The Impact of ABS on Motorcycle Fatalities: A 22% Reduction, as Revealed by a Study

A study conducted by the insurance sector comparing the same motorcycle models with and without anti-lock brakes (ABS) found that ABS reduced the number of fatal accidents by 22%.

Eric R. Teoh’s study, published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is the third of its kind by the same researcher. The previous studies in 2011 and 2013 showed an even greater reduction in ABS-related accidents. However, the fundamental message that ABS reduces fatal accidents remains consistent.

Let’s take a quick look at how the study was conducted, its findings, and some questions it raises.

ABS and Motorcycle Accidents

The study utilized data from 2003 to 2019 from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) managed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. FARS tracks fatal accidents on public roads. In this study, Teoh identified 65 motorcycle models sold with optional ABS and compared the number of fatal accidents between ABS and non-ABS motorcycles of the same model. ABS-equipped bikes were identified based on their VINs.

A simple comparison of ABS and non-ABS motorcycle accidents would inevitably involve different types of bikes and riding styles. By comparing the same models with and without ABS, the study eliminated potential biases.

In conclusion, the study found 5.7 fatal accidents per 10,000 registered vehicle years for ABS motorcycles and 7.4 per 10,000 for those without ABS.

Limitations and Drawbacks

There are limitations to what we can learn from a study like this, and it’s worth looking at some of these briefly.

For one, the population of motorcycles that can be purchased with or without ABS does not represent the total motorcycle population on U.S. roads. For example, cruisers and standards are underrepresented in this sample.

Countries ranging from EU members to Taiwan, Australia, Brazil, and others require at least some road motorcycles to have ABS by law. In the U.S., 56% of registered motorcycles of the 2020 model year have standard ABS, and another 26% have it available as an option.

It has also been theorized that riders who pay more to get ABS may be more safety-conscious and thus less likely to crash regardless. On the other hand, a study on motorists found that some drivers take more risks because ABS and other aids like stability control give them a greater sense of security. Teoh’s study examined other risk factors recorded in reports and found no significant difference between ABS and non-ABS riders, except that speed was slightly more likely to be a factor in fatal accidents among non-ABS riders.

Additionally, using FARS, this study only looks at accidents where someone died. The same level of scrutiny is not given to many other motorcycle accidents that do not result in death, and those incidents could potentially tell a slightly different story.

Finally, it’s worth noting that IIHS supports mandatory ABS, and in the past, it has taken some controversial positions regarding high-performance motorcycles. A study is not necessarily flawed just because the entity funding it has a program, but it’s fair to consider it.

What ABS Truly Serves

I know by now someone is already typing in the comments section, saying something like “I’ve ridden 40 years without ABS and don’t need electronic nannies” or “Learn to brake well and use your right hand, that’s your ABS!”

But ABS isn’t just for people who lack good braking technique. It’s for that moment when you’re riding home after sunset and can’t see the sand or spilled oil or whatever else on the road. It’s for that unexpected panic-inducing scenario that demands perfect braking technique from a not-always-perfect human.

Like me, for example. Thirteen years ago, on a cold April morning, I had just left home and was commuting to work on a city street when a woman in a car stopped in front of me to dash into McDonald’s for breakfast. Cold tires, unexpected threat, insert further excuses here. The end result was that I locked up the front and went down.

No one was hurt. Minimal damage. But ABS would have prevented it. Even perfect braking technique would have prevented it, and the technique I used would have been perfect on a warm, sunny afternoon.



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The Impact of ABS on Motorcycle Fatalities: A 22% Reduction, as Revealed by a Study


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