BIKE LAW 101- What Do MAIDS Have to do With MOTORCYCLES???

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By Steven M. Magas [BMWMOA Member #121590][1], – 513-484-BIKE

I’ve never ridden in Europe… it’s something I’d love to do someday.  Motorcycling in Europe seems to be treated differently than here in the U.S.  Gas prices overseas have been much higher than U.S. gas prices for many years. A government study compared premium gas prices, in US dollars, for six European countries, and the U.S. from January 1996 [we paid $1.27/gal …sigh … and they paid ~$4.00/gal] to June 2008 [we paid $4.31/gal, they paid ~ $9.00/gal!]

The use of motorcycles as a primary mode of transportation seems to be more accepted and widespread in Europe.  Perhaps $9.00/gal is the “tipping point” where people start riding to save money on gas?  Perhaps the fact that many European cities are far less “car friendly” than U.S. cities plays a role.  Since all of Europe fits into the state of Texas, maybe the fact that you can climb on a bike, ride a few hours and “see the world” plays a role?  Maybe it’s those crazy sections of the Aubobahn which have abandoned the “speed limit” concept?  Perhaps they just “get it” – >Bikes  = FUN!

In addition to bikes being accepted on the roads and taken seriously as a mode transportation, Europeans also take their law enforcement pretty seriously too.  In Belgium, for example, a speeding ticket can cost anywhere from 60 to 2500 Euros which, at the current exchange rate, is, like half a million dollars… Well… OK… an exaggeration, perhaps, but at today’s exchange rate a 2500 Euro fine is a whopping $3,875.00!  Speeding too far over the limit will not only cost you your cash, but also your BIKE, as many European countries give cops the power to impound a vehicle if the speeding violation is too far over the limit!

So what do the joys and risks of riding in Europe have to do with life in the U.S.?  And what’s this about “MAIDS” keeping you safer??  Lemme tell ya….

“MAIDS” is an acronym, of course – for “Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study.”  This study involved taking a look at 921 accidents – and when I say “a look” I mean an incredibly detailed, close-up, microscopic “look.”  They didn’t just read the police report and say, “Oh yea, it was the rider’s fault.”  Instead, more than 2000 accident variables were cataloged and coded.  A full reconstruction of each of the 921 crashes was prepared.  The vehicles were inspected.  Witnesses were interviewed.  They frequently obtained medical records for injured riders and passengers.  From this data, the researchers attempted to identify as many human, environmental and mechanical factors playing a role in causing the crash as they could find.  This is a monumental effort to try to understand what factors contribute to motorcycle crashes!

In ANY “study” it’s always good to ask “Who’s doing it” and “Why” in order to try to sniff out any bias or predetermined outcomes.  For example, studies of drugs by the companies who make them and want you to buy them always seem a bit “iffy” to me.  Studies of motorcycle crashes by insurance industry groups bent on passing a helmet law are also questionable.  MAIDS was co-funded by the European Commission, and claims to be the “only database entirely devoted to PTW accidents…” [“PTW” is the term used in the study for “Powered Two Wheelers” such as motorcycles and mopeds/scooters].  The European Commission is the body created to represent all members of the European Union and is responsible for implementing common EU policies.

So, what did they find out?

Well, here’s a starter – the OBJECT MOST FREQUENTLY STRUCK in a motorcycle accident was…. Drum roll please… a passenger car! As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise … Surprise….Surprise!

