Every day in America at least a dozen bikers die in the saddle. A truck or auto operator is usually at fault. Typically, the killer explains that he never saw or heard the biker and is fined a trivial amount for a minor offense.
The broken bodies of the victims are usually heaped with scorn. A standard line in every news account of every motorcycle fatality informs enquiring minds whether or not the biker was wearing a helmet. In the last few years it has become common to mention that Harley riders are aging so their riding skills must be deteriorating.
The most popular misconception is that bikers are usually at fault because they do not know what they are doing well enough to stay alive. So of course, the solution is more and better motorcycle “education.” Like, if bikers were all required to get an Associates degree in motorcycling from the University of Phoenix before they were licensed people would be less inclined to try to run over them.
A majority of Harley dealers and riders actually agree with this idea. Every biker who has ridden in the real, big, scary world would like to pick up an edge. Even skeptics concede that a motorcycle course can’t hurt. But a study published late last year by an insurance industry think tank called the “Highway Loss Data Institute” concluded that the effect of “rider education” on collision rates is “not statistically significant.”
How News Works
The Institute bulletin, titled “Motorcycle Collision Coverage Claims in States with Required Motorcycle Rider Training,” was published last December. But this is the time of year when reporters in most of the country are looking for a motorcycling story they can write in about three hours or less.
And, big newspapers lead. Little newspapers and television follow. Last week a New York Times automotive blogger named Cheryl Jensen ran a story about the December report. And now local news outlets have begun reporting approximately the same thing; usually with some local angle like an interview with a Harley dealer.
The Times reported this story under the headline “Motorcycle Training Does Not Reduce Crash Risk.” Television stations in Montana and Indiana have been reporting this as, “Do Motorcycle Safety Courses Actually Prevent Crashes?”
If you haven’t seen a televised version of this story yet you will. May is “Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month” and most reporters can hardly recite that headline without smirking let alone make up a story to go with it.
What The Report Actually Said
The report did not make news when it was published because it hardly discovered anything everybody did not already know. For example, the report found that, “Motorcycles are less stable and less visible than automobiles and tend to have higher power-to-weight ratios. When motorcycles crash, their riders lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle, so they are more likely to be injured or killed.”
It is a scientific report. “Regression analysis was used to quantify the effect of state level training requirements on motorcycle collision claim frequency while controlling for other covariates.” We will skip a listing of the covariates and the report’s description of its methodology.
The meat in the bulletin is the finding that people who ride “a cruiser class motorcycle,” which is to say a Harley or a Harley knockoff, were 70 percent less likely to file an insurance claim than average. Women filed claims about 26 percent less often than men. And, if you live in a Los Angeles you are about twelve percent more likely to have a motorcycle accident than if you live on a farm.
Motorcycle riders under the age of twenty-one who have taken a rider safety course are about ten percent less likely to have an accident that young riders who have not. For riders over 21, the big factor is whether you ride a cruiser class bike or something else.
Motorcycle Safety Foundation Speechless
Most motorcycle training courses are administered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
When asked for comment on the bulletin by the New York Times, Robert Gladden, the General Manager of the Foundation declined because his group “would have to spend quite a bit of time going through their data to either verify or validate it.”