While the overall traffic motorist fatalities are declining every year, unfortunately, the number of motorcycle fatalities and serious injuries are increasing. In April 2013, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GSA) released a report confirming that motorcycle deaths increased approximately 6 percent from 2011 to 2012, and that over 5,000 motorcyclists were killed in 2012. This marks the fifteenth consecutive year in which motorcycle deaths have increased. While increasing rider safety will help, improving certain safety components of the motorcycle, such as its braking system, is a must.
One of the most common motorcycle accidents is where the driver of an automobile turns in front of a motorcycle. In such an emergency situation, the motorcycle rider needs a breaking system to help control his motorcycle and avoid a potential fatal accident. Most motorcycles have separate controls for the front and rear brakes, and braking too hard can lock up a wheel, causing a fall. Improper braking has been shown to be a common cause of crashes. Antilock-brakes (ABS) help by automatically reducing brake pressure when a lockup is about to occur and increasing it again after traction is restored. ABS allows a rider to easily maximize braking force in an emergency without the fear of locking ones brakes.
ABS have been available for almost 25 years and have a proven track record of saving lives. BMW first equipped its motorcycles with ABS in 1988. By the year 2000, most of the European manufacturers equipped its production models with ABS. In 2005, the Japanese manufactures began offering ABS as options, particularly in Europe. Finally, in 2008, Harley-Davidson began to make its bikes with ABS. In 2008, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) documented the effectiveness of ABS in preventing the number of crashes and fatality rates associated with motorcycle crashes. The IIHS report, discussing the usefulness of ABS, stated:
Stopping a motorcycle is trickier than stopping a car. For one thing, front and rear wheels typically have separate brake controls. Both underbraking and overbraking the front and rear wheels contribute to crashes. In an emergency, a rider faces a split-second choice to brake hard, which can lock the wheels and cause a motorcycle to overturn, or to hold back on the brakes and risk running headlong into the emergency.
This is when antilocks can help. They reduce brake pressure when they detect impending lockup and increase the pressure again when traction is restored. Brake pressure is evaluated multiple times per second, so riders may fully brake without fear of locking the wheels.
In summary, the IIHS concluded that ABS equipped motorcycles were involved in 38 percent fewer fatal crashes than motorcycles without this feature. In 2011, BMW announced that it would not sell a motorcycle without ABS. In doing so, BMW stated:
It’s time for all of us in the motorcycle industry to embrace the benefits of ABS. Extensive testing by safety experts, law enforcement authorities and journalists around the world consistently demonstrates that ABS reduces overall crashes and saves lives.
Many law enforcement agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, concluded after testing that ABS reduced the number and severity of accidents and now mandate them on their police motorcycles. Recently, the European Commission (2012) mandated ABS for on-highway motorcycles beginning in the near future.
On May 30, 2013 the IIHS and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to upgrade the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 122 Motorcycle brake systems (49 CFR 571.122). The current standard allows manufacturers to install ABS and specifies performance standards specific to ABS. However, IIHS take the position that this standard should be strengthened to require ABS on all new motorcycles manufactured for on-highway use in the United States.
Manufacturers selling motorcycles in this Country could reverse the trend of increasing deaths on our highways involving motorcycle riders by following BMW’s lead. Until Kawasaki, Suzuki and all other manufacturers accept the responsibility for their role in making bikes safer, lives will be lost. Hopefully, they will see the light and do the right thing. If you need more information on this subject, contact Rick Morrison, a lawyer in our Personal Injury/Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rick.Morrison@beasleyallen.com.
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