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How to prevent SuperSport deaths? Tiered motorcycle licensing

October 11, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

If the U.S. adopted a system of tiered licensing like Japan, deaths and injuries from SuperSport (crotch rocket) motorcycle crashes would fall


Fact: Motorcycle riders who ride SuperSports have higher fatality rates than those who ride other motorcycles.

The death rate for SuperSport motorcycle accidents is four times higher than the death rate for those who ride more typical “cruiser” motorcycles like many of the Harley-Davidson bikes favored by older motorcycle riders, according to a 2005 report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. For more information, read our blog on SuperSports and death rates here.

This statistic from 2005 also matches my own experience as a motorcycle lawyer.  From the injury cases I’ve seen,  and sadly the catastrophic SuperSport accident cases I’ve been involved in personally,  the death rates and personal injury rates are much higher.

In fact, I believe SuperSports are can be an inherently dangerous product. They’re especially dangerous because younger and inexperienced motorcycle riders looking for excitement and a speed rush are  attracted to them. Much like children with an old refrigerator by the curb, these SuperSport bikes are an attractive nuisance for younger riders.

Add into the mix that teenage motorcycle operators have little riding experience. And just like with teen drivers of automobiles, they exhibit poor judgment – whether that judgment is while riding or before they ride, when they’re more likely to consume alcohol or do drugs than older and more experienced riders with better driving judgment.

These risks should not be overlooked.  I am not advocating taking SuperSport motorcycles  off the market. I do not believe that SuperSports should be an option. But there might be a solution to better prepare inexperienced and younger SuperSport riders, and prevent these staggering death and serious injury rates.

A very viable solution would be  for the U.S. to adopt a tiered licensing system with strict testing standards.

Here’s a quick description of the similar system used in Japan, according to a blog about Japanese culture, awh.org, “The weekend comes, my cycle hums, ready to race you…”

This blog describes one person’s experience in getting licensed for the 400 cc class.

The testing in Japan requires an amazing, high level of skill:

License categories

Japanese motorcycle licenses are divided into 4 categories:

  • Moped (Gentsuki): Up to 50cc. Separate license or included in a car license. Speed limit 30 km/h, must stay in left-most lane, cannot do a direct right turn at many intersections.
  • Small Bike (Kogata): Up to 125cc. Speed limit 50 km/h.
  • Medium Bike (Futsuu, formerly Chuugata): Up to 400cc. Up to 250cc does not require yearly inspections.
  • Large Bike (Oogata): Anything over 400cc.

Contents of a graduated  motorcycle exam in Japan

To use a martial arts analogy, the test has both kata (the form of how you drive a motorcycle in general) and waza (specific techniques that you must demonstrate in action).  So, for example, for a mid-size motorcycle  test, the techniques are as follows:

  • Balance beam (Ipponbashi): A balance beam 15 meters long and 20 centimeters wide. You must stop less than 2 meters before getting on the balance beam (so you can’t take a run at it) and you must take more than 7 seconds to cross it (so you can’t just speed across). Falling off or putting your feet down fails the test.
  • Slalom: 5 cones spaced 3 meters apart. Slalom through them in under 8 seconds. Touching a cone fails the test.
  • Crank course: Two sharp left turns followed by two sharp right turns. Touching a pylon fails the test.
  • S-Curve: Left turn, right curve, left curve, left turn. Touching a pylon fails the test.
  • Emergency stop: Stop from 45 km/h (by law only 40 km/h but the way the test is set up necessitates 45 or even 50).
  • Uphill start: An uphill start on a 10-degree slope. This doesn’t sound like much but that bike feels really heavy.

Graduated testing provides a very neat solution that does not infringe on the rights of the individual. It does not discriminate against a safe but younger rider on the basis of age, and it also would save lives.

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