Section 3. Motorcycle operator training and education

Overview

NAMS describes motorcycle operator training and education as “the centerpiece of a comprehensive motorcycle safety program.” Operator training and education enjoy broad support from the motorcycle industry, motorcycle rider organizations, and motorcyclists.

Training is provided in formal courses for both novice and experienced motorcyclists. In training, operators first learn the information and physical skills needed to operate a motorcycle safely and then practice safe riding skills and decision-making under careful supervision. Education reinforces and supplements the information provided in training courses. Education reaches motorcyclists through a wide variety of communication methods.

In 2006, 47 States had State-operated and legislated training and education programs and the other three had privately operated programs. Training also is provided by some rider organizations (for example, ABATE operates basic operator training in Alaska and Arkansas and some Gold Wing groups provide training), manufacturers (such as Harley-Davidson’s Riders Edge and American Honda training sites operated by Honda in California, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas), and private providers. Most training uses one of the curricula developed by MSF: BRC (Basic RiderCourse, introduced in 2001 to replace the RSS – Riding and Street Skills – course), and the ERC Suite (Experienced RiderCourse Suite). Oregon developed its own basic rider course and also offers its own intermediate and advanced rider courses.

MSF also offers additional courses for more specialized audiences. Hands-on courses include Scooter School and DirtBike School (used by some as a precursor to BRC). Classroom-only courses include Riding Straight (to discourage riding while impaired), Seasoned Rider (to assist older riders in compensating for the effects of aging), and Guide to Group Riding (to foster safe riding practices among those who ride in groups).

Many States encourage training either by requiring it for all motorcycle operators under a specified age or by waiving some license test requirements for motorcycle operators who complete an approved training course. Effective in July 2008, Florida will require training for all first-time applicants for a motorcycle operators license, regardless of age (Florida SB 1742, §322.12). Baer, Cook, and Baldi (2005) summarize motorcycle operator education and licensing practices across 38 States and list each State’s practices as of 2001, including training providers, curricula, costs, incentives, enrollment, instructors, and links to licensing. MSF provides a table of State licensing requirements and waivers (www.msf-usa.org, State Laws and Reports) and a summary chart of State motorcycle rider education programs
(www.msf-usa.org, Library, Cycle Safety Information Documents).

Many States have Web sites listing State-approved training courses and schedules. MSF has a national directory of MSF course locations and contact information (www.msf-usa.org).

The overall goal is to ensure that every motorcycle operator is properly trained. Specific goals are to:

  • Convince all novice motorcycle operators to be trained;

  • Provide convenient, timely, and affordable training;

  • Provide and promote training for intermediate and experienced operators, especially those who have not ridden regularly for some years, so that they can refresh their motorcycling skills and keep them current; and

  • Ensure that training is uniformly and consistently high-quality.

To support operator training, NHTSA, MSF, and SMSA are working cooperatively on several initiatives to evaluate and improve operator training and to expand training capacity. These initiatives are discussed in the resources and supporting activities sections of the individual strategies.

Objective: Provide motorcycle operator training to all who need or seek it; increase motorcyclists’ knowledge of methods to increase their safety on the road, including awareness of hazards, motorcycle operating techniques, and conspicuity.

Strategy 3.1: Training availability – Expand or reorganize State operator training if needed so that capacity is available to meet demand in a timely manner.

Training may not be easily available to novice motorcycle operators in some States or geographic areas. Course offerings are limited for several reasons. Course size is restricted to 12 students. The number of courses is limited by the number of qualified instructors, the availability of classroom and range locations, and funding (student fees do not cover all course costs in many States). So it’s no surprise that courses at some times and in some locations can fill up quickly and discourage prospective students. In the late 1990s, NAMS estimated that fewer than half of those who wanted training received it. Informal reports suggested that waiting times of 3 to 12 months were not unusual in some States. In 2001, nine States reported data on the proportion of new motorcycle licensees who had received formal motorcycle training. Across the nine States, the proportion ranged from 5 percent to 67 percent; in the median State, 32 percent of new licensees had been trained (Baer, Cook, and Baldi, 2005).

