California Holds First-Ever Motorcycle Safety Summit

Ideas flowed freely last week at the first-ever California Motorcycle Safety Summit, held for two and a half days at a hotel south of Los Angeles. The goal? To come up with ways to reduce rider injuries and fatalities by 10 percent by 2010, using as a baseline the numbers collected by the state during 2004.

Often mentioned among participants were dealers, OEMs, makers of safety gear, insurance companies, law enforcement, judges, legislators, the medical community and (of course) California motorcyclists, whose rising fatality and injury rates gave everyone a sense of urgency.

Consider just two suggestions related to dealers: 1) Retailers should not be allowed to sell bikes to people without a motorcycle endorsement on their driver's license, and 2) franchised dealers and their OEMs should split a 10 percent discount on safety gear bought with new bikes.

Other hot topics included graduated licensing and spelled-out rules for lane sharing.

Again, the public forum was a brainstorming exercise. It was hosted by two state organizations — the California Highway Patrol (CHP) and the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) — and one federal: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). "What happens here has a real significance for the rest of the nation," said NHTSA's Brian McLaughlin.

More than 225 people attended. The biggest portion of panelists (seemingly half) were members of law enforcement. Others included representatives of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), the Department of Motor Vehicles and other government agencies, Snell, various riders associations, the armed forces, and insurance companies. John Paliwoda, head of the California Motorcycle Dealers Association, attended. Bombardier, Harley-Davidson and Kawasaki were the only manufacturers. Journalists also were sparse. Hot Bike and Dealernews were the only national magazines. Safety gear manufacturers seemed absent.

David Crouch, the quality assurance manager for the California Motorcyclist Safety Program, was scheduled to speak, but he couldn't attend because of injuries he suffered while riding his motorcycle. A car ran a red light and hit him.

Summit participants were broken into groups to think of solutions. Four concurrent breakout sessions took place: 1) Untrained, Unlicensed, and Unregistered; 2) Speed, Right-of-Way, and Improper Turning; 3) Promoting the Use of Safety Equipment; and 4) Driving Under the Influence. Attendees rotated throughout the day and took part in each session. Go to the bottom of this story for examples of solutions suggested. We'd love to hear your comments. E-mail us at

The summit was the result of a three-year sequence of events. In 2005 the United States legislature passed SAFETEA-LU, a transportation bill that financially encouraged each state to create a Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP). The next year California completed its plan, which contains broad strategies in 16 challenge areas, the 12th of which is to improve motorcycle safety. Early this year the California Department of Transportation released 152 specific actions in a document titled Implementation of the SHSP (you can download it here).

Listed on page 29 in order of priority are a dozen specific actions concerning motorcycle safety. The first action is still quite broad: "develop a monitoring program to identify motorcycle high-collision concentration locations and implement engineering, enforcement and education improvements." The second priority is the motorcycle safety summit. The 10 other actions include media campaigns, reassessment of the DMV driver's handbooks and traffic schools, the creation of an online traffic school for motorcyclists, the notification of unlicensed riders to get licensed, and the promotion of DOT-approved helmets.

Speed, Right-of-Way, and Improper Turning:
More education, especially age-group-specific messages on Internet social sites such as MySpace and YouTube. Force people to watch educational videos, and create campaigns focusing on defensive riding. Definite rules for lane sharing should be developed and communicated to both riders and drivers. (Lane sharing is legal in California, but the 2008 California Motorcycle Handbook says: "Cars and motorcycles each need a full lane to operate safely. Lane sharing is not safe. Riding between rows of stopped or moving cars in the same lane can leave you vulnerable. A car could turn suddenly or change lanes, a door could open, or a hand could come out of a window.")

Implement graduated licensing tied to rider experience. Three privileges that should be subject to graduated licensing are night riding, freeway access, and having a passenger.

Implement tiered licensing tied to engine size with three tiers: 150cc and below, 151cc to 600cc, and more than 600cc.

Install motorcycle lanes on freeways and highways.

Make speeding in excess of 100 mph a misdemeanor that results in a 30-day impound of the bike.

Provide a left-hand turn signal at all traffic lights not already having them. (Somebody also suggested only protecting the turns during busy times of the day.)

