May 27, 2015

Un-Vesting Interests

WI is taking on the “updated” MSF while Minnesota is sticking with the old program for a while. There are nasty rumors coming out of WI about loads of instructors quitting or failing the new certification program. On top of that, many of the people who are still with the program hate the new course, both in the classroom and on the range. The MSF, of course, says things like “The new BRC skill test was also revised to better align with the licensing tests used by many states.” If you’ve ever seen the DMV’s motorcycle test, you know what they are saying. If you can’t pass the DMV’s test, you probably can’t walk and chew bubblegum at the same time. It is grossly, ineptly, irresponsibly, dangerously easy. Apparently, the MSF test has taken that same route even further. The idea that everyone belongs on a motorcycle is industry suicide, but maybe the industry doesn’t care? The real question is, do we? Do motorcycle riders actually care if motorcycles retain their rights and privileges to use the public roads?

If we do, California’s 2015 motorcycle training experiment is where we should all be looking. In most states, the wrong people are in charge of motorcycle safety training and the related income and expense. It’s not that I’m accusing the people who run state programs of being corrupt, but I am accusing them of being marginally interested in the effectiveness of their programs. California’s Motorcycle Safety Program makes the “California Highway Patrol (CHP) . . . statutorily responsible for California's official motorcycle safety training program.” I think this makes a crap-load of sense. The people who have to clean up the mess made by motorcycle crashes, sort out who was at fault in each incident, and those who have the political clout to make big decisions about who provides safety training without a lot of ass-kissing in the state capital to counteract the lobbying by a major manufacturing association (MIC, for example). Whenever possible, the people in charge of a budget should also be the people who are most effected by the effectiveness of the money spent. In most states, unvested bureaucrats of varying sorts hold the purse strings for motorcycle training. That’s almost as dumb as paying for a police department’s liability insurance from a municipal general fund. If the department resources are directly effected by how well they do their job, they do the job a lot better.

The California Highway Patrol changed the requirements for the training program they wanted and the MSF bet that no one would compete with their national franchise. They lost. This year, California replaced the MSF program with something designed to produce better motorcycle riders. The model CHP picked was based on the Idaho state program (derived from the Oregon state program), the Oregon state program, and Lee Park’s Total Control Advanced Riding clinics. Total Control is the core provider. As put it, “The two programs differ in that while the MSF curriculum is based on the idea that anyone can be taught how to ride a motorcycle, Total Control Training’s sets higher failure rates for students, and weeds out new riders who would likely not excel at riding on two wheels.” In other words, the MIC/MSF is primarily interesting in putting as many butts on seats as possible. That seems like an obvious conflict of interest, but the MSF/MIC relationship has been largely unexamined for a couple of decades. Total Control’s program has no vested interest in motorcycle sales. The intent of that program is to reduce crashes and fatalities. You would think any state program seriously looking at spending taxpayer money effectively would take that conflict into account.

While Wisconsin’s program appears to be “weeding out” a lot of instructors, I know for a fact that a few of those weeds were good instructors and solid rider-coaches. In a reasonably intelligent world, every state would be reviewing their commitment to a program that repeatedly reminds us that there is no connection between MSF-style “training” and reduced crashes or fatalities. In my opinion, that is a damning statement. “Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System data indicates motorcycle fatalities in California increased 175% in ten years, from 204 in 1998 to 560 in 2008.  These increases in motorcyclist deaths occurred at a time when significant gains were achieved in other areas of traffic safety.  Although California did experience reductions in motorcycle fatalities in 2009 and 2010; the 2011 data shows an increase.  Motorcyclists are [grossly] over represented in overall numbers of traffic deaths.” A lot of eyes should be on California and Oregon, two states who have pulled away from the MSF machine. If they manage to produce something that effectively reduces motorcycle deaths and crashes, the rest of the country should be paying attention.

There is substantial evidence that the current current generation of autonomous cars is (dramatically) more competent than the average driver, which wasn’t a high bar to clear.


  1. Well it is nice to hear someone actually say what needs to be said. How many more decades can the conflict of intetest called the MSF continue?

  2. Phenomenal point I would love to see more people in the industry (motorcycle training) put some time, research, and common sense into their approach for training our young riders. I can also attest for a few students out here one of the training sites deciding after the course that they were not ready to be on the street yet. So the new California course also seems to be instilling a bit more wisdom or common sense in the new riders.

  3. Good to hear. A course that failed/sent back for more practice/discouraged about 50% of the folks who think riding a motorcycle belongs on their bucket list or will make them look sexier is desperately needed.


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