Training demand is highest in spring and early summer, especially in cold-weather States, many of which do not offer training in colder months. The typical basic rider course begins with 4 to 5 hours in the classroom followed by 10 hours on the range. This can be scheduled in one weekend (Friday evening classroom, then 5 range hours both Saturday and Sunday) or on weekdays using a similar three-day schedule. Other courses split the classroom and range sessions into two blocks, scheduled over two weekends (Friday evening classroom, then 5 range hours either Saturday or Sunday) or in the evenings over two weeks (Monday evening classroom, then 2.5 range hours each on two other evenings).

Some States increased their training offerings in recent years to accommodate their demand. For example, California increased the number of training sites from 63 in 2002 to 88 in 2004, which provided capacity for approximately 30,000 additional students per year, and also increased the number of qualified instructors. In 2004 and 2005, more than 100,000 California students enrolled in a BRC compared to fewer than 80,000 in the two prior years. Pennsylvania increased the number of training sites from 43 in 1999 to 70 in 2006.

Across the country, MSF now estimates that a typical waiting time for training is 60 days or less. However, some States still find that their courses fill up very quickly, as noted in this report from one State’s regional training center:

“We have received enough money in our contract ... to conduct a total of 332 courses (304 Basic courses and 28 Experienced courses) within our region this year. Two days after our 2006 schedule was released, 151 of those courses were fully enrolled, some with stand-bys.”

Training course availability varies substantially from State to State. Each State should examine its own training offerings and demand to see if adjustments or expansion are appropriate.

Action steps:

  • Increase State motorcycle training offerings early in the riding season, when demand is highest.

  • Use the Internet to inform riders of training locations, schedules, and availability and to register students online.

  • Consider methods to expand operator training capacity such as offering training through private providers, including rider organizations and dealers.

  • States ensure that motorcyclist training and licensing fees are retained as dedicated funding to maintain and if necessary increase capacity.

  • State motorcycle safety administrators work with the State highway safety offices to identify and secure other stable dedicated funding sources for training.

Promising practices:

  • Most States offer courses for intermediate or experienced operators in addition to the basic course. Many States encourage returning riders who wish to enroll in training and who have retained and can demonstrate their basic operator skills to take an intermediate or experienced course rather than repeating a basic course. This makes additional space in the basic course for novice riders.
    Some States also offer training through private providers. Colorado, Maryland, and Texas have increased training numbers substantially due in part to allowing private providers to deliver training.

  • Several States, including California, Nevada, Ohio, and Oregon, use mobile training units to provide classes outside the major metropolitan areas (Baer, Baldi, and Cook, 2005, p. 32).

  • Illinois and West Virginia list course locations, schedules, and current availability of confirmed and alternate seats on their Web sites
    (www.dot.state.il.us/cycle.html; wv.msf-usa.org/wv/coursefindwv.aspx).

  • Indiana offers training through two Indiana State University campuses, Kokomo Schools, and ABATE of Indiana. ABATE’s Web site (www.abateofindiana.org/Default.aspx) lists all course schedules and current availability for its 11 training locations.

  • Michigan provides training through authorized public and private organizations. The Michigan Web site
    (www.michigan.gov/documents/motorcylc_rider_and_safety_education_courses_90018_7.pdf) lists all training locations and provides links to schedules and registration information for each location.

  • New Mexico provides course information and registration opportunities through the New Mexico Motorcycle Safety Program (NMMSP) Web site (www.nm-msp.org) and through a toll-free call center (877-667-8880). New Mexico also provides expenses for students under18 who must travel more than 50 miles to attend a BRC. For information, contact the New Mexico Motorcycle Safety Program at davidfsmith4@comcast.net.

  • Pennsylvania registers students for all courses centrally, both online (www.pamsp.com/) and by telephone. Either way, students can find complete current information on openings in all courses statewide and can register online or by phone. If a course is full, students can register as an alternate. Alternates must appear before the first class session and will be accepted into the class in the order they registered if seats become available because registered students do not show up. “No-shows” at the beginning of the first class session cannot register for any other course in the current year. Walk-ins also are accepted if seats are available at the first session after all registered students and alternates have been admitted. Idaho and Oregon also register students on-line.

  • In 2006, Minnesota motorcycle dealers and related businesses can purchase ERC Skills Plus courses for their customers for $300 each from the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center. Dealers who purchase these ERCs are required to provide the slots free to participants.

  • Oregon provides special interest courses for rider groups and organizations. For information, contact Team Oregon at team.oregon@oregonstate.edu.

  • Pennsylvania offers the ERC to private clubs and organizations to train their members and guests. The course has been offered through ABATE, GoldWing, H.O.G., and BMW clubs.

