Motorcycle Crash Causation Study (MCCS): How NOT to Do a Crash Study

written by David Mixson

In my first book, Motorcycle Smarts, I wrote about the Hurt Report, an extensive study on why motorcycles crash. In my third book, Motorcycle Hacks, I wrote about a more recent study called the Motorcycle Crash Causation Study (MCCS). This is what I found.

MCCS Findings

I just reread the 114-page MCCS Final Report for the third time, and I’m struggling with what to say. Should I simply highlight some nuggets of useful information, or should I tell you what I think about the study?

I think I’ll do both, but first, I’ll share some background information.

Congress commissioned the MCCS because the number of motorcycle fatalities was on the rise, and they wanted to better understand why. The final report was released in 2019.

The MCCS took a different approach than the Hurt Report. It focused on identifying factors that contributed to crashes—hence the title Causation.

The study looked at a large set of parameters to identify what the rider was wearing when they crashed, how they might have been impaired, their age, their riding experience and training, and how they crashed.

However, more data isn’t always better data. I’ll unpack that in a minute.

Findings Worth Mentioning

Here are seven findings I found interesting.

  1. Single-vehicle crashes were overrepresented in fatal crashes.
  2. Left-turn scenarios were the most common crash configuration, followed by failing to avoid a crash and running off the roadway.
  3. Motorcyclists’ vehicle skill deficiency contribution to crash causation contributed to the crash in 24 percent of cases and was overrepresented in single-vehicle and fatal crashes.
  4. Helmets were more effective in preventing injury in multiple-vehicle crashes and less effective in preventing injury in fatal crashes. 
  5. Brightly colored torso garments enhanced conspicuity only in multiple-vehicle crashes. 
  6. Longer skid marks were overrepresented in fatal crashes for both front and rear tires.
  7. Improper countersteering was overrepresented in single-vehicle crashes.

The Truth

I spent a good bit of time going through the report to find the seven findings above. Unlike the Hurt Report, which had concise takeaways, the MCCS identified each parameter as underrepresented or overrepresented. 

My frustration with the MCCS is that it’s difficult to consume.

If I handed a printed copy to 100 riders and asked them to look at it, 99 would toss it in the trash after skimming a few pages. The one person who read it all the way through cover-to-cover (someone like me) would read it three times (I did), figuring he was missing something.

Then, if asked to list his top takeaways a week later, he wouldn’t be able to come up with much that was meaningful (I couldn’t).

In contrast, the Hurt Report gives actionable steps that a rider can skim in ten minutes that could save their life.

Missed Opportunity

What really upsets me about the MCCS is the absence of some of the most important causation metrics: ABS, Traction Control, and Stability Control. All three of these pieces of electronics will UNEQUIVOCALLY cause riders to crash less often by preventing most rider-induced lowside and highside crashes.

Instead, the authors of the MCCS included tons of parameters that can’t cause anything, like whether the rider was wearing gloves. Isn’t this like asking whether they were wearing boxers or briefs? 

Just because you have software that can handle as many parameters as you can come up with doesn’t mean you should include all of them.

It feels like the riding community is missing the forest for the trees. We’re analyzing gobs of data in hopes of finding a smoking gun, like if riders would just wear riding gloves, they wouldn’t crash. 

In the end, whether you wear gloves has absolutely no causal effect on whether you crash. With findings from the MCCS, now we know (sarcasm).

Another causation factor was whether the rider’s helmet was fastened. How can this be an indication (cause) of anything except possibly a slight leaning toward forgetfulness? 

In any case, processing through the MCCS Final Report without a consolidated list of useful findings was a challenge—and poor execution.

Further Studies

We need crash studies with a wider geographical footprint and a narrower list of causation parameters. We need to figure out a way to simplify the things we’re measuring so a police report and interview with the crash victims (if they survived) would suffice. More data doesn’t always lead to better information.

Instead, let’s test some of the heavy hitters I’ve addressed in the Motorcycle Smarts book series. We need to know the truth.

  1. Riders deserve to know if bikes with ABS, Traction Control, or ESC crash less often (or more often) than ones with regular brakes.
  2. Riders deserve to know if loud pipes save lives—because if they don’t, we’re doing folks a huge disservice by not telling them the truth.
  3. Riders deserve to know what segment of riders crash the most because once we know this, we can focus more attention on educating them.

Riders Who Don’t Crash

I want to know what riders who don’t crash are doing.

  1. What do they wear?
  2. What color is their riding gear?
  3. Do they understand how countersteering works (with their head) so they can use it in a pinch to save their life?
  4. Do they ride a motorcycle with ABS, Traction Control, or ESC?
  5. Do they know what triggers most lowside and highside crashes?

Sure, this type of study might take more thought and execution, but it could probably be done with a questionnaire—much easier to administer than onsite crash analysis—after the fact.

Any way you slice it, the Hurt Report gave riders the best information of any crash study since. But it was done in the 80s when ABS and ESC hardly existed.

Did I Miss Something?

Just now, I went back and did a search in the MCCS for ABS. Buried in the 114 pages of findings (on page 65), this is what I found:

Antilock Braking System (ABS): ‘No’ was overrepresented, and ‘Yes’ was underrepresented in the crash data for both front and rear brakes.

That’s it. All the authors had to say about something that WOULD change riders’ chances of crashing. I also did a search for Traction Control, Stability Control, lowsides, and highsides. Nothing meaningful was mentioned.

In the end, the MCCS gave us far less than the Hurt Report did back when it was published in the 80s—a missed opportunity.

* A portion of this article is an excerpt from my book Motorcycle Hacks.

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About the Author

David Mixson writes about the topics other motorcycle books gloss over. He worked as a NASA engineer for over thirty years and is the author of three books.

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