The NHTSA is considering whether anti-locking braking systems (ABS) should become a mandatory component to new motorcycles on American roads. ABS has certainly become an increasingly prevalent optional feature on street bikes, with sportbikes just recently catching onto the trend.
Honda first released the VFR Interceptor with ABS back in 2002, and both BMW and Honda released bikes with optional ABS this year. We’ve also seen other safety features from cars finding their way into motorcycles, with integrated airbags in leather suits, and bikes offering rear-wheel traction control systems.
To us, this seems like a logical extension of existing technology into motorcycles, but for the NHTSA this is more serious issue of climbing motorcycle crashes, as both more riders take to the streets, and new riders join the motorcycling ranks.
Motorcycle deaths have doubled in 10 years from 2,116 deaths in 1997 to 5,154 deaths in 2007. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a case of more motorcyclists on the street, thus creating a similar rise in fatal crashes, but the increase in ridership has seemingly also brought worse (or greener) motorcyclists onto the road.
In the same time frame as above, the motorcye fatality rate has also doubled from its 21 deaths per million miles to now nearly 39 deaths per million miles traveled. This increase in both the number of riders, and the likelihood of a fatal crash occurring, have caused the NHTSA to further scrutinize its role in regulating how motorcycles are built and ridden.
One solution to the problem is making bikes safer for riders to operate. An insurance institute study has shown that fatal crashes are 28% less likely to occur on ABS-equipped motorcycles than other bikes. There are some problems with this statistic, but 28% is a considerable gap. Further analysis is being conducted to see why there is such a stark difference here.
Until this year only more expensive bikes had ABS, and were marketed towards older and likely more experienced riders, meaning ABS equipped bikes could simply be an unrelated issue here, with rider skill and experience still being an issue. Let’s face it, how many squids do you see riding a Honda Goldwing compared to a CBR600RR?
While ABS isn’t a replacement for properly motorcycle handling safety courses, the NHTSA is considering making the technology obligatory in new motorcycle design. We always welcome new technologies like ABS to motorcycles, but we still think making mandatory helmet and motorcycle safety course laws would likely have a deeper impact on the problem. Hopefully further analysis of this information will allow a more proper conclusion to be drawn.