One of the reasons I attended the inaugural meeting of the Federal Highway Administration’s new Motorcycle Advisory Council was that I wanted the federal bureaucrats in the room to confirm once and for all that the ‘DSRC mandate’ is dead.
There appears to be renewed interest in motorcycle safety amongst agencies like FHWA and NHTSA, driven by the widespread impression that while autos (and SUVs, vans, and light trucks) are all getting safer, motorcycles are getting more dangerous.
That may or may not be a fair conclusion to draw from available data (such as FARS) but this is beyond dispute: Everything your mother told you about motorcycles is true. We account for <1% of vehicle-miles traveled in the U.S., but about 14% of all traffic fatalities. Even in places where it’s a.) far harder to get a motorcycle license, and b.) there are far more motorcycles on the road and auto drivers are presumably more used to us–Europe for example–motorcyclists are far more likely to die in traffic accidents.
The MAC is undoubtedly well-intentioned, and although I have no idea how the committee members were chosen, it’s clear they’re also an intelligent, qualified, and (mostly) very experienced group of motorcyclists to boot.
That said, I was struck by the irony that the physical infrastructure solutions the Council may recommend are all fully resolved and well-proved ‘best practices’–things like using crack sealer which provide better traction, or adding a bottom rail to Armco barriers so sliding motorcyclists don’t hit posts. Nothing needs to be invented to improve motorcyclist safety that way, albeit marginally.
But, the MAC won’t even make recommendations for two years, and then the timeline for building out those infrastructure recommendations will be measured in decades–the rate at which current infrastructure comes due for replacement or at the very least major repairs.
Ironically, things like V2V technology for motorcycles–stuff that’s barely been invented, and which will rely on technology we’re still arguing over–could improve our safety far quicker.
Speaking of which, DOT and NHTSA types all refused to be drawn out on the topic of the DSRC mandate, though they talked about it they way the Coast Guard talks about a missing vessel after giving up the search.
The thing is, even factoring in our lost-at-sea DSRC mandate–which will inevitably slow the rollout of V2V and other ITS technology in the U.S.–and assuming that tech like V2V will penetrate the U.S. private-vehicle fleet at the rate of fleet replacement–V2V and other ITS tech still offers both the fastest and most impactful way to move the needle on motorcycle safety.