“It’s clear to me that more of us are dying because there are too many people who really shouldn’t ride motorcycles and the industry and advocacy groups do nothing to discourage them.”

—Gabe Ets-Hokin, “So Why Are we Dying?,”
CityBike Magazine, August 2012.

Is formal rider training worse than nothing?

Back when the Hurt Report came out, there was almost no formal rider training in the United States, and that was one of the factors Hurt predicted would reduce fatalities if it was instituted, along with helmets and a few other things. Thirty years into state-sponsored motorcycle training, how did that work out?

Not so good. Despite millions of motorcyclists attending state-sponsored motorcycle training courses in 50 states since the late 1980s, motorcycle fatalities per vehicle mile travelled (VMT) or per million population, seems to be higher than it was in the early 1980s.

I’ve written about this before. Some well written and thoughtful responses to those columns asked, unless you compare trained riders vs. untrained riders, how do you know the rates wouldn’t have been even higher? A good point, but let’s get real, homies: if the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) considers a mere doubling of the fatality rate a success, I’d hate to see what it considers a failure.

Well, if only that training was mandatory, we could reverse this trend. Funny you should say that, because in Florida, there was a dramatic 23% increase in fatalities between 2014 and 2015, despite the state requiring all new riders to take the MSF course since 2008. In fact, now, after eight years of mandatory MSF classes in Florida, the Sunshine State is second to none in motorcycle fatalities, despite having a third fewer motorcycles than the number-one state, California. Oh, but there’s no helmet law in Florida (repealed in 2000), right? Well, half the fatalities were helmeted riders, so, nope, that’s probably not (completely) it. Of course, we don’t know how many of those additional 138 fatalities in Florida had been trained by the MSF (or if they had been trained at all), so this could all be a fluke.

Oh, Florida. You’re not just good for illustrating the danger of mixing long-haul trucking with nudity, you can also demonstrate the limited usefulness of mandatory rider training, which began there in 2009.

Oh, Florida. You’re not just good for illustrating the danger of mixing long-haul trucking with nudity, you can also demonstrate the limited usefulness of mandatory rider training, which began there in 2009.

Why has training millions of riders seemingly made things worse? When I asked the MSF this question, the media relations department responded with, “There is no research available that explains why motorcycle fatalities increase in some states and decrease in others. It is impossible to objectively report why crashes/fatalities may have increased.” Impossible, they say. What do you think they are, some kind of 45-year-old organization devoted to motorcycle safety? When I pressed for clarification, I did not receive a response. The oracle has spoken.

If you were to ask me that question, I’d say that not only is the MSF course too easy to pass, imparting false confidence, it does nothing to discourage people who have no business riding. It’s easy to draw the conclusion that it’s because the motorcycle industry itself is the sole owner of the MSF (the Motorcycle Industry Council, itself funded by the biggest players in the motorsports industry, owns and actually shares office space – 2 Jenner, Suite 150, Irvine – with the MSF), a clear conflict of interest. I assume the MSF will say there’s no connection between who funds the organization and its goals, other than sharing the breakroom fridge, but I’ll let the organization speak for itself.

Of course we should have rider education. But we need to discourage, not encourage, some new riders from joining our ranks. I said it five years ago: the reason we’re dying is that there are too many people riding who shouldn’t be riding. Requiring training, especially from an inexpensive, easy-to-pass 15-hour class, is a sure way to increase ridership – and fatalities. Until training providers actively and enthusiastically discourage the unfit from riding motorcycles, training will be as effective as a parachute made from bowling balls.

Motorcycle training in Germany is formal and rigorous, but still fun.

Motorcycle training in Germany is formal and rigorous, but still fun.

That’s right, because even in Europe, where training is challenging, lengthy and expensive, it’s still not clear if it’s helpful in reducing fatality rates. The MAIDS study, done in Europe in the late 1990s, found little to link training to reduced accidents. Even in Germany, where mandatory rider training costs over $1,000 and takes weeks (and is done on public roads, including night-time riding on the Autobahn), authorities can’t really say for sure if teaching those skills save lives. Insurance companies are also unimpressed by the effect of training, preferring to push helmet laws and ABS brakes (which unambiguously reduce crashes and deaths) to bring down the mishap rates.

But don’t despair! There’s a glimmer of hope. In California, fatalities actually dropped 11% in 2015, even though the national rate was up 10%. What could have caused this? The Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in its 2015 report speculated it may be that the country had a warmer, dryer winter, cheaper gas and more bikes on the road from a recovering economy. The folks at the GHSA don’t read my column (probably because they’re governors, and have to look busy all the time), because if they had they would have noted that the California Motorcyclist Safety Program (CMSP) also adopted an all-new training curriculum, headed up by friend-of-MO (full disclosure, a friend of mine as well) Lee Parks.

