Are Motorcycles Safer With Antilock Brakes?

New stats say ABS can help keep you alive

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A new report says riders with ABS-equipped bikes can dramatically reduce the chance of a fatal accident. The study compared fatality rates among riders on bikes that have antilock brakes, and it found that death rates were 38% lower on motorcycles equipped with the optional ABS systems compared to non-ABS bikes.

In 2005-2006, the fatal crashes per 10,000 registered motorcycles without antilock brakes was 6.6. On bikes with ABS, the number dropped to 4.1, a 38% improvement. In another study of 72,000 insured years of 2003-2007 model-year Honda, Suzuki, Triumph and Yamaha bikes, insurance losses were 21% lower with antilocks than non-ABS models.

It’s important here to note these studies were funded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an organization that typically has little respect for the positive attributes of bikes.

Safety-crats like the IIHS would prefer to not have any motorcycles on the road, instead putting us all in identical foam cars. They point to a 55% increase in motorcycling fatalities from 1998 to 2007. But it’s important to note that motorcycle registrations have exceeded 6 million compared to 3.8 million in 1998, an increase of 37%. Plus, vehicle miles ridden have increased by more than 20%.

Rob Dingman, president and CEO of the American Motorcyclist Association, allows that the study might show the potential of antilock brakes, but this report generates more questions than answers – he says a federal study of the causes of motorcycle crashes is long-overdue. “Our members would welcome an ABS option on more models, but there must be a broader strategy to reduce motorcycle accidents and fatalities that includes increased education and motorist awareness,” Dingman said.

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  • Frank Eggers

    I have anti-lock brakes on both of my motorcycls and would not be without anti-lock brakes. I see them as an important safety feature. Even so, I believe that the report, as reviewed, is flawed.

    It could be that motorcycle owners who are more concerned with safety and are safer riders are more inclined to buy bikes with anti-lock brakes. If that is correct, then even if anti-lock brakes failed to enhance safety, the report could, in error, conclude that it was the anti-lock brakes which reduced the number of accidents when the reduction in accidents acually resulted from safer riders.

    I see a need for a better designed study followed by a new report. Meanwhile, I strongly recommend that motorcycle riders purchase bikes with anti-lock brakes and encourage manufacturers to offer them on all models.

  • Michael Lynch

    Duh!!!

    Fatalities are lower on the ABS equipped bikes because ABS is only supplied on the most expensive models and/or brands, owned and operated by the most careful class of older and more experienced riders. 50-60 year old riders on ABS Equipped Gold Wings and BMWs take far fewer risks than an 18-year-old, testosterone overdosed guy on a near 200 horsepower sport bike. I would bet that you find the highest fatality rate among entry level (first time riders, regardless of age) and young males 16-25.
    It is a little known, but unfortunate fact that in a majority of accidents involving motorcycles with fatalities; subsequent investigation indicates that the rider failed to use the brakes EFFECTIVELY prior to the accident situation. In other words, proper and forceful use of their brakes (ABS or NOT) could have very well changed the unfortunate outcome; had the rider been trained properly and knew the limits of their machine.
    ABS is a POOR substitute for intensive rider training. Having ridden motorcycles extensively, (35 years and 400K miles) I find that there is no substitute for knowing how to ride and knowing exactly the limit of the brakes of my particular machine. Most riders never apply their brakes hard enough to the point at which ABS becomes active. As with ABS in cars, the operator must slam the brakes FULL ON and depend on the technology to do the rest. Operation at less than this level makes ABS a waste of time. The advent of ABS on automobiles was marked by an INCREASE in accidents, attributed by some “experts” to “driver error”. When many of these drivers, not accustomed or trained to the peculiarities of ABS first encountered its’ operation they actually let off the brakes and were then involved in accidents. Comprehensive and Intensive REAL WORLD Rider training (not a couple of hours riding around in a parking lot!) is the answer. Riders MUST be taught to explore the maximum capabilities of their machines. Riders must also learn how to properly use the brakes in emergencies. Unfortunately, most riders are still brainwashed into fearing the brakes, the old “don’t touch the front brake, if you do it will throw you over the handlebars” story still widely circulated and believed by many of todays riders! ACCIDENT AVOIDANCE is the solution to this problem, not the additional of technological “band-aid” such as ABS!
    In closing, ABS is expensive and largely ineffective crutch or patch. I have no problem with those who want to pay extra for motorcycles so equipped, spend your money as you wish. However, I CHOOSE not pay extra for or accept the added cost for ABS IF and WHEN it may be forced upon us by the so called “Safety Experts” at the IIHS and the US DOT! These people are NOT riders, have no idea and furthermore DO NOT CARE what the COST of “mandating ABS” would be, if it were “required” equipment on all motorcycles!

