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Insurance group petitions government to make motorcycle ABS mandatory

Nov 13, 2023

An insurance industry group is again petitioning the federal government to make anti-lock braking systems (ABS) mandatory on new motorcycles, citing its own studies showing that it reduces crashes and also pointing to similar mandates in other parts of the world.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the associated Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) sent the petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last week. It's not the first time that the insurance industry organizations have asked NHTSA to require ABS on new motorcycles sold in the United States, and they're not the only ones, either. Five years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board also included mandatory ABS as one if its 10 recommendations for motorcycle safety in response to the findings of the federal government's Motorcycle Crash Causation Study.

I've previously reported on the IIHS study that is the primary basis for the current argument in favor of mandatory ABS. The most recent version looked at 65 models of motorcycles that are available with or without ABS in the U.S. market and then compared fatal crashes involving ABS and non-ABS versions of the same model, as recorded in NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). You can see more details in my previous article, but the bottom line is that the study suggests that ABS reduced fatal crashes by 22 percent.

The petition also cites a study by the HLDI stating that insurance claims are lower for ABS-equipped motorcycles and it also cites numerous studies in Europe that variously say that crashes and injuries are reduced by ABS. The IIHS notes that in the 10 years since it first petitioned NHTSA to require ABS, it has been made mandatory in the European Union, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and India.

The IIHS petition does support the idea of making it possible for riders to switch off the ABS for riding off pavement.

While most new motorcyles in the U.S. market are now available with ABS, the IIHS estimates that 20% of motorcycles registered in the United States in 2023 are equipped with ABS as it takes time for newer models to replace older ones on the road. The IIHS argues that making the technology mandatory would be a sensible first step toward reversing the trend of higher motorcycle crash fatalities in the United States.