Resources and supporting activities:

  • MSF provides a national directory of MSF course locations and contact information
    (www.msf-usa.org).

  • SMSA provides software to its members to help States predict training demand and capacity (www.smsa.org).

  • NHTSA and SMSA are creating professional development workshops to assist States in improving their operator training programs and to increase capacity to meet student demands and reduce backlogs.

  • NHTSA will award demonstration grants to States to promote the implementation of successful practices in administering operator training programs.

  • Starting in 2006, NHTSA will award grants to States to support operator training, as authorized by Section 2010 of SAFETEA-LU.

           
Strategy 3.2: Training promotion – Promote State training classes and availability through dealers, manufacturers, rider groups, rider media, the internet, and other appropriate methods.

Promotion for any course should inform potential students of the course’s content, audience, schedule, costs, and benefits. Training promotion can emphasize the link with motorcycle licensing.

Action steps:

  • Rider groups encourage members to be trained and licensed; encourage more experienced operators to enroll in ERC or other experienced operator courses.

  • Dealers and manufacturers promote proper training and licensing at point of sale.

  • State Motor Vehicle Departments provide training information when customers are obtaining motorcycle operator learner permits and motorcycle registration plates.

Promising practices:

  • Many States promote their training and licensing programs on State Web sites and at motor vehicle departments.

  • Dealers in several States distribute State rider training brochures and tie informational hangtags on motorcycles in their showrooms (Baer, Baldi, and Cook, 2005, p. 34). Some dealers offer vouchers to offset training costs. Some dealers provide reserved spaces at training courses. Pennsylvania promotes training through routine mailings to dealers.

  • Starting in 2006, Minnesota riders who take basic and advanced motorcycle safety training will receive lapel pins or embroidered patches from the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center. Different colors indicate riders who have passed the BRC, ERC, a second ERC, or advanced training such as instructor certification. For information, see (www.dps.state.mn.us/mmsc/latest/MMSCHomeSecondary.asp?cid=4&mid=243).

  • California, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia provide each student who completes the BRC with a special patch or helmet decal.

  • In New Mexico, many insurance companies offer insurance premium discounts for graduates from a BRC or ERC training program.

  • In New York, motorcyclists who complete the basic rider course are eligible for a reduction of up to four points from their license record and a 10-percent reduction on the base rate of their automobile and motorcycle liability and collision insurance premiums for three years. For information, see www.nysgtsc.state.ny.us/mcyc-ndx.htm#Programs.

  • Pennsylvania’s Motorcycle Safety Program is free to all Pennsylvania residents. Students are encouraged to take both the BRC and ERC as many times as they wish. Some riders do re-take the courses.

  • California distributes over 240,000 posters, brochures, and other literature annually promoting their courses to any high school, college, DMV office, franchised motorcycle dealership, and any other entity that requests information through a toll free number. The California Motorcycle Program Project Manager has had television interviews on major stations in Los Angeles, Monterey/Salinas, and Sacramento and radio interviews in San Francisco, San Jose, and Los Angeles. The interview messages included motorist awareness and motorcycle safety program contact information. Each successful student receives a reflective CMSP helmet decal that includes the training information phone number and URL.

  • Idaho works with their rider groups to promote training through the groups’ calendar of rides (Baer, Baldi, and Cook, 2005, p. 34).

  • Oregon produces free-standing information kiosks that are distributed to motorcycle dealers. The kiosks contain rider training information, schedules, and frequently asked questions. For information, contact Team Oregon at team.oregon@oregonstate.edu.

  • West Virginia produced a 10-week radio show that aired on Saturday mornings. The show promoted motorcycle training, licensing, safe riding practices, and sharing the roadways (West Virginia Motorcycle Program Coordinator, 304-558-1041, jtyree@dot.state.wv.us).

Resources and supporting activities:

  • MSF provides a variety of information publicizing training (www.msf-usa.org).

Strategy 3.3 Training curricula and quality control – Include key safety issues in training and education for both novice and experienced motorcyclists; monitor training quality.

Important subjects include information on roadway and other vehicle hazards; safe riding practices including braking, lane use, and defensive riding strategies; the dangers of alcohol and other drugs; the importance of wearing FMVSS 218-compliant helmets and other protective equipment; and strategies for the conspicuity of motorcycles and their riders. Training quality should be monitored regularly both through student evaluations and independent reviews.

