magaslogo BUMPER


By Steven M. Magas[1], – 513-484-BIKE

In an earlier article I described the results of “MAIDS” – an in-depth study of motorcycle crashes in Europe.  The investigators modeled their study after the famous Hurt Report from 1981.  The investigators in the MAIDS study looked at 900+ motorcycle crashes in a truly “in depth” fashion – getting to the crash scenes with police, gathering evidence, examining vehicles, interviewing the riders and motorists, reviewing medical records and doing a true “reconstruction” of each crash.  They published their results in an exhaustive pair of reports – a 173 page Final Report and a 350 page “Report on the Project Methodology and Processes.

Some of the results of the study were not shocking [the object most often impacted by the motorcycle was a car] and some were surprising [most crashes occurred between 5:00 and 6:00 pm while the highest number of fatal crashes occurred between 7:00 and 8:00 pm]  This month we’ll take a closer look at MAIDS and see what we can learn to help us in our day to day riding, commuting and touring..


The MAIDS investigators recognized that relying on police reports to analyze all the various factors which might cause a motorcycle to crash is woefully inadequate.  Police investigators are not seeking to identify all causes – they are usually trying to determine if there is a need to charge anyone with a crime or traffic offense.  Once that question is answered the depth of their investigation may be as narrow as quickly issuing a ticket to an offender and sending the parties on their way or as in depth as treating the crash site as a crime scene – taping off the area, identifying and marking the location of physical evidence, interviewing witnesses, identifying and analyzing skid marks or gouges in the road, and conducting a “reconstruction.”

The MAIDS investigators wanted to do a truly “in depth” investigation into all types of crashes.  They wanted to do a consistent, uniform investigation that answered thousands of questions in each case.  In order to conduct this type of investigation the MAIDS team secured cooperation from police departments in FIVE countries – France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Italy.  Each accident investigated involved a MAIDS investigator at the scene of the crash with police.  “Basic Data Summary Sheets” for each crash were completed.  These data sheets required investigators to answer a total of 1627 questions about each crash!  A “specialized” questionnaire was developed when additional information was required as to a specific component of a crash.  In the 921 crashes investigated, more than 2000 variables were identified and coded for each crash!

In addition to the crashes investigated, the MAIDS teams looked at another 923 cases of motorcycles that were NOT involved in crashes.  This “control” data was essential for analyzing the crash data.  If they wanted to determine, for example, whether the color of the motorcycles in crashes was significant they would need some standard data about all motorcycles  – not just those involved in crashes.

  1. II. CONSPICUITY – “I Didn’t See The Bike”

“Conspicuity” is a favorite topic of mine.  My own totally unresearched “seat of the pants” opinion is that motor vehicle operators wander through life in their big, heavy four wheeled boxes relatively oblivious to what is going on around them.  Distraction, as we all know, has become a huge traffic issue.  Anyone who commutes regularly has seen this phenomena… passing car after car with drivers who are on the phone, texting, reading newspapers or office materials, putting on their make-up, yelling at kids, or using both hands to gesture wildly their traveling companions or fellow motorists!

As you ride your bike through town take a look at the behavior motorists engage in to protect themselves, and avoid crashes when they are changing lanes, turning left, turning right on red or pulling out into traffic..  Usually, this “behavior” amounts to nothing more than a glance – just a very quick look left or right, if you’re lucky.  Motorists often spend less One Second determining whether their next anticipated movement is “safe.”  By “safe” I mean safe for THEM, not for you.

This may explain why the MAIDS teams found that Human Factors were by far the most significant cause of motorcycle crashes.  They determined that car drivers were at fault in slightly more than 50% of the 900+ motorcycle crashes studied.  The motorcycle operator was at fault in 37.1% of the crashes.

What is more interesting, however, is that the MAIDS researchers did not stop here.  Once they determined that “Human Factors” was the contributing factor, they dug deeper into the facts and analyzed what TYPE of failure led to the collision.  They divided these human failures into four categories:

–        Perception Failure – Failure of a rider/motorist to detect danger

–        Comprehension Failure – Failure of rider/motorist to comprehend that what was perceived was dangerous.