  • Frank Eggers

    As Mr. Lynch correctly states, ABS is a poor substitute for proper rider training. However, no reasonable person would see ABS as a substitute for proper rider training, but rather, as a supplement for proper rider training.

    No rider can react as quickly as the computer which controls the ABS. The amount of traction available can change so quickly that a mere mortal rider cannot adjust the braking effort quickly enough to compensate. Also, in an emergency situation, very few riders could absolutely guarantee their ability to control both the front and rear brakes optimally. An additional advantage of ABS is that it provides the rider with the ability to practice stopping as quickly as possible without the risk of losing control and crashing.

    A good ABS system will do nothing until or unless the rider over-applies the brakes, at which point the ABS will intervene to prevent wheel-lockup and the crash which would be likely to follow. Not all ABS system work equally well, but they have greatly improved since they were originally introduced.

    Although I’ve heard that many riders still believe that the front brakes are too dangerous to use and that therefore they should never be used, I have never met a rider who believed that. The MSF beginners’ rider course directly confronts that myth and strongly emphasizes the need to use both brakes properly to stop as quickly as possible. Motorcycle publications often address that problem and any rider who reads motorcycle publications or the owner’s manual that comes with motorcycles would be aware of the importance of using both brakes properly.

    Of course a good rider would rarely need to make a full emergency stop since he or she would ride defensively and usually be able to avoid potentially dangerous situations. Still, regardless of how careful a rider is, the need to make a fast emergency stop could still occur in which case ABS could prevent a crash.

    ABS is more important on motorcycles than it is on cars. If one locks the brakes on a car, at least the car will stay upright and the driver has more time to release the brakes to maintain control. On a motorcycle, if the brakes are locked, the bike is likely to fall over so quickly that the rider will have insufficient time to release the brake.

    I suspect that within a very few years, ABS will be almost universally accepted as a valuable safety feature on motorcycles, with the exceptions of dirt bikes and bikes used for racing.

  • Tom fleming

    The study compared apples to apples: bike make and model A with ABS compared to bike make and model A without ABS. So you can’t say that certain type of bikers are being selected and compared to safer bikers IMO.

  • Mark E.

    I purchased a brand new Harley with anti Lock brake system then after riding couple of thousand miles! Do I like it??? The answer is No!!! Often times it wouldn’t stop.. WTF! Does anyone out there noticed when you hit a pot holes or a bump while Anti-Lock quit working on you as it rolls into netural or becomes a “run away train”??? Seeking a recall or put back the old fashion way!

  • Mike S.

    Wishing I had ABS on my Kawasaki ZRX1100 when I popped over a hill and there were two deer in the road. No, I’m not a testerone addled 18 year old. I’ve been riding for 45 years and, in this situation, I had to apply the brakes full force or hit the deer. I didn’t hit them, but my front wheel locked up and went out from under me. I wasn’t injured badly, but I wouldn’t have gone down if I had ABS. I’ve since sold that bike and although its replacement, a Vulcan 1500 Classic doesn’t have ABS, its single disc front brake won’t lock up the wheel, either. We’ve got to face it, there are emergency situations in which it’s impossible to modulate your grip on the brake lever. 70mph is a walk in the park for most of us, but those of you who haven’t had to panic stop at that speed wouldn’t believe how fast things happen.

  • Mike Mongillo

    I think ABS is a good thing to have for new riders.I know it cost more 1000.00.It might save your life in a panic situation or on a wet road.I find more good than bad with them.Teach the new riders and you may save a life.