the event, the contract was amended eight times, the price rose to $994,201 and it was not completed until December 2009. This is a 112% cost overrun and a more than 200% time overrun.

Cost and Time Overruns

Odd things we noticed: Revision 5, was signed in April, 2008 when the cost was jacked up to $994K. The final contract amount was set at almost exactly the same amount as the 2006 funds allocated under SAFETEA-LU. As the Fed 2006 funding was presumably a known factor in April 2008, whereas we consider it unlikely that the Feds could have predicted in 2006 a 2008 contract cost down to the nearest couple of hundred bucks, we think it is reasonable to infer that Westat simply set the revision 5 price to match the funds available.

That's quite a trick. The contract payments were split into a fixed fee for Westat, and reimbursement for actual costs, and covered activities out to December 2009. Under FOIA section (2) (b), NHTSA redacted the amounts of the split, so we don't know how it was split. Apparently, Westat made a mistake in the split amounts and had to be changed in June 2008 under contract revision 6. That still required them to accurately estimate expenditure out 18 months, quite a feat for a crew that made a half-million dollar error in the overall project cost and an almost three year time overrun. A case might be made for tailoring expenditure to consume the available funding. 

How the money was spent

One more point that arises from Revision 5. They specified that they had spent $150,440 of the contract funds up to February 29, 2008. As the following step, C.4.5, was still due under revision 5 - April 25, we infer that this $150,440 covered only the steps C.4.1, C.4.2 and C.4.3, which were the to read the OECD methodology, host a kick-off meeting and prepare a work plan. We don't see any other deliveribles from C.4.5 onwards that could have been completed before the revision 5 signing in April 2008. This means that over 32% of the initial contract amount went to reading a few documents, having a meeting and preparing a work plan. As the work plan went through more revisions after 2008, we don't think the original work plan could have been very good. This might be a good place to start looking for the reasons for the huge cost and time overruns.

It seems that Westat was almost miraculously good at predicting how to wring the last few bucks out of this cash cow, and very bad at planning and budgeting a project. Simultaneously. An amazing feat of self-serving.

Is there enough here to get the Westat guys in front of the Transportation Committee to answer some tough questions about the use of our tax money? We would point out that over 13,000 motorcyclists died in crashes during the three year project overrun.  And the cost estimates may have been responsible to some extent for the funding flight. 

The role of Dynamic Science in performing much of the data collection work is not revealed in these documents.  Their competitively-bid contract with Westat is not public knowledge, so all we can say is that they presumably charged at least for eight weeks of training and about three months of data collection for their team of three people, which are documented in the timeline.  This might be about 2500 hours assuming 21 40-hour weeks, but we don't know this.  We can't tell anything about the cost structure of the case-gathering work.  But it is getting a little clearer what questions remain to be asked.
The timeline is a work in progress.  There are more external, documentible facts that we are adding to the timeline, and the anticipated technical report, due out from NHTSA by May 1st, will yield more information.  We'll bring it to you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Motorcycle Crashes and Deaths down in 2009

News from the State Governors Assoc., (see new York Times article here, article here) that motorcycle deaths were down in 2009.   The numbers are incomplete, based on three quarters of complete data and partial numbers for the fourth quarter, but they are predicting minimum of 10% reduction over the macabre record of 5290 in 2008.   It might be even lower than the 4762 estimate, as the drop over the first nine months was 16%.

The pundits speculate several possible factors, but nobody knows how much ridership was reduced last year.   We are obviously pleased that fewer bikers are crashing, but until we see the ridership estimates later in the summer, no-one can say that riding is any safer. 