But what about the Real Results of this study?  Well, here’s a few…

  • The primary cause of most of the 921 accidents was “human error” the most frequent being the four-wheeled cager’s “failure to see” the motorcycle within the “traffic environment due to lack of driver attention, temporary view obstructions or the low conspicuity of…” the motorcycle.
  • The second most frequently struck object was pavement – either due to a single vehicle crash or a maneuver to avoid impacting another vehicle.
  • The majority of the crashes occurred in urban settings.
  • Travel and impact speeds of the motorcycle in most crashes were relatively lower than I would have expected –less than 30 mph in 70% of all crashes!
  • A KEY finding, in my mind à 90% of all risks to the motorcycle operator, both vehicular and environmental, were IN FRONT OF THE RIDER prior to the crash.
  • In 37% of the crashes, motorcycle operator error was the primary contributing factor.
  • In 50% of the crashes error by the car/truck operator was the primary contributing factor.
  • 70% of the car/truck driver errors involved the “failure to see or perceive” the motorcycle
  • Interesting info – car drivers who had motorcycle licenses were FAR less likely to crash into a bike!
  • Among secondary contributing factors, motorcycle operators failed to see other vehicles and
  • Motorcycle operators also made a large number of faulty decisions; i.e., they chose a “poor or incorrect collision avoidance strategy” which contributed to the crash
  • Two self-inflicted factors also increased the motorcyclist’s risk of crashing:
    • Alcohol use
    • Unlicensed operator illegally riding a bike that, under European law, required a license.
  • Older riders were “under represented” and younger riders were “over represented” – conflicting with data found in other studies, and U.S. crash data released by the NHTSA each year.
  • 18% of car drivers, and 8% of motorcycle riders were found to have committed traffic control violations.
  • Less than ONE percent of motorcycle crashes were caused by technical problems on the bike.  Almost all of these relate to TIRES!  [So Inspect That Rubber, people!]
  • 73% of motorcycle operators attempted some type of collision avoidance maneuver prior to impact, with 32% experiencing a loss of control as a result.
  • Helmets – they are mandatory throughout Europe and 90% of riders had them.  However, almost 10% of the helmets CAME OFF during the crash.  Whether due to improper fastening by the rider or a failure of the fastener mechanism, this is a lousy number.

In many European countries, licenses are required to ride bigger bikes.  You also have to be older – you can’t get an “unrestricted license” until you are 21.  In Germany, the age is 25 and from ages 18-25 you are limited to smaller bikes for at least two years or until you get training and tested.

This study will form the basis of a number of future articles this year.  The data collected is absolutely fascinating and is something we need to encourage our government and motorcycle groups and agencies to duplicate in the U.S.

In 1981, the “Hurt Report” was published – this was the last major in-depth study of factors leading to motorcycle crashes in the U.S.  Harry Hurt and his staff took an in-depth look at 900 Los Angeles motorcycle crashes and analyzed an additional 3600 reports from around the country.  The report and appendices are 800 pages or so.

In a 1999 interview, Harry Hurt said, “We had no idea that study would last so long. We always assumed someone would commission another, bigger study. As it worked out, no one ever came up with a contract. Nobody wants to do any new research projects.”

The problem, of course, is that these things tend to get “politicized.”  Pro-Helmet groups want to skew things in favor of helmet laws.  Anti-sport bike groups want to limit horsepower.  Insurance companies, bike dealers, prosecutors, helmet makers, tire companies… they all have their reasons for wanting studies to come out a particular way.  Plus, in-depth studies like this that go BEYOND simply reading the police report and accepting the officer’s analysis, are very time consuming and expensive.

What I like about the MAIDS study is the depth of the investigation.  They didn’t just look at police reports listing brief conclusory statements – they interviewed witnesses and participants, looked at the roadway and the vehicles and collected some 2000 data points.  The “In Depth” portion of the MAIDS acronym is very true!

There is a move afoot to fund another “Hurt-like” study in the U.S. The motorcycle industry committed $2.8 million to the project in 2007 to meet the matching requirements imposed by Congress.  The AMA has committed money to the project and has a place online for ANYONE to toss a few bucks into its “FUEL THE FUND” pot!  [].

The US Study will use the same methodology as MAIDS – independent investigators are dispatched to accident sites in real time so they can collect in depth accident data. Like MAIDS, the US study will gather data on many crashes. The LA Times quoted Samir Ahmed, the Oklahoma State University engineering professor who is directing the US study as stating, “900  is the least we consider adequate from a statistical point of view.”  This allows investigators to get 20 times the amount of data than they can obtain from FARS [The US “Fatality Accident Reporting System”].

Future articles will explore the MAIDS study in more detail and compare the MAIDS results with the Hurt Report from 1981.  Has anything changed in the past 27 years?  Just looking at sales figures and checking out the Bike Nights at Quaker Steak and Lube and other local establishments tells me that motorcycling is more popular than ever – particularly with those of us who are… um… more experienced- yea, that’s the ticket…  There are more older riders now than there were 27 years ago, and more riders over 40 being killed.  There are also a LOT more “bigger” bikes and a lot more urban crashes.

The U.S. study is still climbing through the bureaucratic process.  HOPEFULLY, the study will begin in 2009 and by 2013 I’ll be writing about the results of the US Study!


[1] Steve Magas is an avid motorcycle rider and Ohio trial lawyer who has been protecting the rights of those who ride for more than 25 years.  He writes regular articles on motorcycle safety and legal issues for various publications.  Steve is a motorcycle commuter and tourist who is often found on Big Blue, his 2004 BMW R1150RT riding to work, to court, or to a gig with his classic rock band, Saffire Express, with a trumpet case strapped on the bike!

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