by Victor Wanchena
These machines are designed for the racetrack, but you’ll only find one of them on the highway.” That is the opening line on the report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) on sportbikes. In their report, the IIHS claims that high performance motorcycles are responsible for the surge in motorcycle fatalities. It was this report that was the trigger for a recent feature story in USA Today on the rising death rates for sportbike riders. That story highlighted the IIHS claims that “supersport” motorcycle riders have a death rate 4 times that of other motorcyclists.
That story transported me back 20 years. It was the mid-80s. I was listening to Duran Duran, Men at Work, and other bad pop bands, and the IIHS was running this same flag up the same flagpole. Their message then, as now, is simple: we, as motorcyclists, are not responsible enough to handle high performance motorcycles. They called for government regulated horsepower limits for motorcycles. At the urging of the IIHS, Missouri Senator, John Danforth, even introduced a bill in Congress, but it was withdrawn after a flurry of protests from vocal motorcyclists. Today, their push is for a wholesale ban on “supersport” motorcycles, but they would accept speed limited machines.
The report is misleading in a variety of ways. The data used is not based on a motorcycle crash study, like the Hurt Study. Instead, it is based on data collected by the national Fatal Accident Reporting System. Their report simply compares the rates of fatalities between various classes of motorcycles, but ignores other important factors like the amount of miles ridden, or areas in which they are operated. When these other factors are included, it changes the picture the IIHS paints.
The IIHS also chose categories which aren’t in keeping with traditional divisions in motorcycles. The “supersport” class of motorcycle, which is the primary focus of the report, used acceleration and top speed as two defining factors. Yet, the two most powerful motorcycles for sale in the US, the Suzuki Hayabusa and the Kawasaki ZX-14, are not included. They are instead lumped in with sport-touring machines. This classifiication system appears to have been skewed to create more dramatic numbers.
The AMA reviewed the report and found numerous errors and anomalies in the way the data was collected and in how it was written. They even went so far as to submit the report to Harry Hurt, the well-known researcher and brain behind the Hurt Study; and he found the IIHS study to be “fatally flawed.”
Unfortunately, the push by the IIHS is not completely about saving lives. Throughout the report there are references to the higher claim rates paid on insurance policies for “supersport” motorcycles. Their ultimate goal is to save the insurance companies money. Their mission statement even reflects this. Saving money for your employer is a reasonable mission, but it is irresponsible of the IIHS to package their message as a warning and distort reality to sell it. We must stay vigilent against those who do not have our best interests at heart.