Some suggested causes for the reduction:
  • Reduced ridership due to leisure riders taking fewer trips.  A lot of riders sold their bikes for economic reasons.
  • Reduced commuter riders due to more attractive gas prices and possibly weather issues in some areas
  • Fewer new bikes sold.   There are more crashes in the first year of ownership of a new bike.
  • Fewer new riders.  New riders are more at risk
  • Greater awareness of bikers due to cage drivers paying more attention.  Would be nice, but we'll see.  Bikers might possibly be benefiting from DOT's focus on distracted driving, but is seems early for these fairly weak efforts to have borne fruit.   It is also possible that more cage drivers know riders personally and might have been influenced by bike awareness campaigns.  Every rider should make a point of discussing bike visibility with their cage-driving friends.
  • Some states claim results from enforcement efforts aimed at motorcycles.  There were several enforcement efforts in California especially, but the general word is that a lot of jurisdictions don't try to stop bikes, because of previous fatal results from bike traffic stops.  We are dubious about this claim.
  • Better training.   That's be nice, but any results from better rider training would probably be mostly seen in the military, where there were new courses from Lee Parks and MSF aimed chiefly at younger sportsbike riders.  It is way too early to see any good effects from rollout of the ARC-ST and the new MSF curriculum.
  • Some states claim that the 2008 and previous accelerating death rate has caused states to emphasize motorcycle safety more.   MSF doesn't keep statistics on riders trained, the only people who would know about that would be the individual training centers and the state DOTs they report to.  The general climate of increased attention might have also been affected by news about the OSU study.  We are dubious about the self-serving nature of this sort of hard-to-verify claim, but we'll be looking to follow up on these issues.   Our bet is that fewer riders were trained in 2009 that 2008, as we'd expect basic rider course enrollment to be down with the drop in motorcycle sales.
  • Weather issues are cited in some quarters.
As it always seems to be the case with motorcycle safety issues, the sound of one hand clapping resonates throughout the land. We are happy for the 528 or more bikers who are still alive, but if it is because they stopped riding then we are just talking about the risks we accept when we throw our leg over the saddle. 

If we are saying that it is good that people rode 10% or 15% less, and 10% of 15% fewer crashes happened, then we are just saying riding is a bad thing, and we at are not ready to go there. If the ridership was down more than the death rate, the numbers could conceal some very bad trends.  It's not time to break out that bottle of vintage Irish single malt we've been saving to celebrate a major safety improvement. 


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

More on the MSF/Virginia Tech 'Naturalistic' Motorcycle Study

We followed up on the MSF announcement that it is sponsoring a study of motorcycle crash causations at Virginia Tech, using VTTI's novel naturalistic technique.  Our page offers links and information on what VTTI has been doing with the 'naturalistic' technique, which revolves around placing a battery of electronic sensors on a vehicle, then following a number of vehicles for a while, recording not only an crashes they become involved in, but also evasions, near crashes and minor crashes that the police are not called for. 

The technique, though rather new, is real and has a lot of work and development behind it.  Of course, there are obvious problems with reducing a 20 lb footlocker sized installation down to something that is small enough and tough enough to survive on a bike.   Although there are riders who ride the approximately 20K miles per year that the 100-car study participants drove, we think that most motorcyclists ride much fewer miles, and the 20K bikers are pretty much a breed apart. 

We are still digging around and looking for someone that knows about the new study to talk to us, but, for now, this looks like a real study, with real funds and researchers who could know a but more about bikes but who bring useful skills in this type of study to the table.  The VTTI guys have a rep in the academic and traffic safety worlds, and we don't think they would lend their names to provide a fig-leaf for the MSF.  


Friday, April 9, 2010

Motorcycle Crash Causation Study: New Documents submitted a Freedom of Information Act request back in December 2009, seeking information on the Westat contract.  We asked for the schedule of work, which includes the Pilot Study completed in March 2009, systems and methodology development and researcher training.   It can be downloaded here.

We are also looking forward to the publication of the Pilot Study Technical Report by May 1st on the NHTSA website.

We've jammed out this just as soon as we could get it scanned.   We are studying it very closely and expect to be able to hook it up with out other information to shed some light on the issues with the study.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Crash Causation Study Developments has suspended our Crash Study Petition.  We want to think the 524 people who signed it.

The situation has changed, and MSF has allocated its study funds to a new, 'naturalistic' study at Virginia Tech.  There is now little hope that anyone will fund the greedy and lazy OSU dons to complete the study as envisioned in SAFETEA-LU, which is what our petition asked for. The penny has pretty much dropped on the OSU 'researchers', and we think that, even if they produced a study, that it would achieve little traction, as Ahmed and Tree have lost all credibility in the motorcycling world. 

