ABS - A Motorcycle Feature That Can Save Biker Lives

A move by India mandating antilock braking systems (ABS) on motorcycles has some safety advocates looking to US lawmakers for similar requirements.

Preventing wheels from locking up is crucial on a motorcycle. With a car, a lockup might result in a skid, but on two wheels, 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. In an emergency, a rider can brake fully without fear of lockup.

It’s not surprising technology such as ABS is being considered as life-saving with studies showing it cuts fatal motorcycle crashes by 31 percent and insurance claims for rider injuries by 28 percent. At the same time these findings were published in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study ‘New research adds to the evidence that motorcycle ABS prevents crashes’, it and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require ABS on new motorcycles.

That was in 2013, three years later the agency still hasn't responded to the petition.

In March, India announced its following in the tire tracks of countries who are members of the European Union which require new models over 125 cc must have ABS as of this year, and carryover, or ongoing models must have it next year.

India’s requirement for ABS to be included on motorcycles begins in April 2018 as will a similar requirements in Japan and Taiwan. In Brazil, mandatory ABS for motorcycles with 300 cc engines or greater is being phased in through 2019.

Anyone seeing a pattern here? This is particularly poignant as this story is being written on the last day of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, May 2016.

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.

This small technological addition could have a significant effect in saving motorcycle riding lives. 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.

Source Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute

This has been realized by lawmakers in India where 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.

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.

"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."

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