Analysis of MSF Naturalistic Study Finds Key Factors Affecting Motorcycle Safety

Nov 11, 2016 View Comments by

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation completed its first major analysis of the MSF 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study and found 17 key factors that could help improve traffic safety.

A naturalistic traffic study differs from traditional research, where a participant is put into a laboratory-type scenario or has to crash first and then recall details after the fact. While many studies have attempted to describe the events leading up to a crash using these post-crash investigative methods, naturalistic studies rely on recorded video and real-time data and can reveal conditions that may otherwise remain unknown or misinterpreted.

During the four-year study, conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) on behalf of MSF, sensors and video cameras were installed on motorcycles owned by participants and used on a day-to-day basis over two months to two years. The study was designed to track riding that would likely include near-crash, pre-crash, and actual crash data. According to the research, owners quickly grew accustomed to the installed equipment and rode normally, not as though they were being monitored.

MSF Naturalistic Study

VTTI researchers used stream-compilation tools to analyze video and data captured by onboard instrumentation.


Approximately 30,000 trips were recorded, representing over 9,300 hours of riding and a total of 366,000 miles. The study included frequent riders, who rode 145 days per year on average, and infrequent riders, who rode 30 days per year on average. Participant ages ranged from 21 to 80; 78 of the riders were male and 22 were female. Before participating, riders completed questionnaires to capture data such as demographics, riding history, training experience, and risk adversity. They also completed a basic balance and coordination exercise, a Snellen visual acuity test, and grip strength assessment.

Four different locations were used to administer the study to provide a variety of riding and weather conditions, roadway environments, and traffic densities: Blacksburg, VA, Irvine, CA, Orlando, FL, and Phoenix, AZ. One hundred volunteer participants were recruited. Each owned one of seven on-road motorcycle models: the Suzuki GSX-R, Kawasaki Ninja, Honda Rebel, Yamaha V-Star, Harley-Davidson Sportster, Honda Gold Wing, and Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic.


“Crash,” as defined by this study, includes:
  • Any contact that the subject vehicle has with an object, either moving or fixed, at any speed.
  • Non-premeditated departures of the roadway where at least one tire leaves the paved or intended travel surface of the road.
  • Any contact between the ground and the bike (other than tires/stands) or ground and rider (other than foot).

Thirty crashes occurred during the four-year study. Seventeen were low-speed or stationary “capsizes.” In 19 crashes, including some of the capsizes, the motorcycle and rider both hit the ground; in five of the 19, the rider required medical attention but no serious injuries were reported.

Evaluating those crashes plus 122 near-crashes revealed 12 factors that increase the risk of crashing or nearly crashing (C/NC):

MSF Naturalistic Study

… and five factors that decrease the risk of C/NC:

MSF Naturalistic Study

For example, the risk of crashing or nearly crashing at an intersection is 2.9 to 40 times higher (depending on the type of intersection) than riding on road or highway segments devoid of intersections. Aggressive riding increases the risk of C/NC by nearly 18 times. Conversely, carrying a passenger reduces risk by nearly two-thirds. These and other findings will be valuable for the continuous improvement of the MSF’s curricula.

“This work has already begun to identify the factors that motorcyclists, MSF’s curriculum developers, professional MSF RiderCoaches who operate in 47 states, and government entities can address to improve traffic safety,” said Tim Buche, MSF’s president and CEO.

Riders who want to learn more can visit or view the “Factors That Increase and Decrease Motorcyclist Crash Risk” research paper and slide presentation online.

Source: Motorcycle Safety Foundation


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