–        Decision Failure – Failure of rider/motorist to make a correct decision to avoid perceived dangers.

–        Reaction Failure – Failure of rider/motorist to react appropriately to avoid perceived dangers.

In almost 40% of all crashes studied, the primary cause of the crash was the failure of the car operator to PERCEIVE the motorcycle or its operator.  This was, by far, the most significant cause of all motorcycle crashes caused by human error.   Second place on the “cause” list was a failure of the motorcycle rider to make an appropriate/correct decision to avoid a danger actually perceived by the rider [13%].

Another significant finding by the MAIDS team involves the location of danger to motorcyclists.  Where is the danger coming from?  Ahead of you, behind you, to the sides, from the bike?  The MAIDS team studied this and found that NINETY PERCENT [90%] of the vehicles involved in crashes with a motorcycle were IN FRONT OF THE RIDER at the time of the precipitating crash event.  In other words, very few crashes involved cars that out of the motorcycle operator’s sight prior to the crash.  When the sightlines of motorists were studied similar, although not as dramatic, results were found – the majority of motorcycles involved in crashes were in front of the car driver.

One other human factor studied by the MAIDS team was something called “traffic scanning.”  This is the scan I discussed above, the looking a motorist does before making a move.  As we might suspect, the MAIDS investigators found that motorists were terrible at scanning.  A “traffic scan error” was present and contributed to a crash in 63% of the crashes studied!

Finally, when MAIDS researchers tried to figure out what motorists and motorcyclists were doing just before crashing they determined that in almost 40% of the crashes car drivers were turning LEFT and 65% of motorcyclists were going STRAIGHT.

The “Human Factors” data shows that the failure of car operators to “see” or “perceive” motorcyclists is the most significant cause of crashes.  90% of the danger to us is right in front of us.  The Causation data shows that the “Left Hook” continues to be a significant, and stupid, way that motorcyclists are being hurt and killed.

Is the picture starting to come into focus for you?  What these numbers mean for the average rider?  To me, these numbers are a clear signal to continue hammer home my battle cry for “CONSPICUITY.”

Conspicuity is clearly critical to your safety.  Think back to my earlier thoughts about what motorists do as they are driving down the road and the “traffic scanning errors the MAIDS team found.  How much time does a motorist spend checking for danger before turning left in front of you?  As you ride your Harley, Ducati, Hayabusa, scooter, or Goldwing down the road you may have ONE SECOND or so to make a visual impact in the brain of an oncoming motorist who is glancing your way before starting to pull out from a stop sign or turn left in front of you!  If you fail to make a visual impact, to be PERCEIVED by the motorist, you may need to take action to avoid a crash.

Increasing conspicuity can be achieved in many simple ways.  Adding lights and using them in the daytime.  Wearing a bright or reflective helmet.  Wearing a jacket that is designed to be both seen during a one second glance and perceived as a danger.  Adding, and using, a horn that sounds like a freight train can help you be “perceived” more quickly.  For night riding, you can, again, add lights to the front or back, add reflective tape as part of your trim package, and wear clothing with reflective elements.

What about loud pipes?  Do they help make you more “conspicuous” and avoid crashes?  Accordng Jim Oullet, one of Harry Hurt’s researchers in the Hurt Report, the answer is a resounding NO.  Jim notes, in an article published on the Motorcycle Cruiser webpage, that “…by the time you are close enough for a car driver to hear you, he’s already in your path.  In fact, you run the risk that the driver will be so alarmed that he was stop and STAY in your path!…”  While many love their pipes, do NOT  rely on this as your only strategy for being perceived by others!

The bottom line, whether you dress in black leather or dorky Hi Viz yellow, is to recognize and understand that motorists are crashing into us because they are not SEEING us and not PERCEIVING us as a danger.  Increase your “conspicuity” and you will increase the likelihood that a motorist will “see” you when they look right at you!


[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!  Steve and his bride recently completed their first extended ride to the “North Coast” – the Indiana Dunes with a side trip to Buddy Guy’s in Chicago!

Printed from: .
© 2024.

Leave a Comment