More full disclosure: I’ve taught both curricula (Latin scholars, please note correct plural of “curriculum:” you’re welcome) in California over the last eight years, so I can tell you there are significant differences that, if motorcycles aren’t banned for being absurdly dangerous first, may at least return us to the 1990s safety-wise.

First, the riding-skills evaluation is tougher to pass, which means the graduation rate is lower than the old curriculum’s. According to Lee, 6.5% of the Motorcycle Training Course (MTC) students failed to graduate in 2015, compared to 3.6% of the MSF’s Basic RiderCourse (BRC) students in 2014. Life-saving skills, like emergency braking, are weighted more heavily, and you have to really know technique, not just fake it by mimicking the rider in front of you. And also consider that students get almost double the riding during the class – 22-30 miles in the MTC, compared to 12-16 miles in the BRC, six of those miles just riding curves. They’re better trained, much more practiced, and still fail more frequently. It’s not a slam-dunk anymore.

This topic is depressing and I don’t want to make another chart, so here’s a cute kitten photo. Adorbz!

This topic is depressing and I don’t want to make another chart, so here’s a cute kitten photo. Adorbz!

It’s also tougher for more casual students to take the class. The ranges I work for charge drop-outs and failed students if they want to come back to try again – in the old days it was free, as many times as you wanted until you passed (I know one student who took it eight times). There’s also less of an “everybody pass!” culture among instructors – we’re encouraged to weed out people who lack focus, concentration, stamina or even strong desire by confronting them and having them honestly self-assess if they want to continue. Some instructors even (quietly) brag about how many students they fail.

The increased seat time and weeding of the non-hackers makes it a better program, if you ask me, but what makes me feel better about being a CMSP instructor is the honesty of the message. “Motorcycles are more dangerous than cars,” we tell the students. “Duh!” they reply. “Do you know how dangerous?” we ask. “Double?” “Two and a half times?” Nope, we say. Thirty-eight times more dangerous than cars. Erp! A sobering moment as 20 or 30 adults absorb that message. Sometimes students leave on the spot. Sometimes they leave after they drop the bike the first time on the range. But leave they do, and that makes me feel like I’ve promoted motorcycle safety, because there’s at least one person I know will never leave a bloody smear on Highway One.

More training? That means more riders on the road, and that’s a sure path to more fatalities. Sorry, motorcycle industry (and everybody who loves seeing happy riders out on our byways), but you can’t have your booming motorcycle-market cake (with trained rider frosting) and eat it guilt-free, too.

The name Gabe Ets-Hokin can be made into many fun phrases including snakebite hog, goatskin he be, and he go beatniks.

  • MarkB

    I’m confused. In the first half of the article you discuss the ways in which stricter training doesn’t seem to reduce crash rates. Except when it does, apparently in the second half of the article.

    You have to better explain the contraction, especially considering the Parks course fails only 3 additional people per hundred, relative to the MSF course. That’s not a big difference. And, since the Parks course is new to the CMSP, what percentage of active CA riders were CMSP (Parks) graduates during the time of the measured drop in fatalities?

    • DickRuble

      You’re not half as confused as he is. And so are all the poor souls to whom he’s “teaching” riding.

      • BDan75

        There you go, living up to your name again…

    • novemberjulius

      I don’t think he’s talking about abolishing training, but to make it more stringent.

      Good point on whether the newer program is effective. It might be difficult to evaluate which riders took which course.

    • Kyle

      While I can’t fully tell from this piece, it seems the key distinction he was trying to make was how Park’s school seems to actively discourage some potential riders from continuing the program. Considering the training is even more arduous in Europe, I wonder if they also follow the same route (or if a lot of people simply drop out), but yet don’t see the same results… If that is what is argued to be the key factor, maybe Gabe should check the situation in Europe a bit more. Or maybe a European reader can chime in?

      • DickRuble

        There are many other contributing variables: road system, rider training, car driver training, ratio motorcycles/cars, speed limits, miles/rider/day etc..

        • Kyle

          Yes, of course, but the author here was, I think trying to argue that discouraging certain potential riders contributes to a reduction of crashes and deaths. If European training does this, yet sees no difference in rider incidents, we can safely say it is not so simple as that. On the other hand, If European training does not do this, it may yet be an important factor contributing to rider safety and may be why training in Europe is not very effective, similar to the MSF courses here, despite them being more rigorous. This does not necessarily discounts the other factors which you mentioned which also likely have an impact.

