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Motorcycle Safety Foundation open to reconsidering safety study funding

November 23, 2009

by Ken Bingenheimer
National Motorcycle Examiner

Motorcycle Safety Foundation open to reconsidering safety study funding

motorcycle wreck, photo by Drew Leavy
A new study will investigate causes for motorcycle crashes (Photo: Drew Leavy)

Despite reports in recent weeks that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has decided against helping to fund a new motorcycle safety study, that decision is not necessarily final.

“The MSF has not shut the door,” said Tim Buche, the MSF president, in an interview Wednesday. “We’re open to learning more” and if new information suggests a statistically valid study can be conducted with fewer than 900 crashes studied, that information will be presented to the MSF board. Reconsideration of the funding decision would then “depend on the quality of the work and the rationale.” The MSF would also consider the opinions of other involved entities, such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Oklahoma State University’s (OSU) Oklahoma Transportation Center.

The MSF’s willingness to reconsider its decision not to participate in funding the study is significant because Dr. Samir Ahmed, the OSU researcher heading the study, is currently conducting a statistical analysis to determine how many crashes would need to be studied in order to achieve statistically valid results. That analysis is expected to be concluded in December.

The MSF’s current position is that “. . . with a limited sample size of approximately 300, we believe the study will not provide sufficient statistical significance of the OECD identified study variables and the MSF Board of Trustees has determined that MSF must continue to make its commitment of funds contingent upon a sample size of at least 900 cases.”

Three hundred crashes is the number that Ahmed believes current funding will cover, without $2.8 million the MSF has raised and another $200,000 committed by the Motorcycle Industry Council. The current funding comes from a federal grant of $3 million that, after administrative expenses are deducted, will amount to “$2 million and change,” according to Buche. The American Motorcyclist Association has also pledged $100,000.

Buche explained that the MSF, which is sponsored by the major motorcycle manufacturers, has an international perspective considering that the manufacturers are international in their operations. Thus, it is important that any study they fund be such that results can be reliably correlated with studies in other countries.

He also pointed out that the researchers will be collecting data on 1,800 to 2,000 variables on each crash, some of which do not come into play except in a minority of instances. Thus, the more crashes studied, the more likely it is that a representative number of crashes will involve these less common variables, resulting then in better, broader data.

To that end, the NTSB has previously stated its belief that a minimum of 1,200 crashes must be studied to achieve the desired results. “We put a lot of faith and confidence in their view,” said Buche.

Buche said Ahmed “is correct saying no one knows for sure” how many crashes must be studied, and he described him as “a hero charged with a pretty tough job.” When Ahmed’s analysis is complete and that information is ready, Buche said, “I will take what we’ve learned to the board, tell them ‘Here’s what’s changed, here’s what others think–does that change your thinking?'”

Needless to say, a change in the board’s thinking could have a major impact on the scope of the study. But even without the MSF’s funding, Ahmed has said that he has hopes that other funding sources can be tapped so that ultimately the study can succeed.

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