Action steps:

  • States establish and administer training quality assurance programs.

  • State motorcycle safety administrators, working with rider groups and others, review motorcycle training curricula to be sure that important safety issues are appropriately addressed.

Promising practices:

  • Many States have a training quality control program in place. Two examples follow.

  • California uses four quality control methods.
    • Student surveys: The California Motorcycle Safety Program (CMSP) and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) developed a student satisfaction survey. Each student is given a survey, which students return directly to the CHP.
    • “Secret Shoppers”: The Secret Shoppers are not given any specific instructions other than to simply enroll and participate in the class. The Secret Shopper reports are returned to the CHP and are shared with the training site and CMSP.
    • Official quality control visits: Each training site receives a minimum of two half-day quality assurance visits from CMSP each calendar year.
    • Unannounced visits: CHP also conducts unannounced training site visits throughout the year.

  • Pennsylvania’s quality control program includes:
    • Site visits: Over 650 site visits annually with over 400 written evaluations of individual instructors.
    • Student surveys: Random surveys are mailed to students. Some 3,400 were returned and reviewed in 2005. Students’ overall rating was 4.63 out of 5.0.
    • Instructor training evaluation: Beginning in 2006, each new instructor is given the opportunity to evaluate each of their trainers at the conclusion of their instructor training.
    • Instructor updates: 16 annual instructor updates are held. Instructors are required to attend an update to remain certified and also must also teach three entire classes per year. Attendees at the updates have the opportunity to complete evaluation forms to provide input for future updates. They also are invited to evaluate their State coordinator.

  • MSF, which provides the curricula used in most States, has an active quality control and research program.
    • MSF reviews all student feedback – 10,000 surveys annually – to determine if the curriculum poses any safety issues for its students.
    • MSF gathers feedback from its instructors (RiderCoaches) through a yearly survey to gain information about the effectiveness of the curricula.
    • MSF initiates at least one research project annually to evaluate curriculum components and investigate any new promising practices suggested by its training community.
    • MSF has begun work on a multiyear cooperative project with NHTSA to study the effects of rider training on crash-avoidance skills.

  • Oregon evaluated the available training curricula against the causal factors observed in their motorcycle crashes and modified the courses to better meet their objectives. For information, contact Team Oregon at team.oregon@oregonstate.edu.

Resources and supporting activities:

  • MSF provides a variety of information supporting training including MSF/PERSPECTIVES(online.msf-usa.org/perspectives/ ), an online newsletter focused on contemporary topics in rider safety education and training, and Safe Cycling, a quarterly newsletter for trainers, training program administrators, and others in the training community
    (www.msf-usa.org).
  • NHTSA and MSF are planning a multiyear study to evaluate the effectiveness of current MSF rider education and training curricula for improving rider crash avoidance skills.

  • See resources for specific topics elsewhere in this guide: alcohol (Strategy 1.1), protective equipment (2.1), training (3.2), and licensing (4.2).

Strategy 3.4: Training and licensing – Integrate training and licensing to create one-stop operations and to increase the number of motorcycle operators who are both properly trained and licensed.

A strong incentive for many motorcyclists to be trained is so that they can be properly licensed. This incentive is greater in those States that waive the licensing knowledge test for course graduates, is greater yet in States that also waive the skills test, and is highest in States that provide a “one-stop shop” in which students receive their motorcycle endorsement at the end of their training course, without a separate trip to the licensing agency. While motorcycle training and licensing are housed in different administrative units in many States, all States should coordinate the two functions closely to encourage as many motorcyclists as possible to be both properly trained and licensed.

Action steps:

  • State motorcycle safety administrators and motor vehicle administrators provide as close coordination as possible between training and licensing.

Promising practices:

  • Maryland and Pennsylvania have “one-stop shops” which provide a motorcycle endorsement immediately upon successful completion of a State-approved basic riding course. As Pennsylvania describes the process in its Web site: “Upon successful completion of the BRC, your learner's permit will be stamped as a valid PA motorcycle license and the requirement for you to test at the PENNDOT Driver License Center is waived. The Department of Transportation will issue a motorcycle license within 120 days of successful completion of the BRC” (www.pamsp.com/CourseInfo_Basic.aspx). Pennsylvania also provides a motorcycle endorsement for experienced rider course graduates. This encourages unlicensed riders with some riding experience to become licensed through a course designed for them.

