IIHS Calls NHTSA Motorcycle Safety Study 'Junk Science'

October 4, 2010
Jay Leno rides the Zero S electric motorcycle

Jay Leno rides the Zero S electric motorcycle

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has once again called foul on the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—this time, singling out a federal study that fails to show that anti-lock brakes on motorcycles have any significant effect on fatality rates.

According to the IIHS, the federal study is "junk science," as it relies on flawed methods.

The IIHS says that the NHTSA report didn't adjust for the difference in riding habits between those who have ABS versus those with bikes that don't. Nor did they consider rider age, sex, and location, which all play a role. Instead, the federal researchers compared crashes that would be affected by anti-locks with those in which they wouldn't have played a role.

"It's hard to find many crashes in which effective braking is irrelevant," argued IIHS president Adrian Lund.

The IIHS says that motorcyclist deaths have risen despite an overall drop in traffic deaths, and bike registrations have nearly doubled from 2006 to 2008. "Given that surge, it's important to look for ways to make riding safer," said the Institute.

Stopping a motorcycle is more complicated than stopping a car, says the safety organization, and anti-lock brakes help reduce brake pressure when a wheel lockup is about to occur. While a lockup might contribute to the loss of control of a car, it's almost inevitable if it happens on a motorcycle.

Motorcycles with ABS are 37 percent less likely to be involved in fatal crashes than those without ABS, the IIHS found based on a study that looked at data from 2003 to 2008. Separately, it was found that bikes with ABS have 22 percent fewer damage claims per insurance year.

The IIHS urged NHTSA to keep with its consideration of an anti-lock requirement for motorcycles, saying that the new study doesn't contribute anything reliable.

"There's ample evidence that motorcycle antilocks prevent crashes and save lives," said Lund. "Unfortunately, NHTSA decided to do its own study using a flawed methodology. The agency should disregard its latest findings, which only serve to muddle the issue."

This isn't the first time the IIHS has found fault with work from NHTSA. Just this summer, the Institute criticized the federal agency for focusing too much on driver distraction and other issues rather than fundamentals like speeding, red-light-running, and traffic safety.


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