Although the 'naturalistic' vehicle study technique it totally untested in motorcycles, and is still relatively new in other vehicles, we think it has promise.   We are reading up on the '100-car study' and will be reporting back to you as soon as we can plow through the material.  The basic idea is that a bunch of vehicles have an array of sensors and video cameras installed, which the driver gets used to very quickly, and the electronics gather continuous data, on crashes, near misses and a collection of incident types which could be a crash precursor.   It's an interesting idea.   In particular, it might highlight ways to avoid problems and successful evasions, which are never caught in classical, Hurt-style studies.   We could potentially learn more about these techniques via this study than from the OSU study. 

It's early days yet, but we like both of MSF's new initiatives, which marks a major change at MSF.  They have been criticized for their course offerings and for various perceived policy problems, maybe this is MSF paying attention to riders and to the increasing biker death toll, and fixing their issues.  We welcome the announcements and await the outcomes with just a little skepticism. 

Like it or not, MSF is the 10,000 lb gorilla in the motorcycle training world, their problems affect us all, and we would all benefit from training and research improvements at MSF.  It'd also be good if they rode a bit more at MSF, several of their guys ride a few token thousand miles per year.  

We will continue monitoring both studies.  We have obtained the schedule of work on the Westat contract, which includes the OSU pilot study after a Freedom of Information Act request to DOT.  It's been delivered to the house, and I'll scan it up and publish it when I get back from my current road trip.  In addition, we are informed by DOT that the preliminary pilot study technical report should be published by May 1st, 2010 and we'll be looking for that and commenting on it as soon as we see it.  

These documents should help explain what happened to the more than two million in mostly tax money that has been spent so far, and shed some light on OSU's exorbitant demands for study cash. 

Stay with as we shed light on both studies. 

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Motorcycle Animal Crashes, new feature

At, we've been interested in bike animal crashes for a while. As spring brings balmy riding days, we dusted off some research we've been procrastinating over, and put out some new strategy pages for deer and other animal hazards.  

Every biker knows someone who's been brought down by a deer, and everyone at the site has had near misses with deer.  As David Hough notes in 'Proficient Motorcycling', (see our review), the problem is understated in the Hurt and other studies, which were done in cities.

Many bikers ride for pleasure, and we like the same twisties and forested areas that deer do.  We dug around in the stats, and focused on two reports on Minnesota in 2008, which suggest that, although deer/bike collisions are only a few percent of the overall vehicle-deer crashes, they account for 90% of the deaths and a third of the injuries.  A biker in a crash with a deer seems to have almost a 100% chance of being injured, and almost a 10% probability of being killed, which is a higher casualty rate than average for motorcycle crashes.

Our conclusion is that there are probably over 3000 bike/animal crashes nationwide, with almost 200 deaths and 3600 injuries. 

The Bikesafer article covers defensive strategies for deer, and there's a page on other animal hazards. We don't have any magic bullet for avoiding deer accidents, but we provide hints on when to be especially vigilant for critters, and best practices for evasive tactics if needed. 

Ride safe.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

MSF announces new Rider Training curricula

MSF has long borne the brunt of criticism for its rider course offerings.   The Basic Rider Course was considered to have been dumbed down after the last major revamp in 2002, and its more advanced offerings, the Experienced Rider Course is just lame, compared to what's available in Europe and Canada, and from competitors like Lee Parks

The new ARC-ST (the slightly misnamed Advanced Rider Course - Sportbike Techniques) spun off from a course MSF developed for the Army and was well-reviewed, although it is essentially in its first season of civilian roll-out. 

The new curricula include the basic rider course, a new on-street segment where an instructor is in radio contact with up to three students, a basic 'Bike-Bonding' course, an optional track-style course developed with Kevin Schwantz and a more advanced street raining segment make up the elements of the three curricula.  

We're excited by this new approach from MSF.  We wish them well with getting the trainers trained and selling their concept to the independently franchised training operations nationwide, which are overseen by the states. 

We have always said that a skillful, well trained rider is safer and has more fun on his bike.   If this initiative is a success, we would expect to see a reduction in crashes, injuries and deaths.  

