In their 1991 article entitled “International Protection Racket” the American Motorcyclists Association (AMA) posed the question, “Who will design your next motorcycle?”
The AMA claimed to have uncovered a bizarre international scheme designed to force sweeping changes in motorcycle design, that would be mandated not through legislation by elected representatives but through litigation by self-styled “experts” in motorcycle safety and they were not far wrong.
The AMA said they were tipped off by their connections with the British Motorcyclists Federation (BMF) and in 1991 their vice president of government relations, Robert Rasor travelled to England and met John Chatterton-Ross and Stephen Prower of the BMF.
The claim was that Peter Bottomley the then UK Roads Minister was pushing a vision of mandatory leg protectors through the back door in America because he was unable to get elected officials to support his position. He was intimidating the motorcycle manufacturers with lawsuits over the issue.
Basically if a motorcycle was not fitted with leg protectors or the option to have them fitted and then a rider was injured in a collision, they could sue the manufacturer because leg protectors are available.
Somewhere and somehow down the line the whole idea of compulsion faded away and they were derided as causing more harm than they were worth, although leg protectors still surface in discussion in motorcycle design for example in 2001 by RoSPA in their Motorcycle Position paper that the main secondary safety features are leg protectors and airbags.
Looking through all of this there was even an attempt which appeared to suggest that the fitting of air bags would negate any problems caused by leg protectors – and by the “magic” of the internet there is a You tube video on this page of an interview by the then BMFs Jeff Stone (where did he go) with Doctor Bryan Chinn which concentrates on air bags and motorcycles. Dr Chinn was the driving force behind the vision of the claim that leg protectors would protect riders from serious leg injuries.
In an answer to a question in the UK Parliament in 1994 the cost into the study of the use of leg protectors on motor cycles over the previous 10 years was roughly £300,000 per annum at current prices. At that time the cost represented some 29 per cent. of total expenditure on motor cycle related research. In 1987, again in the UK Parliament, the additional cost of fitting leg protectors to a new motorcycle was estimated to be in the range 3 to 10 per cent.
In 2009 the Federation of European Motorcyclists Federation Associations (FEMA) in its, “A European Agenda for Motorcycle Safety – The Motorcyclists’ Point of View ” stated, “The design of motorcycles has made them increasingly more proficient and specialised and generally reflects a greater emphasis on safety. Because motorcyclists are usually separated from the motorcycle at some time during a crash, protective equipment attached to the motorcycle, e.g. so called “leg protectors” or airbags, is less likely to be effective than protective clothing and should not warrant serious attention.”
So it looked like leg protectors were resigned to history or were they?
Leg Protectors Mark II?
The European Commission’s – Mobility And Transport – Road Safety webpage states that, “Further research on the relative benefits of leg protectors should be conducted.” albeit written in 2004, leg protectors have left a ghostly impression in motorcycling history.
This year the European Union enacts the 2012 regulations for 2 and 3 wheeled vehicles and quadricycles with the mandatory implementation of Automatic Braking Systems (ABS). This means that motorcycles over 125cc would have this form of braking system imposed (with the option of an off switch).
Over the last few years there has been a flurry of research focussing on ABS partly in order to justify the European Commission’s proposal that they would be a safer option for motorcyclists, but also because it became evident that the industry had been artificially hiking up the price of optional ABS and the Commission wanted to end this oligopolistic practice.
A recent study by Matteo Rizzi from Folksam Research and Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, who has dedicated numerous articles on Automatic/Antilock Braking Systems (ABS), for his thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in machine and vehicle systems, has brought the discussion of leg protectors back to life with his article:
“Can a Boxer Engine Reduce Leg Injuries Among Motorcyclists? Analysis of Injury Distributions in Crashes Involving Different Motorcycles Fitted with Antilock Brakes (ABS)”.
In the abstract of his article he writes: “Several studies have shown that motorcycle antilock braking systems (ABS) reduce crashes and injuries. However, it has been suggested that the improved stability provided by ABS would make upright crashes more frequent, thus changing the injury distributions among motorcyclists and increasing the risk of leg injuries. The overall motorcycle design can vary across different categories and manufacturers.
For instance, some motorcycles are equipped with boxer-twin engines; that is, with protruding cylinder heads. A previous study based on a limited material has suggested that these could provide some leg protection; therefore, the aim of this research was to analyze injury distributions in crashes involving ABS-equipped motorcycles with boxer-twin engines compared to similar ABS-equipped motorcycles with other engine configurations”.
Through a study of hospital and police records he analysed 55 riders who were injured while riding Boxer-twin engines and 127 riders who injured while riding “similar” ABS equipped motorcycles with other engine configurations. According to Rizzi, his results indicate that (AIS – Abbreviated Injury Scale 1+, AIS – Permanent Medical Impairment 2+ and PMI1+) leg injuries were reduced by c.50% amongst riders with boxer engines.
Rizzi concludes from his study that “Boxer-twin engines were not originally developed to improve motorcycle crashworthiness. However, the present article indicates that these engines can reduce leg injuries among riders of motorcycles fitted with ABS. Though it is recommended that future research should look deeper into this particular aspect, the present findings suggest that the concept of integrated leg protection is indeed feasible and that further engineering efforts in this area are likely to yield significant savings in health losses among motorcyclists”.
In the 1990s, research by the TRRL (UK Transport and Road Research Laboratory) on leg protectors was questioned by the motorcycle industry, IMMA (International Motorcycle Manufacturers Association) and members of the Japan Automobile Research Institute and Dynamic Research, Inc. who commissioned their own studies. The results showed that the leg protector design was only beneficial in 25% of accident situations and actually detrimental in 50% of accidents.
Worse still, the effects of the leg protectors on head trajectory and deceleration would lead to increased severe and fatal head injuries. This is caused by the leg protectors restraining the rider and causing pivoting around the hips bringing the head into contact with the car that the motorcycle was in collision with. There was also an increased chance of pelvis fracture, which is potentially fatal. The net result of that design was the lower leg injuries would be transferred to upper leg, torso, and head injuries.
This brings us back to Matteo Rizzi’s study and his claim that leg protectors on motorcycles would be beneficial. As he concludes in most of his papers – the study of ABS injuries needs more research.
Elaine Hardy PhD
More on Leg Protectors – Right To Ride – Playing With Fire
Can a Boxer Engine Reduce Leg Injuries Among Motorcyclists? Analysis of Injury Distributions in Crashes Involving Different Motorcycles Fitted with Antilock Brakes (ABS). Traffic Injury Prevention (2015) – M a t t e o R i z z i