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MSF funding approval, was necessary to preserve the public funding that is on the table, some of which might have been withdrawn if not used soon.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. 






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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.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Crash Causation Study: Cost Comparisons

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

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

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

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

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

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

ET editorializes:

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

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

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

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