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Feds Turn Their Eyes to Safety

The Feds hone in on motorcycle safety—should you care?

With the recent launch of the Motorcycle Advisory Council (MAC), the feds are officially turning their eyes to motorcycle safety—for better or for worse, depending on how you feel about rider regulations.

The MAC is designed to provide recommendations to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on matters related to motorcyclist safety. It will focus specifically on engineering-related infrastructure measures that can reduce motorcycle fatalities, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

This may seem harmless enough. But it’s renewing a heated debate in the biker community: What is to blame for motorcycle fatalities? And are more motorcycle regulations worth it if the payoff is rider safety?

Here’s what you need to know about the MAC and the debate over motorcycle safety.

What is the MAC, anyway?

The Federal Highway Administration’s Motorcyclist Advisory Council is a 10-person committee whose creation was mandated by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (also called FAST Act). The U.S. DOT reassures us on its website that all 10 members are riders themselves.

The MAC provides recommendations and advice regarding:

  • Barrier design and roundabouts
  • Construction
  • Road design and hardware
  • Road maintenance practices
  • Work zones
  • Whether new “smart” transportation technology will reduce motorcycle fatalities

What are the latest statistics on motorcycle safety? 

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,286 of the 37,461 roadway fatalities in 2016 involved motorcycles. This represents a 5% increase over the previous year.

Another set of motorcycle safety data worth looking into is the NHTSA’s 2015 Traffic Safety Factsheet. A few quick takeaways:

  • Per vehicle mile in 2015, motorcyclist fatalities were nearly 29 times more frequent than passenger car occupant fatalities in traffic crashes
  • 55% of the motorcycle fatalities occurred in urban areas; 45% were in rural areas
  • 67% occurred on non-intersection locations compared to 33% on intersections
  • The most harmful event for 2,761 (54%) of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes was collisions with motor vehicles in transport
  • In 2015, there were 2,448 two-vehicle fatal crashes involving a motorcycle and another type of vehicle. In 41% of these crashes, the other vehicles were turning left while the motorcycles were going straight, passing, or overtaking other vehicles. Both vehicles were going straight in 22% of crashes.

Meanwhile, the FHWA is currently compiling research for its Motorcycle Crash Causation Study, which will feature data from more than 350 crash investigations. The MAC is expecting this to provide significant insight into what measures can help curb the frequency of rider fatalities.

What’s the debate about?

Rider opinions on the MAC very greatly, as showcased in the comments thread of a Revzilla article recapping the MAC’s first meeting. Some applaud the MAC’s efforts and the fact that many of its members are riders themselves. In the other camp are those who passionately oppose any regulations imposed on riders. The iconoclastic streak shared by all motorcyclists means that they don’t like being told what to do—especially not by the government.

While some safety measures would likely gain the support of riders overall, many also fear that these measures would lead to stricter recommendations—and eventually regulations and laws, which could limit the freedom of riders to do what they want, and ride as they see fit.

For more on the debate over motorcycle safety, check out this debate.org thread titled, “Is it dangerous to drive a motorcycle?”

What does the MAC mean for bikers?

In the short term, the MAC means very little to the average rider. The main role of the council is to provide recommendations, and little concrete governmental action will likely occur in the foreseeable future. But in the long-term, some of the council’s recommendations could be adopted into policy decisions. This is what the freedom-loving “no rules” camp fears most.

Regardless of the MAC’s actual impact, it has sparked a debate that evokes strong reactions from riders on both sides of the fence.

 With opinions flying fast, where do you stand on the issue of government action toward riding? Are more regulations worth it if the payoff is rider safety?