Safety group urges highway agency to require anti-lock brakes on new motorcycles

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2010

Citing research showing that fatal motorcycle accidents could be reduced by more than a third, an insurance industry group has asked for a federal mandate to require anti-lock brakes on all new motorcycles.

Until last year, the number of motorcycle fatalities had steadily increased, reaching a record 5,290 two years ago. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which can draw on accident reports from the insurance companies that support it, asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday to require that new motorbikes be equipped with the brakes.

"Traveling on two wheels instead of four is always riskier, but our new research shows that anti-lock brake technology can make motorcycle riding a much safer way to get around," Adrian Lund, president of the institute, said.

Concern about the added cost -- estimated by motorcycle industry sources at more than $1,000 a bike -- and other issues made motorcycle groups reluctant to embrace a mandate. In a statement, the American Motorcyclist Association endorsed making the brakes an option on more models than manufacturers offer but said they are "not a panacea."

"There are situations when [anti-lock brakes] can increase the risk of a crash, such as when riding an off-highway motorcycle on a trail, or when riding an on-highway or dual-sport motorcycle on a dirt or gravel road," the group said.

Unlike automobile brakes, which respond to a single pedal, a motorcycle has independently controlled front and rear brakes. In some off-road situations, a rider might intentionally clamp down on the rear brake to correct direction if the bike swerves in deep mud or gravel.

With anti-lock brakes, pressure is evaluated several times a second so that the motorcycle avoids stopping so abruptly that the rider loses control.

Insurance institute researchers found that motorcycles with anti-lock brakes were 37 percent less likely to be involved in fatal crashes. Another study determined that motorcycles with anti-lock brakes had 22 percent fewer claims for crash damage per insured vehicle year than the same models without them.

Lund said the two reports provided "compelling evidence that anti-locks reduce fatal crash risk and lower insurance losses. NHTSA has what it needs to move forward with a regulation."

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