Brakes ABS road safety technology

Is ABS the saviour safety experts suggest?

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Despite its much-lauded safety benefits, ABS may not be your saviour in a motorcycle crash because many riders don’t have time to even use their brakes before crashing.

That is one of the startling findings of a real-world global report called The Dynamics Of Motorcycle Crashes : A Global Survey of 1578 Motorcyclists.

Written by motorcycle-riding road safety researchers, it collected feedback from 1578 riders in 30 countries, with 126 from Australia, who had all crashed in the past 10 years.

Click here to read more about their findings including that speed is not related to the severity of crashes.Crash speed ‘not linked to rider injury’ saviour

ABS a saviour?

The study found that more than a third of the riders surveyed did not use their brakes, “whether they just did not have time or were unable to because of the circumstances”.

“How this can be addressed is relevant to the fact that in this study a third of the motorcycles were equipped with Advanced Braking Systems while 12% had traction control,” the study found.

The study questions the value of such technology in a crash scenario, considering that the perception/reaction time of the rider/driver is between 0.75 and 1.5 seconds.

“The assumption that technology will save the day may miss the obvious fact that what matters in an emergency situation, is the rider him/herself and his/her ability to control the technology.”

The study does not dispute that ABS could be a saviour when used, only that brakes are not used in many situations.

“ABS can and does make a difference,” says one of the authors, UK Motorcycle Research Analyst Elaine Hardy. 

However, it seems training on the correct use of brakes, particularly with ABS, may be a contributing factor.

Interestingly, of the 288 riders who indicated that they went over the top of the handlebars (topside) after crashing, 37% (or 107) of these riders had ABS fitted to their bikes. However, 40% didn’t use them before the crash.

This research expands on a pilot 2016/17 study based on a survey of motorcyclists whose motorcycles were fitted with ABS.

Again, this research involved analysis of feedback from riders involved in crashes, rather than academia simply sifting through statistics.

abs mandatory regulations
ABS being demonstrated

ABS criticism

Critics of ABS claim it gives riders a false sense of security that the technology will be their saviour in a crash.

Others say they can brake over shorter distances without ABS, especially slippery surfaces such as gravel and wet roads.

Many modern motorcycles with ABS have a feature to disable ABS.

In 2016, university safety researcher Ross Blackman criticised a VicRoads brochure that stated: “A motorcycle with ABS enhances your riding skills and techniques by preventing the wheels from locking, skidding and sliding under.”

However, no technology makes you a better rider. It only helps compensate for poor skills or in emergencies.

Even then it has no effect if you don’t use your brakes or know how to use it properly.

ABS mandatory

From November 2019, all new motorcycle models sold in Australia over 125cc must have ABS, while bikes with lower engine capacities must have either combined brakes systems (CBS) or ABS.

All previous generation motorcycles sold in Australia must have ABS by 2021. Enduro and trials bikes are exempt.

The Federal Government declared that ABS can reduce motorcycle-related road trauma by more than 30%.

However, that referred to very early estimates of ABS effectiveness in cars more than 10 years ago.

In 2009, an American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that ABS in cars significantly reduced injury crashes but had “close to zero overall effect on fatal crashes”.

  1. Not valuable research. The number of bikes that crash with or without ABS is meaningless. What was the root cause of the accidents and was braking relevant? Moreover how many near misses were there in the same period where ABS prevented an accident? Or, given a precise scenario occurring 1,000 times what is the rate of safe escape for ABS bikes vs non-ABS. That research would be valuable if possible. The rest is meaningless. Technology will not prevent bad riding or prevent the unpreventable, but it will help all riders where the situation is appropriate. Finally, very few can out brake ABS and probably none in a real crises.

    I rear ended a car with ABS fitted. I was cut off and did not get the front brake on. So what? How many times has ABS helped me avoid an accident? Show me that research before challenging the new ABS regs.