Change recommended speeds for highway curves to enforceable speed limits.

Pass legislation that requires motorcycles to have speed governors, and make it illegal to sell aftermarket ECU systems. (An idea supported by Eric Teoh of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.)

Ask or require the manufacturers to increase the visibility of motorcycles through things such as headlight modulators, reflective taping and fiber optics.

Create motorcycle safety traffic schools that are for riders, and for cagers who violate a motorcyclist's right of way.

Promoting the Use of Safety Equipment:
Create public service announcements showing the consequences of crashes, and/or comparing the outcomes with and without safety gear. Use celebrities.

Give government-funded rebates to riders who turn in their novelty helmet for one that's DOT-approved.

Tie the insurance deductible to the use of gear. If riders can prove they wore gear, they don't pay the deductible.

Encourage retailers to educate their customers better about safety gear.

Pass legislation requiring more gear (gloves and eye protection, for example) than just a helmet.

Make a helmet violation a point violation so that it has insurance ramification.

Give officers the ability to impound a motorcycle if the rider is wearing a non-DOT helmet.

Rewrite the California helmet law so that it's enforceable.

Make the FMVSS 218 standard more interpretable. (State governments would work with NHTSA on this.)

Encourage OEMs to give motorcycle customers a helmet or a helmet credit. (This is already the suggestion of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, who believes a helmet prevented her suffering a head injury in 2005.)

Educate judges on the helmet laws. Supply every legislative official with a copy and summary of FMVSS 218 and require that they read it. Do the same with a copy of relevant court decisions and summaries. (Law enforcement officials say that judges often dismiss their citations or find the rider not guilty.)

Create a passenger age requirement for children.

Encourage dealers and OEMs to offer bike and apparel discounts to customers who can prove they completed a safety class. (Kawasaki, for example, already offers a $50 coupon for ROK members who complete the MSF course.)

Re-evaluate and standardize what members of law enforcement wear on motorcycles. (They set an example.)

Replace DOT stickers on helmets with a tamperproof embossment or serial number.

Encourage manufacturers to make safety equipment safer and more comfortable, affordable and available. At the same time, come up with a rating system for protective equipment.

Encourage insurance companies to develop safety equipment standards, as they have for helmets.

Make training a precondition to get insurance.

Ban the selling of novelty helmets.

Untrained, Unlicensed, Unregistered.
Link the DMV databases for licenses and registrations. Then send a friendly letter to riders with a registered bike but no motorcycle endorsement. (Has already been done in Maryland).

Require dealers to check for proper licensing at time of purchase. (Some participants also thought dealers should have to check for proof of training.)

DMV should create online practice exams.

Tie registration to training requirements. Make them one class.

Offer a motorcycle safety class for high school students.

Let the motorcycle safety course conduct the DMV written test.

As with trailers, make registration for motorcycles good for multiple years. (Cost of registration was cited as a problem.)

Make initial training and refresher courses mandatory. (Other states have done this, said a panelist.)

When a people buy a motorcycle, they should get their first year of registration free when they sign up for a training course.

Impound unregistered motorcycles.

Outlaw high-speed bikes on public roads, i.e., limit them to racetracks.

OEMs and dealers should reimburse customers who take an experienced-rider course.

Insurance companies should offer discounts for initial and refresher training.

Allow trainers, dealers and insurance companies partial access to the DMV database.

Provide better rider training. (The MSF's Tim Buche says an on-road class is in development in which instructors communicate with their students through wireless intercoms.)

Driving Under the Influence.
Lower the allowable BAC level for motorcyclists to 0.04 (the same for commercial drivers).

Doctors should better educate their patients about their medications.

Create a DUI plate for motorcycles.

Law enforcement authorities should document problem bars for targeted enforcement.

More DUI checkpoints directed toward motorcyclists.

Train officers to ask motorcyclists to remove their helmets so the officers can evaluate for DUI.

Create a law saying insurance companies don't have to pay for DUI-related damages.

Create a program for voluntary interlock installations.

Require owners of drinking establishments to collect keys and not return them without testing suspicious customers (a testing machine would be required for alcohol licensure).

Install breakaway signs.