One way to improve your odds

  • Published
  • By Dr. Bruce Burnham
  • Kirtland AFB, N.M.
Perhaps you love riding motorcycles and just can't wait to get out on the road. However, you also have a head on your shoulders, and the facts put out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are hard to ignore. Studies by NHTSA have shown that per mile traveled, motorcycle riders have 37 times the chance of having a fatal accident. You wear a helmet, personal protective equipment and obey the law - but you still wonder - isn't there something more I can do? Now there is - ride a bike with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

ABS was first introduced for aircraft in 1929 and in the automobile in the 1960s. BMW was the first to use it on motorcycles, and Harley Davidson began offering ABS as an option on all of its Touring motorcycles in 2008. We're reaping the benefits of this long history of development as ABS is now a well-established safety feature in vehicles. ABS reduces over braking, resultant skidding and loss of control. It also reduces the risk of under-braking since riders are no longer hesitant to apply full braking force due to the concern of "locking up."

ABS allows the wheels to continue to interact with the road surface, and modern systems now also control the front-to-rear brake bias, which reduces the chance of spinning. Most importantly, this is done without any skill or effort from the driver. In fact, on slippery surfaces, even professional drivers without ABS can't stop as quickly as average drivers with ABS. This automatic or "passive" feature is the gold standard in safety since it doesn't require driver training or even compliance.

Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of ABS. A recent study done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (a group interested in reduced insurance payments -something we should all be interested in!) compared fatality rates over a six-year span. The institute found that the rate of fatal motorcycle crashes was 37 percent lower in ABS models than with non-ABS versions - a dramatic effect.

ABS does come with an increased cost, but that'll come down just as the cost of every other safety feature as it becomes more widespread and as more riders demand it. With the effectiveness of ABS, riders would be foolish not to demand it.

(This article first appeared in Wingman, fall 2011)