Motorcycling in the U.S. was a niche activity for the first half of the 20th century. Although there are nearly 9 million motorcycles registered for street use today, fewer than 600,000 bikes were registered annually before 1960. The decade of the 1960s witnessed the introduction in America of smaller, lightweight, inexpensive Japanese-made motorcycles. Led by Honda and followed by other new entrants, and fueled by a wave of Baby Boomers reaching license age, motorcycling went mainstream, and registration figures soared, reaching 2.8 million by 1970 and 5.5 million by 1975.
Along with the rise in use came a rise in motorcycle crashes and deaths. However, in the 1960s there was little in the way of motorcycle crash research or accident countermeasures. The initial government reaction to the problem came in 1967 from the Department of Transportation, which simply focused on protective gear.
At that time few states required any special license or examination of those who wished to operate a motorcycle on public roads. Typically, if one held a valid automobile operator's license it would simply be endorsed by state authorities for motorcycle operation as well. Whereas enthusiasts and safety professionals in other countries had begun to formalize the training process by writing step-by-step training curricula so experienced motorcyclists could assume the role of instructor, in the late 1960s most American riders learned from their friends or siblings or by trial-and-error.
A Call To Action
In 1972, representatives of BSA, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha, acting through the Motorcycle Industry Council (a not-for-profit, national trade association that had existed under various names since 1914), proposed a cooperative effort to create broad-based programs to improve motorcycle operator competence, and established the Motorcycle Industry Council Safety and Education Foundation, Inc. (MICSEF). The MICSEF's five primary program areas were:
- Determination of motorcycle operator tasks, knowledge and skills
- Implementation of novice safety education and training
- Operator improvement
- Operator licensing
- Non-motorcyclist safety education
MICSEF engaged the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) to develop a plan to accomplish these objectives. The resulting "Motorcycle Safety Plan" was a blueprint for a comprehensive motorcycle safety program focused primarily on human factors.
Tasks included working with federal, state and local safety officials, educational institutions, professional and technical associations, motorcycle clubs and other motorcycle safety-oriented entities (including American Automobile Association, American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration); producing instructional materials and audio-visual aids; establishing uniform operating practices; and developing maintenance and inspection training programs.
Non-motorcyclist safety education was also given a high priority, because anecdotal evidence at the time indicated what we now know through decades of research: "The American motorist [car and truck driver] is having great difficulty safely sharing the roads and highways with the motorcyclist. This type of motorcycle safety education must be integrated into all driver education programs." (MICSEF Talking Paper, 1973)
A Focus on Hands-On Education: The Beginning RiderCourse℠
Upon acceptance of this Motorcycle Safety Plan, MICSEF set about changing the face of motorcycle education in the U.S. Along with a name change to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, in 1973 MSF became a completely separate corporation from MIC, with its own board of trustees, membership, mission, and over 25 full-time dedicated staff who worked solely for the MSF. From the very beginning, MSF's mission had been to promote, foster, and encourage the safety of riders and provide education consistent with the public interest.
Among the foundatio's major program areas, education has received the greatest emphasis since day one. Motorcycle accident data indicated that a substantial portion involved riders with limited experience (roughly several months to one year). Education was seen as the best opportunity to reduce risk to the operator, particularly during the early months of operation. This strategy was later confirmed by the "Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures" study from 1981 (also known as the Hurt Report), which showed that trained riders were under-represented in crash fatalities.
MSF's field-based experimental research is used for examining the effectiveness of new curricular programs, as well as refinements in current curriculum strategies and procedures. Combined with MSF's institutional knowledge and subject-matter expertise, these research efforts are being applied toward the real-world goal of improving student outcomes through contemporary rider education programs.
In the MSF 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study, MSF partnered with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute on this world's first large-scale, naturalistic motorcycle riding study. The 3.5-year study began by collecting data from instruments installed on motorcycles owned by study participants in Virginia, California, Florida and Arizona as the bikes were ridden in normal day-to-day use. Sensors and video cameras recorded all motorcycle operator inputs such as steering, acceleration, braking and lean, as well as recording all motions of the motorcycle, current riding conditions and the actions of surrounding traffic. The motorcycle instrumentation was designed to be as inconspicuous as possible, so that participant-riders would forget their rides were being monitored. The data collected will be a rich source of insight for years to come on a wide range of questions and points of interest for an international array of rider safety professionals.
The MSF establishes certification standards, recognized both within the U.S. and internationally, provides technical assistance for training and licensing, and actively participates in government relations, research, quality-assurance and public awareness programs. The MSF also works in partnership with other motorcycling and public and private sector safety-related entities, both U.S. and international, such as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Transportation Research Board, the U.S. Department of Defense, state governments, the Governors Highway Safety Association, the National Safety Council, AAA, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Institut für Zweiradsicherheit (German Institute for Motorcycle Safety).
Forty-five states and all branches of the U.S. military use the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic RiderCourse (BRC) curriculum for their motorcycle safety and education programs. The BRC is MSF's primary learn-to-ride curriculum for traditional two-wheel and three-wheel motorcycles, involving approximately 3 hours of online instruction, 5 hours of classroom activities, and 10 hours of hands-on skills development on a paved lot. More than 8 million motorcyclists have enrolled in MSF RiderCourses since 1974. More than 400,000 students now take the course annually, at nearly 2,700 sites, with 9,900 MSF-certified RiderCoaches available to guide them.
Course graduates are often eligible for insurance discounts and incentives from motorcycle distributors for course tuition or fees. In many cases, they can obtain a waiver for the riding skill test and/or written knowledge test portion of their state's license exam requirements.