      • Cuchulainn

        I think one of the largest contributors to reducing crashes and deaths in Europe, is the AM/A1/A2 licensing structure. You are limited to small horsepower bikes for the first couple of years, while you hone your riding skills and gain experience that could save your life. In the USA, there is nothing that prevents a new rider from taking the MSF course over the weekend, getting the M on his license and hoping on a Ducati 1299 Panigale all in the same week

        • Born to Ride

          Liter bikes are easier to learn on because you don’t have to rev them up so much. Same reason they get better fuel economy. That’s what the salesman at the dealership told me.

          • SerSamsquamsh

            Not a joke – I’ve actually heard dealers say that and squids repeat it too.

          • Born to Ride

            Cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that bullshit. This is why I can’t afford insurance on a Ninja 1000.

          • Ian Christopher

            When Suzuki first equipped the GSXR1000 with ride modes a salesman tried to tell me that it makes it a good first bike because it can be “toned down to a 600 and then worked up as they get better”. I asked him how well he slept at night and walked away.

          • c w

            And his response?

            To be fair, I think many sales people actually believe the folderol…

          • HazardtoMyself

            You mean it’s not true? Damn, I bought the liter over the 250 because I wanted better fuel economy.

            Are they lying about ABS too? 1/2 the dealers always say you can brake better without ABS.

            Makes me wonder how they don’t get sued when the kid they convinced nearly kills themselves.

          • Born to Ride

            Or actually does kill himself…

  • mugwump

    I’d like to see the demographics on the fatalities so I know whether to address the novice boomer or not. You don’t see many young squids anymore around here. (Is whether not a word anymore? I had to override my phone to enter it.)

    • Douglas

      Whether is right, and the correct usage as you wrote. See if yr phone has an app to download the Oxford English Dictionary….

    • SerSamsquamsh

      Go on YouTube and you can find an infinite number of “Tahiti bro crashes bike he can’t ride” type videos.

  • Douglas

    After 50yrs on 2 wheels (with a few gaps), I’m convinced the main cause of motorcycle wrecks (I don’t believe there’s such a thing as an “accident”), if the rider is at fault, is attitude and bad habits. All the training on earth is no good without proper attitude and breaking the bad habits. One of those that stands out for me is “rear brake only”, mostly applying to Harley/cruiser riders. Attitudes?….well, that’s for readers here to ascertain, but watching some “bikers” and “sportbikers” do their WFO exhibtions if they think they have an audience is perhaps a good example….

  • DickRuble

    Hey Einstein,

    the table you publish shows that in 2009, right after the introduction of mandatory training in FL, deaths dropped by 20%. I added a column with the ratio of deaths to number of riders, just for you. Do you see a trend?

    2007 618 863 566 0.66
    2008 667 924 556 0.60
    2009 663 977 413 0.42
    2010 594 1009 396 0.39
    2011 574 1042 464 0.45
    2012 619 1080 492 0.46
    2013 545 1111 485 0.44
    2014 555 1143 478 0.42
    2015 593 1183 616 0.52

    This is a shameless, poorly (idiotically so) supported plug in for your Lee Parks bullshit training. I took the MSF and, at the very first class was told how dangerous and how expensive motorcycling was. We were asked: Do you still want to do it?

    • Could it be, Max Plank, that maybe deaths dropped because motorcycle registrations dropped? And that licensed riders increased because the MSF was training thousands of new riders a year? The facts still stand: motorcycling is twice as risky post MSF as pre MSF.

      Presenting specifics of danger and risk is not in the MSF curriculum, not as it’s presented today. Your instructor added it, and good for him or her.

      • DickRuble

        Your premises that a) training is bad for motorcyclists health b) Just adding a warning/scare section makes a significant change is so laughable you could easily be the star of an SNL skit.

        The ratio fatalities/registrations drops significantly after introduction of training.

        Have you considered that, maybe, rider fatalities increase with the number of cars on the road? Incidentally, in 2015 the annual increase in car registrations in FL went from about 200K/year to 500K/year. Or that the increase in distracted driving may be a contributor, as someone else is pointing out?

  • SerSamsquamsh

    Doesn’t that statistical chart indict a 37.1% increase in riders and only an 8.8% increase in fatalities over that same time period? That seems like a positive safety delta to me.

