More Evidence Gives Support to Motorcycle Anti-Lock Brake Systems

by Gwen Newell
AAA Motorcycle Safety

Nearly a decade after the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) first called on the government for a federal mandate to require antilock braking systems on street-legal motorcycles, the data has continued to pile up in favor of this lifesaving technology.

After examining fatal crash rates from 2013 to 2019 for 65 motorcycle models that offer ABS as an option, researchers found that bikes equipped with the feature were involved in 22 percent fewer fatal crashes per 10,000 registered vehicle years. A registered vehicle year is equal to one motorcycle registered for one year.

This particular IIHS study is the largest of its kind and further strengthens the argument on the importance of this feature. In earlier studies, the Director of Statistical Services found a larger effect on fatal crash rates for ABS than found in the new research. One likely explanation is that the earlier studies involved fewer kinds of motorcycles. The new study has many more sport, unclad, and super sport bikes, and their riders did not benefit as much from the technology as other motorcyclists. This may be because they are more likely to be ridden aggressively and at higher speeds.

Also, because the study was limited to motorcycles on which antilock brake systems was available as an option, the results might also have been skewed by the exclusion of the growing number of models in which the feature is already standard. Nonetheless, 22 percent is a huge effect and when it comes to decisions that riders can make to protect themselves, choosing ABS is just as important as wearing a helmet.

First developed for airplanes, ABS senses when hard braking threatens to send the vehicle into a skid. It then releases and applies the brakes in a series of rapid pulses that bring the vehicle to a stop in as short a distance as possible while keeping the driver in control. The federal government has required ABS on large trucks since 1997, and it effectively became standard on passenger vehicles with the 2012 mandate requiring electronic stability control, which uses the ABS hardware.

For motorcyclists, the technology can be of added benefit, because it prevents the sliding and fishtailing that can cause the rider to lose control and “lay the bike down.” Though riders can learn to handle these challenges, the adrenaline surge of an impending crash can make those lessons hard to apply. Riders may also purposely avoid braking hard and wind up not being able to avoid a collision because they’re afraid of skidding out.

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