That's not to say that it will be plain sailing for MSF.   The training regimes we mentioned in Europe, Canada and the military have a compulsory graduated qualification system, where basic training and initial qualification is followed by a probationary period with restrictions, and another series of training and testing is required to obtain a full license.  MSF's training regimen would be entirely voluntary, as in  many states it's possible to get a motorcycle license by doing a simple paper test and a trivial parking-lot  test, which is often skipped.    

It remains to be seen if MSF will use it's considerable lobbying muscle in all 50 states to toughen up the licensing requirements.  In the past, it has seemed that the bike makers, who own MSF, have wanted to relax the requirements in order to maximize the number of potential customers.  Perhaps the Feds might get involved in providing incentives to the states to improve their training and licensing standards.  Various levels of government might also provide incentives to riders, in the shape of training subsidies like some states already have.

The MSF have a lot of work to do, to make these new curricula available to riders nationwide.  We all have work to do to persuade government to support this initiative by bringing licensing requirements up to international standards. 

This announcement is a very positive step.   Good work, MSF, we now expect great things in the coming years. 


MSF Comes Off the Crash Study Fence

MSF announced today that they are partnering with Virginia Tech to run a motorcycle crash study which uses instrumentation mounted on bikes to collect data about crashes and near-crashes.  This type of study has been done with some success in cars and trucks.  This will be the first time it's being done on motorcycles, we guess the electronics have gotten small enough to make that feasible.  The data collection devices include miniature video cameras, motion sensors and GPS transponders, which provide very detailed information on what the bike, rider and other vehicles are doing.  We'll bring more on previous studies of this type when we get some homework done. 

Of course, there are always risk of sample skew in such a study.   Bikers who volunteer to have the gadgets attached to their bikes might have a different attitude to safety,  and maybe the knowledge that big brother is watching might cause the rider to change her riding habits, like speed a little slower. 

The advantages of not being confined to a single city location and a helmet-law state, and the ability to study events that don't result in a 911 call, not to mention avoiding the political constraints piled on the OSU study, might result in information useful to bikers. The technique has potential for producing more information at less expense.

The successful Maids study was financed by the European Manufacturers association, and the Thailand study was financed bu Honda, so manufacturer-financed studies have a good record. 

We have been enthusiastic supporters of the ill-fated OSU study, which has been accursed by an evil politician, Daniel Inhofe, who gave the study as pork to OSU, and and incompetent chief investigator, Dr. Samir Ahmed.   The late Harry Hurt expressed disappointment in the OSU study, and clearly MSF has decided not to throw good money after bad.  Who's to say they are wrong.

The non-motorcycle-rider Dr. Ahmed has been reported in recent weeks to be on tenterhooks awaiting the result of last week's MSF meeting, where the final touches were made to this policy.  He was expecting MSF to restore the funding they withheld from his study, and will no doubt take this development as a kick in the teeth.  He can now get back to 'proving' that a 300-sample study is as good as a 900 to 1200 sample study, and whining about his expense account.  OSU, by politicking the SAFETEA-LU grant and holding out for up to 12 million in pork, have shot themselves in the foot and done a great disservice to bikers by wasting research money and alienating the previously supportive MSF by their antics.   The MSF action should be interpreted as a censure of OSU and its flacks and minions. 

We'll be watching what MSF and Virginia Tech do with their study and hoping that the OSU study can somehow be rescued by handing the project over to someone competent.   

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cognitive issues around multi-tasking for riders

Today, we published a new page on often hear of bikers who fail to react when faced with an unexpected hazard.  How many times have you heard that someone 'had to put it down', even though we know that putting it down is not often an effective crash evasion tactic? The research is full of riders who fail to choose or execute the evasion that might have saved them from crashing. 

We have met some bikers who occasionally exhibit confusion and dithering when faced with an unexpected new task.   One riding buddy used to lose it completely whenever he went off track and his GPS started talking to him.  