  • FreelancerMG

    From what I see, your statistics are highly incomplete and don’t give on how the data was collected and what variables it’s accounting for. How many were single vehicle collisions, multi-vehicle collisions, alcohol induced. If they were multi-vehicle, how many were due to the driver violating right of way etc and how many were due to the rider. Hell, we don’t even know how many of these collisions involved licensed riders and unlicensed riders. I know in CA for example, many of the squid riders I’ve met don’t have a license at all.

    If more and more people are getting at least SOME formal training than people were 60 years ago, then why are our collision statistics getting worse? You can’t say that it’s because instructors aren’t scaring people away because before these courses, people didn’t have an instructor to brow beat them off a bike. People had then what people have now to dissuade them from riding a motorcycle. Just as many people back then were as likely to just randomly jump on a bike and try to ride it while at least now these same people at least have some form of training under their belt beforehand. Yet we didn’t seem to have the “epidemic” then as we do now.

    Also, military riders for a long time had mandatory MSF training yet relative to the riding public had fewer incidences that could be deduced as the rider’s fault. We got the same training and courses that the public had for training (hell we had many civilians come on base to take the course with us.) If the training was terrible and people should have been warded off, we should have seen military rates closely mirror those in the civilian sector. Yet I remember when we’d see motorcycle incidences of services members across all branches in our safety briefings, they were proportionally much lower than that across the country. Same training. So to solely point at the MSF training seems a bit ingenuous. Btw, I also took the Lee Parks Total Control course as well and for the intermediate and advanced and thought they were good courses. So this isn’t a knock on Mr. Park’s program.

    I think it’s interesting to note though, that looking at Florida’s stats that you posted up, it’s interesting to see the trend shift at around the same time that the cell phone generation started entering the driving population. 2010-2011 by that chart just so happens to coincide with the big boom and upswing in the mobile technology market and smart phone market. It was around this time that 3G and 4G really became widespread and apps capabilities expanded with the explosion in smart phone capabilities. Coupled with the fact that this is also around the time that many of those who were able to get cell phones very early in life and grow up as distracted peoples were just around old enough to start driving. We have many more distracted drivers on the roads now by a much larger factor than we had decades prior when things were much “safer.” It’s also funny that around the time that we see major leaps in mobile and automotive technological advancement, there is also a spike of reported collisions a year or two later. Which is kinda funny because there are some analysts saying similar things about Pokemon GO and that we may see an artificially inflated value for collisions due to Pokemon GO distracted more drivers than usual. I’m sure we all remember all of the hilarious, yet scary, stories on the news of multiple people getting killed and collisions happening everywhere from people chasing 1s and 0s while driving their cars.

  • novemberjulius

    Anecdotal comment: My MSF instructors told us riding isn’t for everybody. They urged us to be honest with ourselves whether we would be good riders or not. Even though it’s not a perfect program I feel the BRC taught me things that high school driver ed didn’t teach. Like, “you go where you look.” I’d like to have better driver ed in high schools.

    When I was in Vietnam I noticed that most people use scooters as transportation. Unlike the orderly traffic patterns of the US they tend to have no clear order. People ride against the flow of traffic, cut corners on roundabouts, pedestrians don’t use crosswalks, scooters use sidewalks, trucks lane split, etc. Now, nobody is going faster than 20mph because of the constant congestion, so I’m not sure what accidents look like. If they are fender benders or totally destructive. I’m not sure what the fatality rates are there, but I would be interested in the effect traffic patterns have on safety. Maybe the higher speed attained by US riders affects fatalities?

    So, my big question is how we quantify and qualify statistics and factors. How many accidents were there? How many multi-vehicle accidents? How many unreported accidents? How many were wearing helmets? How many were on the street versus the interstate? How many were taught to ride by Ducati Derek and CBR Chuck versus how many were taught by MSF Mike? How many fatalities were passengers? How many were riding their first bike? How many were stoned? How many were drunk? How many were chasing their friends? How many were fiddling with their action cam so they could be the next big motovlogger? How many were fixated on a cuter girl/guy?

    At this point I think I’m starting to miss the mark. I do like and agree with this article. Training should be more challenging. Unfortunately, it feel like the MSF has a monopoly on standardized training.

  • DickRuble

    Here’s some food for thought.. 8 dead in 9 days in FL in 2016. Florida is #1 in the nation in motorcycle fatalities. About half of them are due to driver turning into the path of the motorcycle.

    Joe Canady, 36, who left behind five children, died 15 days after his wedding on May 2 when another driver turned into the path of his motorcycle on State Road 21, the FHP said.

    Gary Larson, 65, died May 5 in a motorcycle crash on State Road 21 in Keystone Heights. FHP said Larson’s motorcycle hit a pickup truck that was turning at an intersection.

