'Overdue': Experts call for action on life-saving motorcycle technology as Government considers plan

Mandating technology which could dramatically lower the number of fatal motorcycle crashes is being considered by the Government, but some experts question why it has taken this long with still no resolution in sight.

Newshub has been told Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter will soon be speaking on a plan to make anti-lock braking systems (ABS) compulsory on some motorcycles.

ABS technology uses feedback sensors to control the braking force of a vehicle and prevent the brakes locking up, reducing the chance of a vehicle skidding out of control and crashing.

An extensive range of international studies have heralded ABS as contributing to lowering motorcycle fatalities.

For example, a 2015 Monash University study into the effectiveness of ABS found the technology resulted in a 33 percent reduction in injuries from motorcycle crashes and a 39 percent reduction in severe injuries.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in the United States said in 2013 that ABS was associated with a 31 percent reduction in the rate of fatal motorcycle crashes.

The United Nations also called for the manufacture of vehicles without ABS to be prohibited as part of its 2011-2020 Decade of Action for Road Safety plan.

The increasing evidence of the safety benefits of ABS led the European Union to pass legislation mandating the technology on motorcycles in 2016. Other jurisdictions, like India, Brazil, Taiwan and Japan have also made it compulsory.

The European Union legislated to mandate ABS on motorbikes in 2016.
The European Union legislated to mandate ABS on motorbikes in 2016. Photo credit: Getty

David Crawford, the chief executive of the Motor Industry Association, told Newshub the safety benefits of ABS on motorcycles meant regulation should be seriously considered and questions why it hasn't been mandated.

"There would be a demonstrable net safety gain with the fitting of ABS for all road bikes… why wouldn't you want to mandate that safety gain?" he asked.

Carey Griffiths, president of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and a former national road policing manager for the New Zealand Police, agreed, calling ABS a "godsend".

"It is absolutely clear the benefits of ABS outweigh [any costs]... there are some lives to be saved here."

He said ABS provides reassurance to riders who may pull on a motorcycle's brakes in shock or are too scared to brake in case they lose traction.

"If you are used to driving a car, and you have just got on a motorbike [without ABS] and someone cuts you off, the first thing you are going to do is stamp on the rear brake thinking you are in your car, and slide sideways."

Ms Genter told Newshub the Government would speak about the decision to mandate the technology on motorcycles "shortly", but wouldn't provide a timeframe for when any regulations could be implemented.

Julie-Anne Genter is considering a plan to mandate ABS on motorcycles in New Zealand, and is expected to speak about it shortly.
Julie-Anne Genter is considering a plan to mandate ABS on motorcycles in New Zealand, and is expected to speak about it shortly. Photo credit: Facebook

Regardless, Allan Kirk, chief executive of New Zealand Motorcycling Safety Consultants, said mandating was already long overdue and had been consistently ignored by successive governments as a life-saving tool.

"It is just too long full stop…[It would lead to] not just a reduction in fatalities, [but] a reduction in crashes full stop.

"It is overdue, well overdue. The rest of the world hasn't done this for no good reason," said Mr Kirk.

Last year 54 motorcyclists died on New Zealand roads, and in November, Mr Kirk said he believed the Government's lack of action with mandatory ABS was partly to blame.

'Overdue': Experts call for action on life-saving motorcycle technology as Government considers plan
Photo credit: Newshub.

"Governments have, for years, ignored [other countries mandating] and a few other things to do with motorcycle safety, and motorcyclists have kept on dying," he said at the time.

Mr Crawford, a former general manager at the Ministry of Transport, told Newshub it was his understanding that the Ministry considered the technology a priority, but it had taken a backseat to other initiatives.

"It is a piece of work they have been working on, but there are other priorities," he said.

The Ministry of Transport's manager of safety and mobility, Brent Johnston, said research into the safety benefits of vehicle technologies began in 2017, and found ABS technology "has significant potential to improve safety for motorcyclists".

He said the 2018 Government Policy Statement invested $4.3 billion into projects to improve road safety and pointed to several initiatives as examples of what was being done to help motorcyclists be safe on the roads.

National's Transport spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, said mandating was something the previous Government had also considered.

"We took the issue seriously when in Government. That's why we sought further advice from officials on anti-locking braking systems for motorcycles.

"It is now up to the current Government to explain where this is at," he told Newshub.

Why the Government may not mandate

All experts Newshub spoke to said the negative effects of mandating ABS, such as a minimal increase in the price of motorcycles, were significantly outweighed by the potential to save lives.

Roger Venn, the Automobile Association's (AA) Driving School's general manager told Newshub that for 99.99 percent of riders in most conditions there were no drawbacks and the Government shouldn't keep waiting to act.

"It will guarantee a reduction in crashes, and therefore guarantee a reduction in injuries and death on our road, end of story. It is an absolute certainty," he said.

"It is fabulous idea and we should embrace it."

But Mr Kirk said progress towards mandating the technology was often unfortunately halted by motorcycle purists, something Mr Crawford noted on when he said "blokey" motorcyclists often claim ABS interferes with their riding experience.

"There is some opposition from motorcyclists… there is a good proportion that tend to be rebel-minded."

However, Mr Griffiths said most riders would never notice the technology.

"ABS doesn't intervene. Unless you did something wrong, you'd never know the difference between an ABS and non-ABS machine," he said.

"People saying it interferes with their enjoyment of riding, it just doesn't, it can't."

A solo motorcyclist takes to the winding country lanes of Sintra's dense forest. The canopy of trees creates shadow for the rider, so the headlights are necessary during a day trip.
Photo credit: Getty

Mr Crawford said even riders with the greatest skill would see safety gains from the technology, noting ABS would likely help in any out-of-the-blue crash which couldn't skillfully be avoided - such as a patch of melting tar causing a cyclist to crash.

"I know the technology is there to help me, rather than hinder me...if something goes wrong, this thing is going to help you," Mr Crawford said.

But he also warned that ABS should be switchable, as it can be dangerous for adventure bikes or dual-sport bikes on gravel, sand, dirt and other slippery surfaces.

"ABS on slippery surfaces is six in one and half a dozen in the other and in some cases it can help and in other cases, it is actually going to make it worse.

Mr Crawford said this was one reason why some bikers do not want mandatory ABS.

The implications of ABS on adventure riding motorcycles may become increasingly relevant as they have one of the fastest areas of growth in terms of motorcycle sales.

Motorcycles under 125cc may also not benefit as they are smaller bikes and the cost of ABS may be out of proportion to the cost of the bike with little safety gains.

Mr Griffiths told Newshub he supported ABS, but as more foreign states mandated it, Aotearoa would see an on-flow effect, where imported motorcycles already have ABS.

"If the manufacturers are doing it anyway, it could be argued that there is no benefit in mandating it, you are just putting a regulatory burden onto everyone that the market is going to take over anyway."

But Mr Crawford and Mr Venn said that still leaves the door open to bikes without ABS, often cheaper and therefore more attractive to younger riders, coming into the country.

"If other markets are going to ABS, we would see that follow here [but] will we get it to the extent that would make a material difference, and I think the jury is out on that," said Mr Crawford.

Mr Griffiths said he wants to see a regulatory impact statement (RIS) from the Ministry of Transport before deciding if mandating was worth it.

But that shouldn't be too far off, with Mr Johnston telling Newshub that consultation documents and the RIS for mandating ABS would be publically available soon.

Mr Crawford said he hopes the RIS considers what bikes the mandatory ABS may apply to and if it should be switchable.