Although motorcyclists make up only 3 percent of all registered vehicles, motorcyclists accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2020 in the United States. As these numbers have risen over the years, several state departments of transportation (DOTs) are taking matters into their own hands to address these related issues.
In partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) is participating in the Development and Evaluation of Roadside Safety Systems for Motorcyclists Pooled-Fund Study to address the significant safety issues in the roadside environment associated with motorcyclist impacts. Currently, the study involves the contribution and collaboration of seven states.
“Motorcycle roadside safety in the United States is an issue that has gone unaddressed for a long time,” explains TTI Research Scientist Chiara Silvestri Dobrovolny. “With this pooled-fund study, what we are trying to do is fill the gaps in these safety standards to reduce the loss of life that occurs each year as a result of motorcycle roadway departure crashes. Essentially, we are asking, how can we develop consistent methods for evaluating motorcyclist-friendly solutions?”
A gap in roadside safety testing today is the lack of testing standards aimed toward addressing motorcyclist safety relative to roadside barriers. While other international crash-testing standards include consideration of motorcyclists in barrier design, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware used in the United States lacks protocols for these matters. Roadside safety barriers in the United States are not designed, tested or evaluated with motorcyclists in mind although impacts against roadside safety systems represent a higher risk of fatality for motorcyclists.
Due to the magnitude of this safety issue, several state DOTs have taken independent action to address the problem by coming together through the pooled-fund study. As one of the first motorcyclist-focused projects in the United States to address roadside safety barriers, the motorcycle pooled-fund study provides a cooperative approach to conducting research about these issues. The three-year study aims to analyze data and best practices demonstrated in other countries, investigate methods to reduce crashes and impacts, and develop guidelines for the implementation of motorcyclist-friendly roadside safety treatments.
According to Dobrovolny, “One thing that we have been trying to do so far in our research has been to find what is and isn’t working through reviewing data, precedents and examples in areas that have already developed solutions to this growing issue. Fortunately, there are solutions out there, and in the future, we hope to be able to develop uniform methods that state DOTs can adopt and implement.”
Phase I of the first project in the motorcycle pooled-fund study was recently completed. It involved a review of best practices being conducted along with a data investigation to address potential roadway design countermeasures to limit the encroachment of motorcyclists. Four projects are upcoming for the 2023 fiscal year under the motorcycle pooled-fund study:
- Investigation of Available Data Toward the Development of Hardware Installation Guidance for Motorcycle Roadside Safety,
- Evaluation of a Prioritized Design of a Lower Rail Element for Installation to the MGS System to Address Motorcycle Safety,
- Investigation of Roadway Design Methods to Decrease Likelihood of Roadway Departures for Motorcyclists — Phase 2, and
- Development and Full-Scale Crash Testing of an Improved Railing System for Use on Top of Barriers.
“The seven states with extensive experience in motorcyclist safety, coupled with the research capabilities and experience of TTI in roadside safety and roadside safety hardware, will provide a synergy in the development of approaches to reduce motorcyclist fatalities,” notes TxDOT Roadway Design Section Director Kenneth Mora. “This study is a huge stepping stone in the United States that will give the public nationwide guidance about roadside safety hardware to improve safety for motorcyclists and all users of the roadway.”