    Colby Harrison, 26, was killed on May 7 on Blanding Boulevard near the Clay County line. Investigators said his motorcycle hit a turning car, and he was not wearing a helmet at the time.

    Derick Green, 39, was also killed May 7 in a motorcycle crash at the intersection of Ortega Boulevard and Verona Street.

    Joseph Powell, 28, was killed May 8 while heading southbound on I-95 near I-295 on the north end of Jacksonville. The FHP said he lost control, hit a concrete barrier, was thrown from the motorcycle and was hit by a passing tractor-trailer.

    Jason Franklin, 39, was also killed May 8 in a crash on the Westside. Investigators said he was not wearing a helmet when he lost control of his motorcycle near Memorial Park Road and Gill Court and hit a concrete culvert.

    Thomas Dolan, 59, was killed May 10 in a crash in Flagler County on U.S. 1. The FHP said a woman crossed all northbound lanes to turn into the median, failing to yield to Dolan’s motorcycle, which hit the car and threw him off. He was wearing a helmet, FHP said.

    Stephanie Robinson, 22, also died May 10 when her motorcycle crashed on the Buckman Bridge while she was headed to a memorial for her friend Powell. She was wearing a helmet, FHP said.

    • Gark32

      did you have a point in all this, or just “shit sucks”?

      • DickRuble

        4/8 were due to drivers performing illegal traffic maneuvers, 2/8 are unspecified, 2/8 due to loss of control.

    • fzrider

      We can expect to see a dramatic drop in car/bike accidents as soon as vehicle to vehicle communication becomes standard on all vehicles. Cars will stop even if the driver never sees the rider. They won’t turn left if a rider is “there”. They won’t pull out in front of a rider or another car. All the training in the world will not come close to saving as many lives as this technology and it is coming soon. (relatively)

      • DickRuble

        We can expect to see a bigger drop if we all use buses and tramways.

        • fzrider

          True, but won’t it be great knowing your own bike is telling other vehicles you are “there”?

          • DickRuble

            Nothing will prevent a cow on the phone from effecting a u-turn across four lanes if she forgot her skim milk tripple cream and cinnamon latte.

          • fzrider

            That’s exactly what v2v will do.

  • John B.

    “I’d say that not only is the MSF course too easy to pass, imparting false confidence, it does nothing to discourage people who have no business riding.”

    Admittedly, I’m woozy from that debate, but here goes. I agree the MSF (and Concealed Handgun License) course is too easy to pass; i.e., people pass the course without having the knowledge and skills necessary to ride safely. In some cases, the MSF course may instill false confidence, however, in my case the course convinced me I wasn’t ready to ride on public roads. Others in my class, no more adept than I, reached a different conclusion, however, and all of us passed the course. I would agree the MSF course doesn’t do enough to weed out people who have no business riding, though I recall my MSF instructor discussing that subject.

    The MSF course does not train someone to ride safely. Rather, it provides a starting point that includes an overview and introduction to motorcycling. Viewed in this light, I would not expect the MSF course to reduce fatalities absent additional practice and study.

    Before I took the MSF course, I read several David L. Hough motorcycle safety books. Typically, Hough’s books begin with an anecdote involving a horrific fatality motorcycle crash (there are no accidents only crashes). In short, Hough’s books give riders straight talk about motorcycling and its risks. I also read Lee Parks, “Total Control” several times, which helped me learn to control my motorcycle. I re-read these books regularly, and treat every ride as a training ride.

    When someone expresses an interest in riding I tell him/her motorcycling is much more dangerous than they probably realize, and tell him/her not to become a motorcyclist unless he/she is willing to make a serious commitment to managing those risks.

    I know enough about statistics to understand it’s sometimes difficult to accurately derive correlation and causation. That said, it’s hard to believe the MSF course causes more, rather than fewer, fatalities. We value freedom and self-determination in the United States, which results in minimal licensing requirements. We leave it to the individual to decide how much training they need beyond the licensing requirements. Predictably, some individuals do not accurately assess their ability, which leads to fatalities and injuries.

    No one becomes a proficient and safe motorcyclists in a few days.

  • krishan adhikari

    most riders start riding after they have started driving cars/four wheeler. I think all they need to realise/taught is that you can get away with no injuries in a minor accident on 4 wheels but a minor accident on a two wheels leads to way more injuries. So they should wear the best possible protective gear and be very cautious while riding.

