#299 Better behind the wheel : Motorcycle Theory

Studies have shown that motorists who are also motorcycle riders tend to be better overall insurance risks. Perhaps it’s time driver education includes at least some motorcycle theory.

Today I rode my motorcycle a total of 65 kilometres, and three people tried to kill me. Okay, they probably didn’t mean to. But their intention wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Ask the driver who crossed a solid white line forcing me into oncoming traffic; the SUV pilot who changed lanes without signaling while I was passing her; and the clown who drifted out of a side road into my path—and they would probably say they didn’t see me. Were they even looking?
Those of us who ride know that we’re more in tune to what’s happening on the road around us—because we have to be. So that would make us better drivers too, you’d think. Well now there’s a study out of the United States that confirms it.
Equity Red Star insurance looked at 200 million driver insurance policies issued between 2007 and 2012. After analyzing claims data, ERS found that the insured drivers who also owned an insured motorcycle were 23 per cent less likely to make a claim on their auto policy. Even after adjusting the figures to take into account the different typical ages of car drivers and motorcyclists, ERS still found the riders to be 21 per cent safer behind the wheel, and that motorcyclists were 20 per cent less likely to make a bodily injury claim on their car policy.
So what’s behind ERS’s findings? Perhaps drivers feel less at risk, because they’re surrounded by two tons of steel. As motorcyclists we know we’re extremely vulnerable on the road, and I believe we carry that into the driver’s seat.
There’s a concept economists call “moral hazard.” It’s the idea—well supported by evidence—that stockbrokers, for example, will tend toward riskier behaviour if the risk is borne by their clients, not themselves. Applied to the insurance industry, moral hazard proposes that the more insurance people carry, the more dangerous their behaviour might be.
In some ways, it’s similar to the idea that the introduction of seat belts and airbags made drivers feel safer, so they would take greater risks while driving.
But there are other reasons why motorcyclists should make better drivers. We have to understand concepts and practise skills that car drivers may never be aware of, but are critical to safe roadcraft: like the importance of correct tire pressure; contact patch; the impact of road surface conditions on traction; safe braking techniques; skid correction; and lots more. Rider training also includes a deeper understanding of vehicle mechanics and a broader appreciation for other road users.
The evidence presented by Eagle Red Star’s research leads to two inevitable conclusions. In Canada in 2010, 2,275 people lost their lives in auto crashes, and 175,000 people were injured.
ERS’s conclusions suggest that if every driver also had a motorcycle licence, perhaps 455 fewer people would die on Canada’s roads each year, and 35,000 fewer people would require hospitalization and/or medical treatment. Those are big numbers.
Of course, making every student driver learn to ride a motorcycle isn’t going to happen: but perhaps driver education should include some motorcycle training, even if just the theory.
The other obvious conclusion is that drivers who are also riders should pay less for insurance, theoretically 20-23 per cent less. That’s probably not going to happen either, even though it’s clearly supported by the evidence. Sadly, Canada’s provincial insurers are less influenced by evidence than they are by the social engineering aims of their political masters, and would probably prefer motorcycles to be banned completely.
A buddy in the UK recently told me he was taking the Institute of Advanced Motorists motorcycle training program. The reason: he would improve his skills and become a safer rider. The program is so effective at reducing risks for riders that graduates of the program qualify for cheaper insurance. The same is true of the program for four-wheelers.
So, if they are as concerned about road safety as they say, why don’t Canada’s licencing authorities sponsor advanced driver and rider-ed programs like those proven to save lives and reduce crashes in other countries?
Another recent report by Association des Constructeurs Européens de Motocycles (ACEM), the European industry association for “powered two-wheelers,” concludes that there is a critical mass for rider safety related to the percentage of motorcycles, scooters and mopeds on the road.
The report finds that as the number of motorcycles on the road relative to the number of car increases, the safer riding a motorcycle becomes. The theory is that the presence of more motorcycles makes drivers more aware of them.
According to the report, Japan has 98 bikes per 1000 vehicles. For every 1000 bikes on the road, the country has 0.8 motorcyclist fatalities per year. In Europe the ratio of bikes to cars is lower, at 73 per 1000, and the rate of motorcyclist fatalities is higher, at 1.52 per 1000. In the USA, the rate of bikes to cars is just 27 per 1000 and the motorcyclist fatality rate is much higher, at 5.32s. The highest rate of powered two-wheeler ownership in Europe is in Greece at 33 per cent, and yet the fatality rate is one-third that of the UK. “Ten per cent seems to be a critical tipping point,” said ACEM Secretary General Jacques Compagne in a media statement
In Canada the number of motorcycles on the road compared with cars is around two per cent, and unlikely to rise significantly, given our climate. So that tipping point of 10 per cent is unlikely to be a factor in our road safety. All the more reason for better driver training.