By Steve Bauer
With motorcycle safety issues coming to the forefront of political arenas more than ever, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) is making a conscious effort to ensure its voice is heard in a critical time for motorcycle riders.
The organization has recently voiced its concerns over a potential increase in ethanol in gasoline, partnered with the motorcycle industry for a landmark motorcycle crash causation study, has partnered with several companies to increase motorcycle safety awareness and has publicly criticized the findings of a report on motorcycle fatalities by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
So is the AMA’s recent activity a result of an increase in issues it feels are important to the well-being of motorcyclists, or a concerted effort to make itself more visible to the public and politicians alike?
Ed Moreland, the AMA’s vice president of government relations, says it’s a little of both.
“I think that part of our mission is to further protect and promote the interests of motorcycling,” he said, “and in addition the direction from our new president has been pretty clear that we need to reassert our voice in the motorcycle community, and ensure that motorcyclists’ voices are being heard over issues that affect them. We want to provide meaningful and reasonable comment on issues that affect motorcyclists. If we think that it requires comment from us, we will certainly do so.”
struggle over cycle safety
One area the AMA is particularly focused on is a recent push by both federal and state agencies to enact helmet laws in an attempt to reduce motorcycle crashes. Moreland says although the AMA believes the increased focus on motorcycle safety is long overdue, it doesn’t want the agencies to sacrifice expediency for accuracy.
“We want them to carefully weigh their options for creating effective counter measures,” he said. “So we want to continue to work with them to create realistic counter measures, including increasing alcohol awareness campaigns, driver and rider education campaigns, initiatives to increase properly licensing of motorcycles and rider training dollars.”
One example that Moreland points out as government agencies’ flawed approach in helping increase motorcycle safety is the insistence on federal and state helmet laws.
“(Helmet laws) allow for federal agencies to point at a remedy for reducing injuries, when what they should be focusing on is reducing crashes,” he said. “And you reduce crashes by decreasing driver distraction, by understanding why people crash. There’s a whole bunch of ways to reduce the likelihood of a crash, but federal agencies want to take the approach that all that needs to be done is to put a helmet on someone’s head, and that’s somehow going to prevent them from crashing. I think they believe the easiest way is to regulate behavior through a ban or regulated use of helmets, instead of actually doing the hard work to understand why people crash and holding them accountable. If people keep turning left in front of motorcycles, it doesn’t matter what the rider puts on his head, he’s still going to get hurt.”
Moreland says he’s particularly proud of the fact that with the help of the motorcycle industry and the efforts of the AMA, that the first comprehensive motorcycle crash causation study in 30 years is currently under way. The AMA also recently announced a partnership with Miller Brewing on the “Keep Your Balance” campaign, and is continuously looking for partners to increase the profile of motorcycling in America and increase the organization’s role in keeping motorcyclists safe.
Moreland also believes there’s an opportunity between motorcycle manufacturers and riders to team together to promote safety, and notes the AMA is willing to partner with a manufacturer or industry organization when appropriate.
“I think the motorcycle industry is keenly aware of the need for the expansion of motorcycle safety,” he said. “And through their efforts with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation they provide a large portion of rider training across the country.”
One of the AMA’s most recent battles has been centered around a recent Insurance Institute report on motorcycle fatalities, and Moreland says it’s a perfect example of why the AMA has become more vocal in the public arena. The report purports to show that sport bikes are considerably more dangerous than other types of motorcycles. But an AMA analysis of the report notes the methodology used in the research makes it difficult to determine whether that’s a valid conclusion.
“I think the report asks more questions than it answers, and this type of report is being put out there to scare people,” Moreland said. “There doesn’t seem to be any recognition of how the bikes are ridden. It assumes that just because a bike is capable of higher performance and faster speeds then you’re more likely to be injured or killed while riding it. I believe the fact of the matter is the injuries and fatalities that are occurring on these motorcycles as well as other motorcycles are occurring at relatively low speeds. I believe it was based mostly off assumptions, where they went from A to C without going through B, so to speak.”
Moreland says it’s also difficult to take seriously a report that was clearly not written by riders or anyone with any riding experience because of the incorrect classification of some of the motorcycles in the report.
“If you’re going to class motorcycles as a supersport, or term them unclad because the term ‘naked’ offends people, how are you going to be taken seriously by the riding community?” he asked. “But the misclassification of motorcycles, like the Hayabusa, and putting it into a class with a completely different type of motorcycle, Honda’s ST1300 sport touring bike, and then not even recognizing the class of sport touring bikes, it really undermines the legitimacy of a report like this. I don’t know the way it’s written who the audience is intended to be, if it’s intended to be sent as a message to riders, manufacturers or if it’s simply just a message being sent out to insurance companies.”
Moreland says what’s most disappointing about the report is it calls for a ban on specific bikes, when there’s been no similar call for bans on high-performance automobiles or boats. He also notes the causation study being conducted will go a long way in helping pinpoint specific causes for motorcycle crashes.
“We look forward to getting the results of actual, in-the-field research that won’t just compare fatalities to some hypothetical class of motorcycle, but will pin down the actual factors involved in motorcycle crashes,” he said. “That will be much more useful in helping save lives on the highway.”
More land insists the Insurance Institute report is just one example of the AMA’s efforts in raising its voice for the benefits of motorcyclists, and that the public can expect to hear more from the organization in the future.
“I think that you can expect to see the AMA weighing in on any issue that affects motorcycling,” he said. “We’re going to have something to say about it, and we hope we do so with a reasonable voice and will bring something to the table. Definitely look for more activity from the AMA.”