WHAT VIRGINIA TECH LEARNED ABOUT HOW AND WHY WE CRASH OUR MOTORCYCLES


What do you learn if you pick 100 riders, put five video cameras and data-logging equipment on their motorcycles and record them for a total of 366,667 miles?

Several things, some of which we knew, some surprising. Intersections are dangerous. We either need to pay better attention or work on our braking techniques, because we crash into the back of other vehicles way too often. We’re not good enough at cornering, especially right turns. And we drop our bikes a lot (probably more often than any of us imagined or were willing to admit).

The study was done for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Of course there’s a lot more to it than those findings above, and I’ll get further into the results in a minute. But first, why do we need some men and women in lab coats to tell us why we crashed?

Motorcycle crashes: Complex topic, scarce information

The most commonly cited U.S. study of motorcycle crashes is the one known as the Hurt report. Researchers at the University of Southern California, led by Harry Hurt, went to motorcycle crash scenes to determine the causes. Unfortunately, that report came out in 1981, when cell phones were non-existent and a powerful motorcycle made 90 horsepower. Plus, all those crashes studied were in Southern California.

So even though the Hurt report was the best we had, it was short of perfect. Why does that matter? Well, if we don’t have hard evidence on why crashes happen, how can we make the right decisions to prevent them to keep ourselves safer? Or fight bad legislation intended to protect us from ourselves? Or provide better training for new riders?

How Virginia Tech studied motorcycle crashes

The VTTI researchers recruited 100 riders from age 21 to 79 in California, Arizona, Florida and Virginia. They outfitted their motorcycles with video cameras showing the rider’s face and forward, rear, left and right views. GPS and data loggers captured other information, such as brake pressure, acceleration, etc.

This high-tech approach addressed another weakness of the Hurt report. As thorough