MSF: Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study Update

Motorcycle Safety

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study is progressing on schedule, according to key milestone accomplishments:

  • All motorcycle study documents have been completed and are currently under review by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) internal Institutional Review Board;
  • The three motorcycle study locations have been selected: California, Virginia and Florida;
  • VTTI engineers are testing instrumentation configurations with samples of the types of motorcycles that will be sought for the study;
  •   Motorcycle riders will be recruited initially for Virginia starting in April 2011 with the other two locations to follow;
  • Data collection will begin spring 2011.

In 2010, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and its members partnered with VTTI on the world’s first large-scale, naturalistic motorcycle riding study: The MSF 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study.

This landmark motorcycle research initiative combines unobtrusive, continuous data collection with post-incident interviews to create a comprehensive picture of many factors contributing to both crashes and near-crashes.

The study involves 100 motorcyclists in multiple age groups who ride one of three types of bikes – cruiser, sport and touring – in various riding environments: urban, rural and freeway. Other study factors include diverse weather conditions, traffic situations, and rider gear requirements.

Data will be collected on each motorcycle rider for up to 12 months (depending on the riding season in each location) using small video recorders and multiple instrumentation devices mounted on the bikes.

It is expected that the study will document and analyze approximately 400,000 to 500,000 miles ridden by the 100 motorcyclists. Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s initial funding for the study exceeds $1.6 million plus approximately 30 percent more through in-kind investments.

Tim Buche (MSF President) says: "We’re extremely excited now that the groundwork has been laid and the study is moving into the data collection stage. Each level of analysis – from observing rider’s gross and fine motor skills to determining crash avoidance and near-crash avoidance – will be fed back into the work of the MSF’s Rider Education and Training System.

"The insights we gain will ultimately provide riders with tools and techniques to optimize their success on the road by helping them to develop and improve both skills and judgment."

Instrumentation to be utilized in the data collection process includes five video views (forward, sides/rider’s hands, rider’s face, and rearward), accelerometers, gyros, global position system, vehicle speed, brake use, machine vision-based lane tracker, and a forward radar.

Tom Dingus (VTTI Director) says: "Naturalistic observations provide inputs that are difficult or practically impossible to get through traditional research methodology.

"Most importantly, it is done in such a subtle way that the subjects quickly forget they’re being observed, so the study reflects their true riding character – how they ride when they think no one is watching."

A departure from traditional crash-causation research, the naturalistic method and technology developed by VTTI was successfully used in a 100-car study in 2005 that included 69 crashes and more than 750 near-crashes.

The method is presently in use by researchers across the globe to target nearly every type of roadway user, with the exception of two-wheeled vehicles. "The MSF 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study will greatly advance the understanding of interactions among rider, motorcycle, roadway, other roadway users and the environment," said Dr. Sherry Williams, MSF director of quality assurance and research.

Among other things, the MSF 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study will provide information on:

  •   The rider’s behavior over a relatively long period of time in the rider’s everyday environment;
  •   What happens to a rider’s skills and decision-making over time – in the minutes, days, weeks, and months prior to the crash, not just at the moment of critical impact;
  •  The sequence of events and factors in the instants prior to the crash;
  •   Differences between successful and unsuccessful evasive maneuvers;
  •   How the rider interacts with adjacent vehicles;
  •   Various aspects of the bike’s movement.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation promotes safety through rider training and education, operator licensing tests and public information programs. The MSF works with the federal government, state agencies, the military and others to offer training for all skill levels so riders can enjoy a lifetime of safe, responsible motorcycling. Standards established by the MSF have been recognized worldwide since 1973.

The MSF is a not-for-profit organization sponsored by BMW, BRP, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Piaggio, Suzuki, Triumph, Victory and Yamaha. For safety information or to enroll in the RiderCourseSM nearest you, visit or call (800) 446-9227.

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