India is latest to require motorcycle ABS; U.S. lags behind

May 24, 2016

A rider demonstrates a motorcycle equipped with ABS on the Institute's test track.

India has joined a growing number of countries that require antilock braking systems (ABS) on motorcycles — an important step for highway safety that U.S. regulators have yet to take.

ABS prevents wheels from locking up, allowing riders to brake fully in an emergency. It's essential safety equipment for motorcycles. The technology cuts fatal motorcycle crashes by 31 percent and insurance claims for rider injuries by 28 percent (see "IIHS, HLDI petition federal government to require ABS on all motorcycles," June 6, 2013).

Based on those findings, IIHS and HLDI petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2013 to require ABS on new motorcycles. The agency hasn't responded to the petition.

Meanwhile, other countries are moving forward. India's rule, announced in March, will require all new motorcycles with an engine displacement of more than 125 cc to have ABS beginning in April 2018. Carryover models get another year to comply.

In the European Union, new models over 125 cc must have ABS as of this year, and carryover models must have it next year. The same requirement will take effect in Japan in 2018 for new models and 2021 for carryovers and in Taiwan in 2019 for new models and 2021 for carryovers. In Brazil, mandatory ABS for motorcycles with 300 cc engines or greater is being phased in through 2019.

"Motorcycle ABS saves lives, and it's good to see highway safety regulators around the globe recognizing that fact," says Adrian Lund, president of IIHS and HLDI. "We hope NHTSA will be next, so that all riders in the U.S. can benefit from this technology, too."

Despite the lack of a U.S. mandate, motorcycle ABS has become more widely available in recent years. Nearly half of 2015 model motorcycles registered in the U.S. had standard ABS, while another 23 percent had it available as an option. That's a big jump since 2008, when it was standard on just 2 percent of motorcycles and optional on 22 percent.

Nearly 4,300 motorcyclists were killed in the U.S. in 2014, accounting for 13 percent of all crash deaths. A motorcycle ABS requirement could put a significant dent in overall fatalities, which, according to preliminary 2015 data, are on the rise (see "Stronger economy can be bad news for highway safety," Dec. 10, 2015).

In India, the impact of ABS could potentially be even greater, since there are far more motorcycles than cars there. More than 137,000 people were killed in crashes in India in 2013, and about one-third of them were riders of motorized two- or three-wheelers, according to government statistics. (The World Health Organization says the total number of fatalities is actually higher — more than 200,000.)

Dinesh Mohan, an Indian highway safety expert and former IIHS researcher, estimates that if all motorcycles on the road in India had ABS, it would reduce overall traffic fatalities by more than 10 percent. That's about double the reduction he estimates would result from airbags in every passenger vehicle plus universal safety belt use.

However, the new rule won't come close to that kind of an effect because most motorcycles sold in India will be exempt. For bikes with engines of 125 cc or less, manufacturers can install either ABS or a combined braking system (CBS), which integrates front and rear brake controls. It's not known how effective CBS is by itself, though HLDI research has shown that the combination of ABS and CBS is more effective than ABS alone.

Small engines are far more common in India, where motorcycles serve as a low-cost commuting option, than in the U.S., where recreational riding is the norm. Out of more than 16 million motorcycles sold in India in the year beginning April 2015, 86 percent had engines of 125 cc or less, according to statistics compiled by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

Still, Mohan points out, in just the first year the new rule will improve safety for the 2.3 million Indian motorcycle riders who purchase larger bikes.

Motorcycle ABS availability in the U.S. by model year

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