The upcoming Motorcycle Crash Causation Study commissioned by Congress to be conducted by the Oklahoma State University’s Oklahoma Transportation Center under the auspices of the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) is now being questioned for its validity due to a decision by the FHWA and OSU to perform an “abbreviated” version of the study because of a lack of funding to adequately encompass a proper amount of cases, according to a report by the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation). When the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users” (SAFETEA-LU) legislation was passed by Congress in 2005, thereby calling for the accident study, Congress appropriated $2.8 million for funding the research, and asked the motorcycle community to match that figure. According to the MSF, the motorcycle industry pledged a total of $3 million—with a few reasonable conditions. The primary condition was that an adequate number of cases would be collected so that the study could be comparable to other international motorcycle studies and achieve anywhere near a satisfactory level of statistical accuracy and significance. Following the passage of the SAFETEA-LU however, actual estimates to adequately cover the cost of study’s original goal of 1200 cases recommended by NTSB (National Traffic Safety Board) totaled around $8-9 million, meaning that the study was significantly underfunded. And as you’d expect, Congress has not committed additional financial support.
With only 300 accidents expected to be included in the study, it’s pretty obvious that any abbreviated Motorcycle Crash Causation Study by OSU is very unlikely to either validate the findings of prior studies or establish—to any statistically significant level—any real accident causation factors as they pertain to motorcycling as a whole. The Hurt Report of 1981 analyzed 900 crashes, while the European MAIDS (Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study) report studied 921 accidents, and the NTSB recommended at least 1200; meanwhile, the OSU study is already including 53 crashes from Southern California that were part of a pilot program to finalize the study's methodology in the 300 allotted for its current study—and the rest are reportedly also going to be gathered in Southern Califorinia, according to an L.A. Times article. Concentrating all of the analysis in one specific area will also severely restrict the relevance of the data, with the most obvious omission being helmet use, since California has had a compulsory helmet law since ’91. With such a limited sample size and scope, the study will not provide sufficient statistical significance in line with the identified study variables specified in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) methodology that the Motorcycle Crash Causation Study was mandated to use by Congress.
The MSF stated that unless the study sample encompasses at least 900 cases, the motorcycle industry’s $3 million pledge will be withheld.
From an MSF press release dated October 14:
The MSF and the motorcycle industry would like to take this opportunity to address the recent decision by the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) and OSU (Oklahoma State University) to conduct an “abbreviated” Motorcycle Crash Causation Study. Transportation reauthorization legislation (SAFETEA-LU), passed in August 2005, mandated that the Crash Causation Study use the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) methodology, appointed OSU to conduct the research, and ultimately appropriated about two million dollars in funding. Also included in the law was a requirement for OSU to seek matching funds. The motorcycle industry, through the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, pledged three million dollars with a few reasonable conditions, the primary condition being that an adequate number of cases would be collected so that the US study could be comparable to other international motorcycle studies and achieve a satisfactory level of statistical significance. Following the passing of the law, the actual estimates to cover the entire expense came in at roughly eight to nine million dollars, meaning that the study was significantly under-funded. Unfortunately, to date, Congress has not committed additional financial support.
The MSF, industry, and safety experts agree that the abbreviated Motorcycle Crash Causation Study by OSU is unlikely to either validate the findings of prior studies or establish, to any statistical significant level, any new causative factors. The abbreviated study is unlikely to accomplish either of these goals because the sample size is expected to be only 300 crashes, compared to the 900 crashes collected and analyzed in the Hurt Study, 921 in the MAID's Study (Europe 2000) and the 1,200 recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board. Conversely, if the study was conducted as it was originally intended, it would achieve the goal of identifying, to a statistically significant level, the causation factors upon which countermeasures could be developed to reduce tragic loss of life and improve the safety of our fellow riders.
Industry's commitment of three million dollars well exceeded the original matching funds level called for in SAFETEA-LU and industry has not withdrawn its offer. But with a limited sample size of approximately 300, we believe the study will not provide sufficient statistical significance of the OECD identified study variables and the MSF Board of Trustees has determined that MSF must continue to make its commitment of funds contingent upon a sample size of at least 900 cases.
We want to extend our thanks and appreciation to OSU for its professionalism and NHTSA and FHWA for their strong efforts in seeking to conduct the first U.S. Motorcycle Crash Causation Study since the Hurt Study of 1981. We are confident that OSU will do its best in working with the U.S. Department of Transportation and various contractors to achieve what can only reasonably be expected.
As for the motorcycle industry, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation will continue to invest in research and development of new rider training curricula and instructional methods, refinement of existing curricula, new instructional videos, publication of new books and safety tips, and other programs intended for the safety and well-being of motorcyclists. Any insights garnered from the 'abbreviated' OSU study will be considered among the other inputs to our continual improvement initiatives in support of riders everywhere. The Crash Causation Study as it currently stands does not meet MSF or international standards.