  • Forty-five States waive the skills test and 21 waive the knowledge test for motorcycle operators who have successfully completed an approved training course.

Resources and supporting activities:

  • AAMVA’s Motorcycle Operator Licensing System (1997; ntl.bts.gov/card_view.cfm?docid=5417) and Integrating Motorcycle Rider Education and Licensing (www.aamva.org) manuals provide guidelines for State motorcycle licensing programs. AAMVA is updating these manuals under a cooperative agreement with NHTSA.

Strategy 3.5: Communications – Create and disseminate effective communications campaigns to educate motorcyclists about important motorcycle safety issues.

Communications campaigns can inform and remind motorcyclists of ways to increase their safety while riding. The keys to effective communications are to select relevant issues and content, use messages and materials that motorcyclists will understand and believe, and deliver communications through media and other methods that reach motorcyclists efficiently and effectively.

Action steps:

  • State motorcycle safety administrators, State highway safety offices, and rider groups collaborate to create messages and materials that motorcyclists will understand and believe.

  • Distribute communications through rider groups, rider media, dealers, local news, and law enforcement media.

  • State motorcycle safety program representatives attend rider group meetings, functions, and rallies to inform riders of key issues.

Promising practices:

  • Many State motorcycle program Web sites include information for motorcyclists on safe riding issues.

  • See suggestions for specific topics elsewhere in this guide: alcohol (Strategy 1.1), protective equipment (2.1), training (3.2), and licensing (4.2).

  • Minnesota’s annual public information campaign uses television, radio, print, and the internet. Topics have ranged from rider training and licensing, rider skills, impaired riding, and protective gear. For examples, see www.dps.state.mn.us/mmsc/latest/MMSChome.asp?cid=1 or contact the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center Information Officer, 651-282-2916 or Pat.hahn@state.mn.us.

  • New Mexico’s annual Motorcycle Awareness Day uses radio and print to publicize the event. Information on rider training courses, alcohol awareness, protective equipment and other motorcycle specific topics is provided to the general public. For information, contact the New Mexico Motorcycle Safety Program at davidfsmith4@comcast.net.

  • Oregon’s motorcycle safety instructor list-serve provides a forum for sharing information quickly and efficiently among instructors.

Resources and supporting activities:

  • Materials on a variety of training and education topics are available from SMSA, MSF, AMA, NHTSA, ABATE chapters, the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA), and other organizations.

References and notes for Section 3, Motorcycle operator training and education

NAMS recommendations for States and communities on motorcycle operator training and education.
6. Explore public service announcements, advertising in enthusiast and near-enthusiast media, and any other viable avenues for distributing safety information.
9. Expand motorcycle safety programs to accommodate all who need or seek training.
11. Merge rider education and training and licensing functions to form one-stop operations.
38. Remind motorcyclists that they may be overlooked and provide defensive strategies for overcoming this situation.
57. Provide additional training and education on proper braking and panic-braking techniques.
59. Educate users about how modifications and loads can change the operating characteristics of their motorcycles.
61. Encourage motorcyclists to enhance their conspicuity.
66. Educate motorcyclists about lane-use strategies, including HOV lane usage.
72. Educate motorcyclists about the hazards created by common roadway defects and maintenance methods. Emphasize riding skills required to negotiate these hazards through education and training.
76. Educate motorcyclists about strategies to overcome the challenges that the designs of other vehicles create in the traffic environment.

General references on motorcycle operator training and education.

  • Baer, J.D., Baldi, S., and Cook, A.L. (2005). Promising Practices in Motorcycle Rider Education and Licensing. DOT HS 809 922. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/motorcycle/MotorcycleRider/. Promising practices from five States (Delaware, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, and Oregon).

  • Baer, J.D., Cook, A.L., and Baldi, S. (2005). Motorcycle Rider Education and Licensing: A Review of Programs and Practices. DOT HS 809 852. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/motorcycle/McycleRiderWeb/pages/index.htm. A summary of motorcycle operator education and licensing practices across the States and a listing of each State’s practices as of 2001, from 38 States.
  • The MSF Web site (www.msf-usa.org) provides extensive information about MSF courses including training locations, schedules, and costs, as well as information on each State’s licensing requirements.

  • Information on the Harley-Davidson Rider’s Edge new rider, skilled rider, and group courses is available at www.ridersedge.com.