Motorcycle Safety Technology Saving Lives

The United States motorcycle accident statistics make sobering reading. Whilst the overall annual deaths from motorcycle accidents appears to be decreasing, it was still as high as 4,986 in 2012. This is just the tip of the iceberg. At least a further 88,000 motorcyclists are injured each year and many of these injuries are life changing. They include loss of limbs, spinal injuries and brain injuries.many lives are ruined.

Motorcyclists are more vulnerable to serious injury that the occupants of a motor vehicle because that are not protected by a metal shell with airbags and other safety devices. This explains why a motorcyclist is 26 times more likely to die following a collision on the roads than an occupant of a car. Many of these victims have turned to a motorcycle accident lawyer to get them the compensation that they deserved if they were not at fault for the accident. Many motorcycle accidents occur at junctions because motorists failed to check properly for bikes before they pulled out into the road.

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Sadly, motorcyclists do sometimes flout the law themselves, as shown by the fact that a quarter of riders killed in crashes did not have a valid motorcycle license. It is also alarming that 27% of them were alcohol-impaired at the time of the crash and this percentage increases further for night time accidents.

Motorcycle safety features save motorcyclists lives and great advances have been made in this area of technology. The US National Highway Transport Safety Administration estimates that motorcycle helmets saved approximately 1,630 motorcyclists’ lives in 2013. They also predicted that a further 715 motorcyclists lost their lives specifically because they were not wearing helmets. In those US states that legally require motorcyclists to wear a helmet, only 8% of the motorcyclists that were killed were not doing so.

When the state of Michigan made it legal for motorcycle riders over the age of 21 years to ride on public roads without a helmet, the severity of injury claims went up 22 percent. It is clear that helmets save lives and help to prevent serious injuries.

Whilst motorcycle manufacturers have traditionally focussed on innovations to improve power and performance, they are increasingly turning their attention to safety features. In some cases, they have taken technological advances originally designed for cars and adapted them for motorcycle use.

Airbags for motorcycles

Honda was the first to introduce a motorcycle airbag in 2006 but other manufacturers have not followed in their wake. The aim of the device is to reduce the forward energy of the rider and therefore reduce the velocity and lessen the severity of injuries. It is only useful for head-on collisions. It was made available on the Gold Wing motorcycle model.

The technology is very similar to motor vehicle air bags and comprises:

  • Airbag
  • Inflator – receives and electronic signal from the control unit when inflation is required
  • Crash sensors – there are four of them mounted on the front fork and they monitor changes in acceleration
  • Electronic control unit – makes calculations using information from the sensor and deploys the inflator

The obvious limitation is that the motorcyclist is not protected from side and rear impacts. An air suit worn by the motorcyclist would afford much more protection. The first was introduced to the market by another Japanese manufacturer, RS Taichi in 2008. Now, several other companies manufacture them as well. Some models attach to the bike with a wire and when the wire becomes detached from the bike in a collision, it triggers inflation of the suit. There are separate airbags in the neck which help to protect this vulnerable area.

The main concern is that riders will dismount their bike and forget to unhook the wire which will trigger an accidental deployment. Dainese, an Italian company, have introduced a “wireless” version of the suit to overcome this issue. The suit deploys in 45 milliseconds but the racing version can deploy in 15 milliseconds!

High tech motorcycle helmets

A basic helmet can only do so much to protect a rider’s head and this leaves the neck area very vulnerable to injury. Manufacturers have begun to explore the possibility of placing neck air bags into helmets to overcome this problem.

Helmet manufacturers have also been experimenting with airbags. The first company to introduce an airbag helmet to the market was APC Systems. Their 2008 design incorporated speed sensors which detected when an impact was imminent and triggered the airbags to inflate to protect the riders neck and upper spine.

Following on from this, a Swedish firm called Hövding have taken the airbag helmet idea a lot further. Their product uses sensors to inflate an “invisible,” helmet which deploys from a collar worn around the neck. Although it is currently only in use for bicycles, it has potential for the motorcycle market.

Despite the use of helmets, brain injuries are a major cause of death in motorcyclists following accidents. Products have been introduced to the market to try to tackle this. The advice following a motorcycle crash is not to try to remove the motorcyclist’s helmet until professional medical help arrives. This is because you may cause further injuries to the head and neck. However, in those vital early minutes following a collision, the brain can start to swell and permanent damage can be caused. ThermaHelm® offers a “brain cooling” helmet. On impact, a chemical packet is activated which reduces the temperature inside the helmet and helps to reduce swelling of the brain.

Anti-lock brakes for motorcycles

Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are nothing new. They have been installed in cars since General Motors first introduced them in 1972. ABS for motorcycles are not new either, BMW introduced them as far back as 1988 but this system was very much based on car technology.

The change came in 2010 when Bosch designed ABS specifically for motorcycles. Their system was smaller and lighter and could it can be adapted to various sizes of motorcycle.

This is a useful safety feature and statistics show that the use of ABS can reduce the rate of fatal motorcycle collisions by a third. However, there has been some resistance to their use amongst motorcycle users. Some riders still believe that they are only needed by ‘bad’ riders.

The situation may be changing and Europe is leading the way. Since last year (2016) ABS is required on new motorcycles over 125cc in Europe. There are calls for the USA to do the same. The price of ABS systems for motorcycles is also falling and this may play a role in their universal acceptance.

Self-Balancing technology

Not all motorcycle accidents happen at high speed. Some take place in slow-moving traffic because bikes tip over. This problem has been tackled by Honda and their new self-balancing technology for motorbikes. The system, which is at the prototype stage, keeps them upright at low speeds and has the potential to reduce the number of accidents.

When a motorcycle rider is in slow moving traffic, they have to constantly move their body to keep the bike upright and with heavy bikes, this takes a lot of effort. The Honda system is called ‘Riding Assist’ and it makes the bike automatically adjust its front wheel. The almost imperceptible movements are enough to keep the bike balanced with no input from the rider.

It is hoped that by applying new technological advances to the area of motorcycle safety, the number of deaths and serious injuries can be reduced without compromising the enjoyment and freedom of riding a powerful motorcycle.