This is probably due to a phenomenon well understood in cognitive science.  The theory of human working memory as a resource vital to consciousness and paying attention is established.   It's been heavily researched and turns up in the design of military pilots' heads-up displays, where the number of objects shown are deliberately limited.   Anyone who has had military training is familiar with the confusion and indecision displayed by the victims of a surprise attack, which is another feature of working memory overload.    

Our page deals with the experience of learning to ride, the use of working memory in this process and in the multitasking required of riding in challenging environments like city streets.  The effect of working memory overload on the riding task can be catastrophic, as tasks that were being done competently before the overload can totally freeze up.   The event that caused the overload, if it is a threat, is unlikely to be handled well.  Our riding skills desert us just when we need them most, and we go down.

The discipline of managing this scarce cognitive resource, eliminating unnecessary or inappropriate use of working memory, and staging the learning of new skills to muscle memory might help us avoid the catastrophic consequences of a working memory overload.  

We can develop some good riding habits that might keep us from springing a bad surprise on ourselves, and we can learn to monitor our use of working memory to help prevent fatal overload. 

And we don't want even to think about what happens to these vital cognitive skills when alcohol is involved.   We're not aware of any specific research on alcohol and working memory, but how could that work out well? 

Thinking about thinking about riding?  OK, it's a bit abstract for us too, but the problem is real, and best thought through before you get on the bike. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Proficient Motorcycling

We just added a review of David Hough's influential book, 'Proficient Motorcycling, the Ultimate Guide to Riding Well'.  It's a great read, and the best book we have read on bike techniques.   It's highly recommended for off-season reading and as a reference for the rest of your ride. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Evasion Skills

Studies show that bikers who see a problem in time, choose the right evasion tactic and execute the evasion well generally stay out of the accident stats.  We study emergency braking, swerving and the other emergency tactics.  Only the stills we've been practicing will be there when we need them.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Roadcraft book review

Today we added a book review to our reviews page. "Roadcraft, the Police Rider's Handbook to Better Motorcycling". by Philip Coyne, published by The Police Foundation, UK.

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

Motorcycle Crash Causation Study, the Story So Far

We've redone our Crash Causation Study, the Story So Far page to be a more readable version of our Study Resources information.

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

Loud Pipes Save Lives? has updated the information on loud pipes. We added some links, inluding one to an article on the Oakland PD, whose motor cops have loud pipes and swear by them, even though they think they might lead to hearing loss. 

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

Withdrawal of crash study information

We made an error in previous pieces on the Motorcycle Crash Study.   We have fixed that information and we owe Jim Ouellet an apology.  Jim Ouellet is a pioneering researcher in motorcycle safety, who worked on the original Hurt report and has given freely of his time in the Thailand and Maids studies.

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 reviews the Thailand study

"Motorcycle Accident Causation And Identification Of Countermeasures In Thailand" was an influential study by Dr. Vira Kasantikul done between 1998 and 2001. The researchers were early adopters of the OECD methodology and worked closely with Head Protection Research Lab personnel in enhancing the original Hurt methodolgy. OECD was used in the Maids European study and the current US effort at OSU. It is important in understanding current research.

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

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. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

Motorcycle Crash Causation Study FAQ

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.

The word is spreading. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

We review The Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Guide to Motorcycling Excellence

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. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Motorcycle Crash Causation Study and the crash sample 900

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 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.  

Monday, November 16, 2009

Helmets and Protective Gear: Do they work?

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. 


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Crash Causation Study update.

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,,  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


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ride Readiness: getting yourself and the bike ready to ride.

Bikesafer has just added a section on ride readiness, including buying a new or used bike, adjusting it to fit the rider, pre-ride check and personal readiness to ride.

Not that we've forgotten about the critical situation of the motorcycle crash causation study.  We are still following that issue and will bring you more news when there is some. 


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Motorcycle Crash Causation Study: Some fixes.

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.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Motorcycle Crash Causation Study Personnel

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. 


Sunday, November 1, 2009

The OECD Methodology explained.

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. 

We also rebranded our petition section and its resources pages, and added a few new information links. 

This crash causation study, with the right numbers, has the potential to save thousands of biker lives.  It may be the most important motorcycle safety event of our time.


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 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 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, 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 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 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 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,, a blog from 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 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 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 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.