    Other thing is that electronic rider aids should be made mandatory like ABS.

    last but not the least safe riding.

    p.s the last accident I was involved was caused by a stray dog and it hurt ouch.

  • mustangGT90210

    I’m a rider in Florida. At least around where I am, old people seem to be the majority of issues with killing bikers, when another car is involved. A lot of speed related, single bike crashes as well though. This state is just too easy to drive in. The roads are all straight, it’s always sunny, no elevation change, I understand how so many people can zone out, there is literally nothing to the art of driving here except hold the wheel straight and stop at the lights

  • allworld

    Of the fatalities how many are a result of rider error vs non rider error?
    I truly agree the training program in the USA could and should be improved. I also believe there a way too many motor vehicle operators doing everything behind the wheel except driving. CA is also the only state that allows filtering……………………….

  • kenneth_moore

    I didn’t need any statistics to discourage my son from getting a motorcycle. He’s been riding pillion with me since he was big enough to reach the pegs, and he really wanted to get a bike when he got his license. But, I talked him out of it. We live in South Florida, which is like “Super Florida;” all the bad Florida traits are amplified and added to.

    The truth is my kid is simply not willing to put in the time and effort needed to learn riding well enough to survive down here. He’s easily distracted, and his mind wanders. I’ve seen this when riding with him in the car.

    It takes every bit of my decades of experience riding for me to get home on a bike. As much as I’d love for the two of us to jump on our bikes and take a ride, I’m certain that sooner than later he’d wind up maimed or dead.

    • DickRuble

      Nicely written.

    • Buzz

      I hear ya KMo. My kid is almost 19 and has zero interest in riding even though he thinks my bikes are cool.

    • Born to Ride

      My dad tried to talk me out of getting a bike. He even made it mandatory for me to drive for a whole year after I got my DL without getting a single ticket or accident before he’d even consider allowing it.
      That year of paranoid speedometer watching, incessant mirror checking, and traffic scanning made me an excellent driver. I believe that to be a major factor in my nearly collisionless driving record(save for one fender bender in the snow without chains…). I did, however, wreck my SV650 (thrice) pretending to be Rossi on mountain roads.

    • Hot Stuff

      I read that as “married or dead”. Either would be tragic.

    • Adam

      This made my morning: “We live in South Florida, which is like “Super Florida;” all the bad Florida traits are amplified and added to.”

      Thank you.

  • JMDonald

    I have ridden in ultra defensive mode for so long I sometimes find the pleasure has gone out of riding in certain instances. Time for a monkey bike.

  • Auphliam

    While I do agree that motorcycling is more dangerous now than before training, I don’t agree with the suggestion that the training itself is the problem. There are far too many other directly related variables to consider before trying to stretch to that conclusion.

    Like it or not, a mere doubling of fatalities IS a success if the total volume of a) licensed motorcyclists, and b) total number of vehicles on the road in general (the kind that kill motorcyclists), have increased exponentially more.

    Also, you must consider that while you may see large annual increases of people that take the courses, the number that skip the courses (where not mandated) far outstrips that number, and will continue to.

    I can tell you from experiencing Pennsylvania’s MSF course, the instructors at the one in my area were very good about identifying people they didn’t think should be on the road, and they did not pass you if even one of them had doubts. I saw them pull a few people to the side for private conversations and explain to them the need to pick a different hobby.

  • edbob

    Gabes it’s tough to tell for sure from how this is written, but if you’re concluding that training kills please put down your pen. If I were to blame something for an uptick in deaths, it would be how much of motorcycling is marketed. This is not a happy-go-lucky care-free hobby, you can die and very easily at that. Despite this, there is still much to love. But too often people are encouraged to have a “just hop on and go, and smile all the way” mentality. Not much will kill you quicker than being on a motorcycle, and many are unaware of the endless dumb ways to die.

    • Born to Ride

      People have a tendency to fear things that are obscure and unknown(Ebola) and greatly underestimate the killing potential of everyday objects we are familiar with (minivans).

  • HazardtoMyself

    Is it lack of basic training, practice after training or both? How many bikes do we all see for sale that are years old with almost no miles on them?

    I know everyday I see other riders that plain scare me. Not because they are riding aggressive, but because they don’t look like they have any basic skills.

    From the riders who drag their feet 100 yards at every start and stop, put their front tire dead center on the bumper of other vehicles at stops, have to straighten and lean multiple times for simple turns, can’t keep the bars steady unless at speed, need a football field to pull a u-turn, to the riders who have zero awareness of what is going on around them.

    Couple nights ago, I had a car turn out in front of me. Saw it coming a mile a way, changed lanes, increased speed slightly and just passed them. Happens to all of us from time to time right?

