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Status Report, Vol. 47, No. 4 | May 31, 2012 Subscribe

Antilocks slash claims for newly insured riders

Antilock brakes cut crashes for motorcyclists of all abilities, but the benefit is especially large for those new to riding or to a particular bike, a new analysis of insurance claims suggests.

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) compared the rate at which collision claims were filed for motorcycles equipped with antilock braking systems (ABS) with the rate for motorcycles without ABS. It found that ABS bikes were 30 percent less likely to have a collision claim within the first 90 days of a policy and 19 percent less likely after that.

"We already knew that motorcycle ABS cuts crashes. What this study shows is that ABS may help compensate for beginners' mistakes," says HLDI Vice President Matt Moore. "At the same time, riders with more experience also reap large benefits from the technology."
Preventing wheels from locking up is crucial on a motorcycle. On a car, a lockup might result in a skid, but on a motorcycle, 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. That way, a rider can brake fully in an emergency without any hesitation.

HLDI also updated a broader analysis of motorcycle ABS. Comparing ABS and non-ABS versions of 22 motorcycles from the 2003-12 model years, HLDI analysts found that collision claims were filed 23 percent less often for antilock-equipped bikes, and medical claims related to riders' injuries were 34 percent less frequent. Those findings are in line with earlier HLDI analyses and with research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showing a 37 percent reduction in the fatal crash rate with ABS (see "Antilock brakes on motorcycles prevent crashes," March 31, 2010).

Previous HLDI research has shown that, regardless of whether a motorcycle has ABS, collision claims are more likely to be filed under a new policy than under one that has been held for several months or longer.

A rider's level of experience is not directly reflected in the HLDI data. Researchers analyzed the amount of time a policy has been held with the idea that many new policies are associated with novice riders. In addition to novices, new policies also include purchases of new bikes by experienced riders and situations in which a rider switches insurers or drops and then restarts coverage based on seasonal riding habits.

To find out how the effect of ABS varied at different points in the policy period, HLDI looked at claims filed during the first two years of a motorcycle collision policy. Collision insurance covers damage to a motorcycle in a crash in which the rider is at fault. The analysis, which controlled for motorcycle class, model year, rider age and other factors, showed that ABS bikes had consistently lower claim frequencies throughout the two years. Claims for both groups were much higher at the beginning of policies than later on. 

The difference in claim frequency for motorcycles with and without antilocks was much more pronounced in the first 90 days than in any of the subsequent 90-day periods. Since the effect of ABS was similar in all of the subsequent periods, days 91-720 were combined into one period. The estimated reduction in claim frequency from ABS within this later period was 19 percent, compared with a 30 percent reduction for the first 90 days.

"While not all motorcyclists with new insurance policies are novices, those in the later period invariably have at least three months of riding under their belt, so the 19 percent reduction is a key finding," Moore says. "Experienced riders should think twice before they dismiss ABS as something for beginners."

HLDI didn't look at claim frequency beyond two years because the mix of motorcycles changes too much after that point. Certain types of bikes are more likely to be totaled in the first two years, and many motorcycle owners drop their collision insurance after their loans are paid off. However, there's no reason to believe that riders with more than two years of experience wouldn't benefit from antilocks.

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