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USDOT’s motorcycle safety analysis report shows lack of integration with ITS ecosystems

The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has published a new report highlighting the existing relationship between motorcycles and intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and exploring the potential to improve motorbike and biker safety through new technologies.

Over the last 20 years with full data (1995 to 2015), motorcycle fatalities in the USA have increased in both total number and as a percentage of total motor vehicle fatalities: from 2,138 in 1995 (5% of total fatalities) to 4,693 in 2015 (13% of total fatalities).

This trend has occurred despite a significant decrease in the total number of motor vehicle fatalities during this same time period: from 41,817 in 1995 to 35,092 in 2015. While motorcycles make up only 3% of all registered vehicles in the USA, motorcyclists account for 13-14% of all traffic fatalities.

Unlike automobiles, the design of motorcycles does not include basic structural elements that inherently increase safety; as a result, the consequences of a crash are often serious for the rider. These statistics underline the importance of improving motorcycle safety, as well as highlight key safety concerns that new ITS safety technologies should target.

Compiled by the agency’s consultants, Cambridge Systematics Inc., the new report, Motorcycle Safety and Intelligent Transportation Systems Gap Analysis, explores the potential of improving motorcycle safety through the use of ITS.

USDOT notes that while ITS technologies have predominantly targeted automobiles and commercial vehicles, little has been done to specifically address motorcycles or motorcyclist safety. To help rectify this, the project surveyed a wide range of ITS technologies with potential relevance to motorcycles; analyzed each technology's current relevance to motorcycles and potential to improve motorcycle safety; and then further investigated those technologies with strong potential to improve motorcycle safety.

The project employed a two-pronged methodology in its survey of ITS technologies:
• A comprehensive literature review of over 40 categories of ITS with potential relevance to motorcycles;
• Interviews with leading practitioners representing a cross section of the motorcycle industry and community.

The literature review and the practitioner interviews each revealed a series of trends and gaps in the current state of research on motorcycle safety and ITS, which are documented and discussed in the report.

The project then synthesized these trends and gaps to determine the overall trends and gaps, as well as the opportunities to advance ITS technology for motorcycle safety. These opportunities were translated into recommended areas of research and recommended strategies to advance both these areas of research and the overall field of ITS as it relates to motorcycle safety.

The recommended areas of research include:
• Synergizing ITS technology and implementation with the already-successful technology of antilock braking systems (ABS) in motorcycles;
• Rider-motorcycle interfaces;
• Motorcycle safety data, including preparations to take full advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) in analyzing big data moving forward;
• Applied research and assessments of safety benefits;
• The harmonization of ITS technologies and standards, such as those through interoperable connected vehicle communications.

The recommended strategies to take forward include:
• Actively promoting research on motorcycle ITS and exploring synergies with closely related research;
• Engaging the motorcycle community and general public to improve the design and acceptance of motorcycle ITS;
• Embracing upcoming technology, particularly connected vehicles and big data applications;
• Collaborating with all sectors and stakeholders to promote ITS harmonization and widespread implementation.

December 4, 2018

Written by Adam Frost

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