    I know the lady never saw me. A another rider not far behind me, slammed his brakes and didn’t move. I think he locked the rear with the way his light swayed. He was at least 4-5 car lengths behind me so no need for that type of reaction. He pulled up next to me at the next light. Said I told that lady to F off. Lucky I didn’t have my whip or I would have smashed her window out! I just shrugged and said it happens.

    More and more I see these riders who never see it coming. There head straight ahead all the time, riding in blind spots, as oblivious as the texting cager. Is it lack of training or practice / experience?

    As a rider I believe for the most part any “accident” is probably at the least partly my fault. Got rear ended a few years ago at a stop light. Real minor, but I still believe it was my fault for not paying attention and moving out of the way.

    At the end of the day, any class to teach you to ride properly is beneficial. I just think too many people fail to practice their skills after that initial training. They just ride in a straight line a couple times a year, maybe some carving, but are never ready for the unexpected.

  • Yama Mass Girl

    Half of my BRC (Beginner Rider Course), was women.

    I don’t know, maybe I have something to add here. I have not studied the statistics, but two of the the MSF courses have helped me become a better rider.

    Maybe I know my limits. And it was not the first time I’d hopped on a motorcycle at the BRC. But I wanted to learn to be a better rider, and get those safety drills instilled in me.

    I took the ERC, (Experienced Rider Course), this year with an all woman class. Some were better than others as far as executing certain drills.

    I think the increase of women riders will help decrease any poor decision making behind the handlebars.

    Maybe there is a joke about women drivers, (cagers), but women on two wheels are different. We are vigilant! And we are aware of our limitations. I.e. we don’t want to die.

    • Born to Ride

      Now now, easy on the stereotypes. One of the most reckless riders I have ever seen was a woman on a GSX-R 750 one day on Mt. Palomar. She was WFO down every straight and trail braking every corner in full leathers, knee down. I was a young pup in awe of her mad skillz. Sadly she ended up high-siding (allegedly, I was taking a break when it happened) and breaking her wrist. Haven’t seen her since.

    • DickRuble

      “I think the increase of women riders will help decrease any poor decision making behind the handlebars.” Huh? Care to elaborate? The way this statement is written we just don’t see rational thinking emanate from “behind” the handlebars.

      • Yama Mass Girl

        You are right Dick. Rational thinking does not flow from behind the handlebars.

        I am a fairly new rider. (On my third motorcycle.) I’ve just never heard a woman brag about how they were going 100 mph, while pulling a wheelie at night. But I’ve heard a couple guys brag about that, (or similar antics, on several occasions and knew they were serious).

        • DickRuble

          Third bike already? They don’t last much in vigilant riding, do they?

        • Ian Parkes

          Are they dead now? If they are still alive that doesn’t really prove anything.

  • Jeremy in CO

    I went through high school and college in the 1990s, and I’d say many more riders back then including myself had much better and more extensive rider training than riders today. That is because many (perhaps even most?) of us rode dirt bikes before we ever got on a street bike and went through two or more displacements as we grew in confidence and skill (and stature.) While not without danger, dirt is a pretty forgiving and dynamic surface to learn and fail on (MX tracks excluded – they can hurt!.)

    It is my opinion that as places to ride dirt bikes have dried up substantially over the years since then, so have important learning opportunities for future street riders. Granted, my opinion that fewer riders are coming from a dirt background (and that such a background may actually improve their survival rate) is derived from casual observation without any statistics to back it up. Still, I haven’t met a new or newish rider in a while that had any dirt bike experience growing up.

    • SerSamsquamsh

      Also a 650 with 70hp is now a “wussy beginner bike”. No training, no gear, 180hp ninja? What could go wrong?

  • SRMark

    Gabe, thanks for the food for thought. Something is killing us and it just does not do to stick our heads in the sand. Here in Western Maryland we have a decrease in hunting activity as fewer folk seem inclined to gather their own food. We have an increase in spotty home development making for more broken up bits of forest land. That too contributes to less hunting activity since you can’t hunt around homes. The deer populations have increased as a result. And they get hit. I play dodge-deer every time I ride. I also play dodge-bear, coyote, rabbit, squirrel, groundhog, fox, skunk, snake, you name it. I have zero data to support if this has an impact on fatality rates. But it sure is good to start looking hard at the issues and come up with some solid, evidence-based plans of action.

  • TriumphRider87

    You seem to have overlooked the US military. After instituting training, they have dramatically lowered their motorcycle fatality rate – in particular the Marines, but I believe across all branches. Small sample, sure, but seems to be proof positive that mandatory rider training does work.

