The IIHS is asking the NHTSA to mandate ABS on motorcycles, based on the outcome of two recent studies. The first, funded by the IIHS, found that ABS-equipped motorcycles are 37% less likely to be involved in fatal crashes than bikes without anti-lock brakes. The second study, completed by the Highway Loss Data Institute, found that bikes with ABS have 22% fewer claims for crash damage.
While no one would argue that improved safety is a good thing, the study fails to factor in a whole lot of variables. For example, since ABS equipped bikes tend to be on the high end of the price spectrum, is it possible that their demographic is already involved in fewer accidents? If you put ABS on entry level sportbikes, would the accident numbers decrease as quoted by IIHS or would the number of fatalities remain constant? How about on cruisers, whose buyers (mostly returning riders with no recent motorcycle experience) were dying at the highest rate over the past five years?
Mandating ABS on motorcycles isn’t necessarily a good thing. First, motorcycle ABS isn’t foolproof and works only if the bike is upright; leaned over in a corner, ABS will still cause a low side if you hammer the binders. It adds complexity to a motorcycle, hence increasing the cost of purchase and of maintenance. Ever try to bleed the brakes on a bike with ABS? At best, it’s a pain in the ass; at worst, it’s a hydraulic nightmare that requires an expensive trip to the dealership to change brake fluid. At a time when motorcycle dealerships are struggling to stay afloat, mandating a sweeping change like this is sure to drive some manufacturers from the U.S. market and substantially impact the sales of new motorcycles for the brands that remain.
If the IIHS really cared about saving lives, they’d push for more extensive rider training and stepped licensing like many EU countries use. Instead, “let’s save lives” is a disguise for their real focus, which is “let’s reduce insurance company payouts for accident claims”. I’ll agree with IIHS president Adrian Lund on one point, however: the best motorcycle crash is one that never happens.