    PS Where I come from ABS means Anti-lock Braking System. Google agrees…

  2. Saying ABS is a waste of time because the riders surveyed didn’t use their brakes is fundamentally flawed: how many riders in that situation used their brakes and avoided the crash? And, of those, how many would have crashed but for the intervention of ABS?

    There’s lies, damn lies, and statistics.

    My favourite is the bloke who drowned in a lake with an average depth of 2 inches…

    1. Hi Steve,
      The survey does NOT say it was a waste of time.
      Did you read the story and the survey completely?
      It is saying that claims of its efficacy in crashes may be overstated, mainly because many riders didn’t have time to use the brakes at all!
      Cheers,
      Mark

      1. “The study found that more than a third of the riders surveyed did not use their brakes, “whether they just did not have time or were unable to because of the circumstances”.

        “How this can be addressed is relevant to the fact that in this study a third of the motorcycles were equipped with Advanced Braking Systems while 12% had traction control,” the study found.

        The study questions the value of such technology in a crash scenario, considering that the perception/reaction time of the rider/driver is between 0.75 and 1.5 seconds.”

        I read that much.

        1. One man’s question of the value of technology is another man’s waste of time – they are not the same IMO.

          The report goes on to say, “There were n.260 whose motorcycle had ABS brakes but did not use them and there were n.258 who had ABS brakes and used them prior to crashing. ”

          So riders who had ABS brakes and used them still crashed, for me what is being said is that ABS is not the panacea of saving riders from crashing, there is a lot more dynamics to motorcycle crashes.

          And differences in the comparison of reports and countries, “Another unexpected finding in Thailand was that the better the brakes on the motorcycle, the more likely the rider was to suffer a loss of control.” how could that be? (rhetorical question)

          The report goes on to say and ask about solutions.

          “Technology has been developed in order to reduce the possibility of riders falling or sliding in an emergency situation, however, what has been highlighted in this study is that over a third of the riders did not use their brakes, whether they just did not have time or were unable to because of the circumstances. How this can be addressed is relevant to the fact that in this study a third of the motorcycles were equipped with Advanced Braking Systems while 12% had traction control.

          Does technology matter in a crash scenario? Consider that the perception/reaction time of the rider/driver is between 0.75 and 1.5 seconds. What solution could there be to address this problem?

          The assumption that technology will save the day, may miss the obvious fact that what matters in an emergency situation, is the rider him/herself and his/her ability to control the technology. “

  3. When faced with a sudden emergency, many riders will instinctively stamp on the rear brake. If it locks, the wheel with the least traction, (ie. now-locked rear) will overtake the front. With predictable result.
    Anything that stops wheel locking on tar has to be better than the alternative.
    But ABS can be very scary on loose or stony surface and should be off. I have experienced total loss of braking on a very steep rutted loose descent. Because the ABS kicks in at any touch of the brakes and stays in, result = no brakes at all. Try it.

  4. Having learnt to ride in all conditions and all surfaces without abs I cannot really say that it has saved me in any emergency situation because in the few situations it would have been useful it was never activated because I had already done all the work the computer would have to make up for. Of the few offs I have had ABS would have had zero benefit and in one off ABS and or linked brakes would have killed me as either one would have prevented me from locking the rear wheel and broadsiding the bike around a very slippery bend that I would have made it around completely had the front not been taken out by another rider clipping it as he went off.

    1. I agree with Al’s very valid points, but as you get older 67.7 here, reactions aren’t just as swift e.g. 17-25, so the brilliantly fast computers make up the difference, giving me the opportunity to keep riding safely for a longer time 😛

  5. Fourth bike since 2011, all with ABS, the last two with cornering ABS, the last three with linked systems.
    I’ve been riding for 47 years with two minor bingles prior to 2006, caused by wheel slippage in emergency stops.
    The incredible stopping power & unobtrusive computer linked systems, improves our safety margin a huge amount & I for one am very happy to have sophisticated electronics as a backup to riding safely.

  6. The greatest benefit with ABS is in slippery conditions, where you may brake a little too hard. In all other situations I think there are too many variables. ABS is good to have but it’s no magic bullet.

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