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Choosing A Motorcycle With Antilock Braking ‘Is Right Up There With Wearing A Helmet’

A new study of antilock braking systems for motorcycles reinforces the technology’s known safety benefits and makes a strong case in favor of a federal mandate requiring it. Overall, bikes equipped with the lifesaving feature, known as ABS, were involved in 22% fewer motorcycle driver fatalities per 10,000 motorcycles registered for one year than those without it.

(The fatal crash rate was slightly higher for standard and cruiser motorcycles and for touring and sport touring bikes, and slightly lower for sport bikes and supersports.)

Those are the main findings of research released on Tuesday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit financed by the insurance industry that called it the largest study of its kind to show that antilock braking systems can help prevent crashes.

“We have known that ABS saves lives and have been saying it should be mandatory for 10 years now,” Eric Teoh, the institute’s director of statistical services and the author of the study, said in a statement. The safety group formally petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013 to require motorcycles to be equipped with antilock braking systems.

“This study is our most expansive one yet on the topic and confirms the importance of this feature,” Teoh said.

For the study, researchers examined fatal crash rates for 65 motorcycle models of 10 different types offering ABS as an option from 2013 to 2019, comparing them with motorcycles of the same make, model and model year without ABS. The federal database of fatal crashes was accessed to compare how often each was involved in a deadly crash.

The technology, first developed for airplanes, the safety group explained, senses when hard braking threatens to send the vehicle into a skid, then “releases and applies the brakes in a series of rapid pulses that bring the vehicle to a stop in as short a distance as possible while keeping the driver in control.”

ABS can be an added benefit to motorcyclists because it prevents the sliding and fishtailing that can cause the rider to lose control and “lay the bike down,” according to the report, which added that riders can learn to handle these challenges, but “the adrenaline surge of an impending crash can make those lessons hard to apply.” In addition, the report said, riders may also avoid braking hard and not be able to avoid a collision because they’re afraid of skidding out.

The federal government has required ABS on large trucks since 1997, and it became standard on passenger vehicles with the 2012 mandate requiring electronic stability control, which uses the ABS hardware, the institute said.

Many countries, including the members of the European Union, have mandated that certain on-road motorcycles be equipped with ABS. In the United States, ABS is standard on more than half of 2020 model motorcycles on the road, and optional on another quarter. 

“The bottom line is that 22 percent is a very big effect,” Teoh added. “When it comes to decisions riders can make to protect themselves, choosing ABS is right up there with wearing a helmet.”

For more information about antilock braking systems for motorcycles and the study, click here and here.

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