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How ABS Brakes Avoid Deadly Motorcycle Crashes

Brakes Avoid DeadlyMy last post pointing out that ABS brakes on motorcycles save many lives, was met with some skepticism.  This is not surprising when you are talking about a 41% decrease in rider deaths.  It’s a HUGE number.  Of course, this explains why virtually every motorcycle manufacturer now offers ABS as an option, and many make ABS standard equipment.

Every decent study shows that accidents between motorcycles and other types of vehicles involve a lot of crashes where the vehicle cuts off the motorcycle.  Cars and trucks making left hand turns, or cutting in front of the motorcycle, are the most common example.  Here’s where the ABS and linked braking systems can save the rider’s life

When a car or truck cuts off a motorcycle, the rider has to brake, swerve, or both.  There is only so much time available.  Every step of the way, the rider has to observe what is going on, analyze it, act on it, and there must be time left for the action to be successful.  The rider’s brain has to understand the situation and make choices.

Unfortunately, thousands of years of evolution cause the rider to act in panic.  After all, by definition, we are talking about life threatening situations.  The best studies of motorcycle accidents show that even the best trained and most experienced riders, such as motorcycle cops who have been fully trained, tend to punch the rear brake lever, or grab at the front, when there is a big vehicle cutting them off.  Forget all the training.  Typically, these panic situations come up when the rider is most relaxed, and not expecting it.  Reflexes take over.  A foot on the brake pushes down, fingers grab.  There is little or no time for modulating the brakes, or balancing front and rear.

ABS and linked brake systems take these unbalanced reflexive inputs, and turn them into balanced and appropriate braking.  The new systems that were the subject of my original post can do this, and also allow the rider to swerve at the same time.  Because these systems take over in a fraction of a second, they get the braking going way faster and much better than the rider whose reflexes are locking up the tires.

For example, a rider approaching an intersection sees an oncoming car. The rider has to notice that the oncoming car is moving forward, then decide that it is turning in front of the motorcycle. Before anything else can happen, the rider must estimate the trajectory of the motorcycle and the other vehicle to decide if there is a risk of collision. Once that is determined, the rider must plan evasive action, and decide whether to try to go in front of the other vehicle, or behind. Only at this point can the rider make the choice to swerve or brake.  Of course, the rider must then initiate the braking or swerving action, and the motorcycle needs time to brake or swerve. All too often, the rider simply runs out of time, and either gets hit by the car or truck, or runs into the car or truck.

A huge amount of time is saved with a system that immediately makes use of the motorcycle riders natural fear reaction, and immediately starts slowing the motorcycle. As the motorcycle slows, the rider is in less danger, and can begin to recover the ability to make quick corrective decisions.

This shortening of the time to make the right response is a huge factor in saving lives.  Even at 35 miles per hour, the motorcycle is going toward the car at more than 50 feet per second. A half second saved is more than a car length. It’s the difference between hitting the car, or being able to stop before getting there.

Motorcycles have been slow to incorporate the same kinds of safety features that are so common in other vehicles. This makes no sense, since riders are so much more exposed, and therefore much more in need of the new technology.

So how do the new ABS systems that allow braking in turns perform in practice??  BMW supplies their S1000RR motorcycles with the new braking system to the California Superbike School, the famous motorcycle training school run by former racer Keith Code.  To be fair, this is a different environment than that faced by street bikes, and we are primarily discussing single vehicle crashes on the track.  That said, Code reports a 60% decrease in crashes during the course. That’s right, not a typo, 60%.  Even if we assume that Code is getting better at teaching, and that motorcycles are getting better and easier to ride, that is simply a number that cannot be ignored.

I don’t know anyone who rides a motorcycle that would not want to be 60% less likely to crash. These systems will be implemented quickly when the riding community catches on.

Sources: National Highway Transportation Association

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About the Author

Michael Padway is a motorcycle accident attorney with over 40 years of experience in motorcycle cases. He’s been a lifelong motorcycle rider, and fanatic for its culture, advocacy, and safety. If you need assistance with a motorcycle accident, contact him at (800) 928-1511 or visit michaelpadway.com for a free consultation.