ABS Reduces Motorcycle Crashes, Says IIHS

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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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Can you remember the first time you drove a car with antilock brakes (ABS)? No longer did one have to pump the brakes on slick, wet or icy roads, the ABS system would take over, pumping the brakes much faster than any human driver was capable of doing themselves.

ABS systems have had a tremendous impact on automobiles. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the very first round of cars equipped with ABS saw significant reductions in multivehicle crashes on wet roads. Fatal crashes were reduced by 24 percent, whereas nonfatal crashes saw a 14 percent reduction.

The systems also greatly reduce the chances of a driver striking another vehicle in the rear, or striking a stopped vehicle, with a 40 percent or more reduction. However, as NHTSA pointed out, that benefit was partially offset by increasing the likelihood of being struck in the rear by another driver, because “the better your own braking capabilities, the more likely that a following vehicle with average braking capabilities will hit you.”

But despite the somewhat mixed bag, there’s no doubt that ABS is a safety system that not only reduces crashes, but also helps to lower car insurance premiums. Safer and cheaper is a win-win.

And now research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that ABS systems on motorcycles are having a similar effect as they did on automobiles.

New Riders Benefit the Most from ABS

A motorcycle is a different beast than an automobile, since the rider is always exposed to the elements and is largely unprotected, save for whatever riding gear they choose to don before hopping on their two-wheeled mode of transport. But although ABS systems are just now beginning to become mainstream on motorcycles, the systems have been available since 1981 when BMW offered the first motorcycle with ABS.

And the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) which is the IIHS’s research arm now says that their analysis of motorcycle insurance crash data shows just how valuable an ABS-equipped motorcycle can be for a rider. They looked at collision claims filed for motorcycles with and without ABS systems. The HLDI found that ABS-equipped motorcycles were 30 percent less likely to be involved in a crash during the first 90 days of a motorcycle policy, and 19 percent less likely for the period after the first 90 days.

As we said earlier, a motorcycle is different than an automobile. While locking up the brakes on a car results in a skid, doing so on a motorcycle can result in the loss of balance by a rider, resulting in a low-side crash that can turn deadly in an instant due to the exposed nature of the rider. ABS systems allow a rider to apply the brakes as hard as they can, with no danger of locking up either of the wheels.

“We already knew that motorcycle ABS cuts crashes. What this study shows is that ABS may help compensate for beginners’ mistakes,” says HLDI Vice President Matt Moore. “At the same time, riders with more experience also reap large benefits from the technology.”

HLDI compared ABS and non-ABS versions of 22 different motorcycles ranging from the 2003 to 2012 model years. Their analysts found that claims were filed 24 percent less often on motorcycles with ABS. And the significant costs of rider injuries saw and even greater reduction, as medical claims were 34 percent less frequent on bikes with ABS.

These findings were in line with a previous IIHS study that saw a 37 percent reduction in fatal motorcycle crashes when the bike was equipped with ABS.

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ABS Isn’t Simply For Beginners, Though

But even though new riders get the most benefits from riding a motorcycle with ABS, the IIHS is quick to point out experienced riders shouldn’t shun the safety equipment if it’s available as either standard or optional equipment on a motorcycle they’re considering.

“While not all motorcyclists with new insurance policies are novices, those in the later period invariably have at least three months of riding under their belt, so the 19 percent reduction is a key finding,” Moore says. “Experienced riders should think twice before they dismiss ABS as something for beginners.”


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