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Status Report, Vol. 48, No. 4 | May 30, 2013Subscribe

New research adds to the evidence that motorcycle ABS prevents crashes

As antilock brakes become available on more and more bikes, the technology continues to prove its worth in preventing motorcycle crashes and fatalities.

Motorcycles with antilock braking systems (ABS) are 31 percent less likely to be involved in fatal crashes than those same motorcycles without ABS, a recent IIHS analysis shows. Meanwhile, a new HLDI study shows a 20 percent reduction in the rate of collision claims with ABS and a 28 percent reduction in the frequency of claims for rider injuries. HLDI analysts also found that ABS had an even bigger effect in conjunction with combined braking systems (CBS), which integrate a motorcycle's front and rear brake controls. The two technologies together reduced collision claim frequency by about a third.

IIHS and HLDI first reported significant reductions in crashes and fatalities with motorcycle ABS in 2008 and again in 2010 (see "Antilock brakes on motorcycles reduce both crash frequencies and deaths", Oct. 22, 2008 and "Antilock brakes on motorcycles prevent crashes," March 31, 2010). The findings prompted IIHS to urge the government to make ABS mandatory on all motorcycles. Now that several more years' worth of data are confirming the benefits, IIHS and HLDI are formally petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for an ABS requirement. If NHTSA does adopt such a rule, it won't be alone. In the European Union, motorcycles with an engine displacement of more than 125 cc will be required to have ABS beginning in 2016.

"The data continue to accumulate in support of motorcycle ABS five years after we first reported on its effectiveness," says Adrian Lund, president of both IIHS and HLDI. "We hope NHTSA will agree that it's time to take action to ensure all riders get the benefit of this lifesaving technology."

Changes in claim fequency
for motorcycles with:

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Fatal crashes per 10,000 motorcycle registrations
with and without ABS, 2003-11

Graph image

Preventing wheels from locking up is crucial on a motorcycle. With a car, a lockup might result in a skid, but on two wheels, it often means a loss of balance and a potentially deadly fall. ABS prevents lockup by automatically reducing brake pressure if it detects that a wheel is about to stop rotating, then increasing it again after traction is restored. In an emergency, a rider can brake fully without fear of lockup.

For the analysis of fatal crashes, Institute researchers looked at fatal crash involvements per 10,000 registered vehicle years during 2003-11. A registered vehicle year is one motorcycle registered for one year. The researchers found that motorcycles with optional ABS had a 31 percent lower rate of fatal crashes than the same models without the technology. Models with standard ABS were excluded.

The study used data from the federal government's Fatality Analysis Reporting System and motorcycle registration information from R.L. Polk and Co. HLDI provided information from its proprietary database about which motorcycles were equipped with ABS.

For the analysis of insurance claims, HLDI compared the rate at which claims were filed for motorcycles with and without ABS per insured vehicle year. The analysts controlled for such factors as motorcycle make, model and age, rider age and gender, and policy deductible. As with the IIHS study, only models with optional ABS were studied in order to compare otherwise-identical motorcycles.

Collision claim frequency for crash damage to the motorcycle was 20 percent lower for bikes with ABS than for those without the feature. Claims under medical payment (MedPay) insurance, which covers injuries to the motorcyclist, were 28 percent lower, while claims under bodily injury insurance, which covers injuries that at-fault riders cause to other people, including their passengers, were 22 percent lower.

For the first time, HLDI also looked at the effect of ABS and CBS together. This combination was associated with a 31 percent reduction in collision claim frequency relative to the same motorcycles without either system. There wasn't enough exposure to study the effect on MedPay and bodily injury claims.

"As good as ABS is on its own, this analysis suggests it can be even more effective when offered in conjunction with other technology," Lund says. "It will be interesting to see whether further research confirms the added benefit of combined brake controls."

Despite the lack of a federal requirement, the availability of ABS has grown rapidly in recent years. The feature is standard on 22 percent of 2013 models and optional on 54 percent. That compares with less than 1 percent of 2007 motorcycles that had it standard and 5 percent on which it was an option.

©1996-2014, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute | www.iihs.org