The MSF Rider Education and Training System
The MSF develops and maintains hands-on courses, classroom training programs, and "Host an Event" self-paced learning kits through its Rider Education and Training System (RETS). Primary goals are advancing safety, enhancing riding and continuously improving the class offerings, while delivering them in an effective, cost- and time-efficient manner, all for the benefit of current and prospective riders.
RETS represents a dynamic system providing opportunities for motorcyclist learning, growth and renewal. It blends into a cohesive whole four primary elements: 1) Variety of programs and services, 2) Varied skill levels and motivations of motorcyclists, 3) Talent and resourcefulness of MSF-certified RiderCoaches and other stakeholders, and 4) Broad range of delivery partners who interact with motorcyclists as well as non-motorcyclists.
RETS allows for personalized education and training with instruction matched to particular interests and skill levels. Integral to RETS is the concept of flexibility for jurisdictions, allowing each jurisdiction the opportunity to tailor a program to fit its specific needs (graduated licensing, additional emphasis on the serious risks of impaired riding, etc.).
All 24 MSF RiderCourses are developed using a sequential "interactive and intergroup" process, ensuring that the final program has undergone extensive field-testing before being released to the public. This ensures the proper application of contemporary learning principles and practices, and verifies the effectiveness and efficiency of the program. As the scientific community yields rigorous research results that lead to better methods to facilitate learning, and as the motorcycling community embraces improved ways to achieve safety and enjoyment from riding experiences, the MSF will continuously assess and refine its programs.
Another aspect of RETS involves ensuring that courses are facilitated according to MSF's standards. MSF offers a unique Quality Assurance Specialist certification to top-level RiderCoaches and RiderCoach Trainers who wish to make themselves available to monitor and evaluate their peers and develop program and curriculum delivery improvement plans.
A key component of a comprehensive, national motorcycle safety program is motorcyclist testing and licensing. In cooperation with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the MSF supports state testing and licensing processes. The MSF has developed a model Motorcycle Operator Manual and written tests, along with the Rider Skills Test hands-on test, which were created using the same research-based development processes as the curricula. They also serve as a complement to the education and training information contained in the MSF RETS. Licensing agencies in more than 30 states use one of five different MSF skill tests as part of their motorcycle endorsement procedures. More than 40 states use MSF's Motorcycle Operator Manual as their license applicant study book, and many incorporate the related knowledge test.
The MSF Government Relations Office, located near the nation's capital, promotes the best interests of motorcyclists before the U.S. Congress and federal regulatory agencies, as well as at state legislatures and regulatory agencies. Among its many duties, the Government Relations Office monitors state laws and rules to identify areas for improvement.
As an advocate of motorcycle safety and awareness, Government Relations staff also represent the MSF in various forums such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration motorcycle safety network meetings, the Transportation Research Board Motorcycle and Moped Committee meetings, the Motorcyclist Advisory Council to the Federal Highway Administration, meetings of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, and liaison with the National Transportation Safety Board.
MSF maintains a "worldview with a U.S. focus" strategy. This allows the foundation to be responsive to the needs of American motorcyclists, accounting for the known variables of rider and driver habits, traffic patterns, roadway designs, crash scenarios, and vehicle/demographic trends, while considering crash research and countermeasures implemented in other countries.
Education for Non-Motorcyclists
Data indicate that more than half of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle. Most of the time, the car or truck driver, not the motorcyclist, is at fault. There are many more car and truck drivers than motorcyclists on the road, and some drivers don't "recognize" a motorcyclist in their field of view. To complement MSF's efforts to enhance motorcyclist skills and strategies, MSF launched the Intersection motorist awareness kit and the ForCarDrivers.com website to help educate non-motorcyclists. Intersection is a multi-use program that can be tailored to teens (via driver education classes), adults (via traffic schools), and commercial drivers (via employee orientation).
For car and truck drivers, the MSF has five key messages:
- Please Look For Motorcyclists - Use your eyes and mirrors to see what's around.
- Focus On Driving - Hang up and drive, no texting, put down the food, the pet, the personal grooming gear, and the reading material and save it for later.
- Use Your Turn Signals - Signal your intentions. It's also the law.
- Give Two-Wheelers Some Room - Don't tailgate or get too close side by side.
- Keep It in the Car - Don't throw trash and cigarettes out the window, and securely lash down cargo that can fall out on the road and be a deadly hazard.
Summary: MSF, an Independent Safety-Minded Organization
MSF exists to advance rider education and training as a safety countermeasure. As an independent, non-governmental organization, MSF:
- Is funded by a diverse group of multi-national motorcycle manufacturers/distributors that have a common, non-competitive focus on rider safety.
- Has led the push to standardize and formalize contemporary rider education programs since 1973.
- Interacts with similar entities worldwide for the development and implementation of effective safety countermeasures.
- Benefits from having staff members with extraordinary competencies and credentials in education, management, leadership, safety, program development and quality assurance functions.
- Designs, develops, tests and implements motorcyclist safety programs based on rigorous academic and scientific underpinnings, including primary research initiatives.
- Develops audio-visual training aids that support its rider safety programs.
- Maintains a nationwide quality assurance program to ensure the integrity of its curricula.
- Maintains a certification process to ensure the highest level of professionalism among its RiderCoaches.
- Designs, develops, and validates motorcyclist license knowledge and skill tests in collaboration with licensing agencies.
- Maintains two informative safety-related websites (msf-usa.org; ForCarDrivers.com) for public use, with free videos and literature available.