IIHS: Active safety systems could prevent thousands of motorcycle collisions

Adapting active safety systems on vehicles to better detect motorcycles could prevent thousands of collisions each year, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, the organization also notes that these incidents only account for a small share of motorcycle crashes overall.

IIHS says collisions between vehicles and motorcycles often occur because a driver did not see the motorcyclist. Systems such as front crash prevention and blind spot detection can help drivers spot motorcyclists, but the systems are not always designed to detect this type of vehicle.

In order to estimate how many collisions could be prevented with improved safety technology, IIHS senior statistician Eric Teoh looked at vehicle-motorcycle collisions in the United States between 2011 and 2015. This data was derived from two federal databases: the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the National Automotive Sampling System – General Estimates System.

Eighty-six percent of collisions between a motorcycle and a vehicle during this period resulted in a fatality or injury. The most common type of incident was a vehicle rear-ending a motorcycle.

Teoh also sought to determine when active safety systems would have been relevant to a crash. Specifically, he looked at incidents where front crash prevention, blind spot detection, or lane maintenance systems could have prevented or reduced the severity of a collision.

Overall, Teoh determined that the systems would have been relevant in 10 percent of fatal vehicle-motorcycle collisions, 19 percent of nonfatal collisions with injuries, and 23 percent of vehicle-motorcycle collisions reported to the police between 2011 and 2015. He also found that the systems have the potential to stop or mitigate 8,000 collisions between motorcycles and vehicles each year.

Since incidents where a motorcycle is rear-ended are most common, front crash prevention had the greatest potential for reducing collisions. Teoh estimated that this system would have been relevant to 13 percent of police-reported collisions, 10 percent of nonfatal collisions with injuries, and 4 percent of fatal crashes between 2011 and 2015.

"These crashes represent a major opportunity for front crash prevention systems on passenger vehicles," said Teoh. "As manufacturers refine systems and design future ones, they should include the ability to reliably detect motorcyclists, along with other road users."

Lane maintenance systems, including systems that warn a driver when they are drifting out of their lane or actively intervene to keep the vehicle within the lanes, benefit motorcyclists by helping prevent vehicles from veering into their path. However, a previous IIHS study suggests that many drivers turn these systems off because they find the warnings to be irritating.

During the period of Teoh's analysis, lane maintenance systems would have been relevant to 4 percent of police-reported crashes, 4 percent of fatal crashes, and 3 percent of nonfatal crashes with injuries. Incidents where blind spot detection would have been relevant included 6 percent of police-reported crashes, 6 percent of nonfatal crashes with injuries, and 1 percent of fatal crashes.

Teoh said the most common type of collision between a vehicle and motorcycle occurred when a driver made a left turn in front of an oncoming motorcyclist. None of the three crash avoidance technologies included in the study would have prevented this type of incident, which accounted for 36 percent of fatal vehicle-motorcycle collisions, 21 percent of nonfatal crashes with injuries, and 19 percent of police-reported crashes.

"Developing or adapting systems to detect an oncoming motorcycle and brake to avoid a left-turn crash would more than quadruple the number of fatal crashes potentially prevented," said Teoh. "Some manufacturers are starting to address this crash configuration."

Crash avoidance technologies have been less likely to be implemented on motorcycles, although Teoh determined that the same systems used in vehicles could be beneficial to motorcyclists. His analysis found that motorcyclists were more likely to rear-end vehicles than vehicles were to rear-end motorcyclists, and that motorcyclists were also more likely to stray out of their lane. IIHS previously determined that antilock braking systems currently available on motorcycles reduce the crash rate by 31 percent over motorcycles that don't have ABS.

However, IIHS also notes how fewer than half of all motorcycle crashes in the 2011-2015 period involved a collision with a vehicle. As such, Teoh determined that front crash prevention, blind spot monitoring, and lane maintenance systems would only have had the potential to reduce overall police-reported crashes by 10 percent and fatal crashes by 4 percent.

"Crash avoidance technology doesn't negate the need for other proven motorcycle safety countermeasures, such as proper helmets and protective gear and universal helmet laws," said Teoh.

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