    • Ironically, the training contractor for the USMC was…Lee Parks Total Control.

  • Adam

    It seems like we are seriously lacking in an understanding of who is dying and what were they doing when they died. Or at least the article does not seem to address it.

    Sure you are 38 times more likely to die on a motorcycle than a car, but that includes people speeding excessively, unlicensed riders, inexperienced riders, people without adequate safety gear, and drunk riders. Take all that out, take some precautionary measures to avoid Cars Turning Left and you are probably only 3-5 times more likely to die. Only.

    • SerSamsquamsh

      Exactly. Still more likely to die of heart desease, poisoning or a bunch or other stuff. People in cars have an overriding false sense of security. I know I do!

  • fzrider

    Very interesting…. I’ve had no formal training. I read “How to” books sometimes. These charts, licenses to crash ratios, what causes what arguments gave me a headache. The truth is I have no idea how good I ride. I’m always afraid and I’m always thrilled to ride. I’m so old that even if I die in a crash I’m ahead of the game.
    I always speed when I safely can. I always putt putt though small towns at the exact posted speed. (respect) I avoid cars and other bikes like the plague. I always assume everyone is a terrible driver/rider about to do something totally stupid. (it has been me before)…. I would love to be helpful but it’s probably obvious I survive thru: fear, distrust, luck, and every so often, the kindness of others. I’d love to take a course, but deep down in my heart, I’m afraid they’ll suggest I should never learn to ride.

  • DuckyRider

    Before we get twisted around the death stats, it might be helpful to get other sorts of data – like the profile of bike type highest in fatalities, the rider profile, and lots of other stuff. When you want to understand a topic well, you need more than a couple of data elements.

    Certainly, one class in physics doesn’t make one a physicist; and one motorcycle safety class doesn’t make one a skilled rider. Ergo, as one poster said, it would be helpful to know the previous riding experience of the new rider. Those who had an extensive dirt riding history from childhood learn a lot from MSF or the Lee Parks Out of Control class. When I was teaching or coaching, you knew how things were likely to go depending on the background of participants. When a class was chock full of dirt riders from childnood – it was all easy. When we had a blended class, it was often boring for the experienced – and they didn’t get the benefits they could have from a more intense “basic” class.

    There should be more range and even street work for the safety classes. Much more. I’d say double or triple it. Expensive? Yes. But so are fatalities and disability due to injury. Look at the Europeans, a tiered licensing system – which I’m not advocating – but there needs to be much much more range work, and public road work.

    We’re an increasingly urban society. It used to be that rider types did dirt work before the street – not so much anymore. Same with manual shifting. And we’re not even talking about the electronic safety controls that are now so prevalent on newer bikes that reduce the amount of skill required of riders.

    Let me tell you, it’s a lot more complicated that one class. And it’s also not helpful to be proud of scaring new riders away. What you’re really saying is we don’t have the time to really train you, so are you willing to learn on your own on the mean and dangerous streets out there?

    That is stupid. Sure there are folks who should not be riding. But the majority who want to can, and can do it safely. It simply takes much more time than MSF provides in the course. And we need to look at other data that is relevant, like looking at riders who do not crash and do not get injured – what is different about them?

    The real answer is more data, and more training. It should be mandatory. An introductory course is not sufficient.

  • DuckyRider

    One other item of note: When I was a motorcycle safety rider coach, I happened to go on a tour of California with a good friend and excellent rider. One day, in the Sierras we were debriefing the day’s ride. I pulled out my tablet and popped in the SD card with videos of him in front of me. Just after he finished saying he thought he’d done some of the best riding ever, he had the opportunity to critique himself in the video. I knew he’d been over-cooking speed and then slowing down, riding was not smooth. When he saw himself, he realized what he was doing wrong – and noted it was the worst riding he’d ever remembered doing.

    Well, this sort of experience is what new riders need; that is to see themselves and what their riding looks like. But this means riding on the open road with someone tracking their moves on video, and hopefully also both using helmet to helmet communication. Those techniques really help them learn. I would advocate that on the street – because there is where the danger is at. Track days are for fun and some skill, but the danger of the road is not there, and folks need to learn.

    I wanted to set up a business of working with new MSF grads so that they could learn and improve, but realized quickly the risk and liability factors that could make it very costly for the coach. But that is what new riders need – on the street practice with an experienced rider behind them. And you know from their credentials if they’re the right person – they don’t crash and have avoided accidents for year upon year.