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Despite significant progress since the enactment of Federal motor vehicle and highway safety legislation in 1966, the annual toll of traffic crashes remains high on U.S. roadways. In 2001, traffic crashes accounted for 95 percent of all transportation fatalities and 99 percent of injuries (NHTSA, 2003). In 2002 motor vehicle traffic crashes were the leading cause of death for people age 3 through 33 (NHTSA, 2005).

Recent data indicates that deaths and injuries related to motorcycle crashes are becoming a larger portion of this public health problem. After a steady decrease to a historic low in 1997, motorcycle-crash-related fatalities have been increasing since 1997 and injuries have been increasing since 1999. In 2003, 3,661 motorcyclists were killed—an increase of over 70 percent from 1997.

Although causes of the sudden increase in motorcycle fatalities remain unclear, over the years researchers have identified several factors that are instrumental in reducing fatal motorcycle crashes and motorcycle-related injuries. Factors aimed at crash prevention offer a potential safety benefit for motorcyclists because they occur before a crash takes place. Injury mitigation and emergency response are also important factors in reducing motorcycle fatalities and injuries.

Among crash prevention measures, research points to the key role of motorcycle rider education and licensing. Although evidence of the effectiveness of rider education on crash reduction is mixed, several studies have shown that trained riders tend to have fewer crashes, less severe crashes, and overall lower cost of damage resulting from crashes (Billheimer, 1998; McDavid, Lohrmann, and Lohrmann, 1989; Mortimer, 1982). Similarly, properly licensed motorcycle riders are less likely to be involved in fatal crashes than their unlicensed counterparts (Billheimer, 1998).

Despite this emphasis on rider education and licensing, to this day little attention has been paid to what constitutes effective rider training and licensing. Although in 2003 there were 47 State-legislated rider education programs in the United States, each State-sponsored rider education program was administered differently. In addition, all 50 States and the District of Columbia require a license to operate a motorcycle on the highway. However, the degree of coordination between rider education programs and licensing agencies varies widely across States (NHTSA 2005). The result of this fractured situation is that little systematic information is available in terms of potentially effective practices used by States in implementing motorcycle rider education and licensing.

The purpose of this report is to develop a model of promising practices in motorcycle rider education and licensing on the basis of current research and position papers published by NHTSA and to use detailed rider education and licensing data collected from all 47 States that offer State-legislated motorcycle rider education programs to identify the States that most closely adhere to this promising-practices model in terms of efficient and effective program components. This report, however, is not a formal evaluation of the practices in each State, nor does it evaluate the effectiveness of motorcycle rider training programs.

In addition, this report will present in-depth qualitative data (i.e., interviews and focus groups) collected among five of the promising-practices States to gain additional insights into the most effective practices. Identifying States with cost-effective and efficient policies and practices that can be offered as models to be adopted by other States where possible is important in this era of competing financial resources and will allow State rider education and training programs to maximize limited funding while continuing to meet increasing demand.


This report is divided into seven chapters. Following this introduction, the next four chapters review the literature on which the promising-practices model is based and discuss the various components of the model, the sources of the data, and the methodology used to classify and identify the promising-practices States. Chapter 6 presents data collected through site visits to five of the promising-practices States and gathered through interviews with rider education administrators, along with focus groups of instructors and program participants. The purpose of this chapter is to provide additional, contextual, and in-depth data on the specific features of promising-practices States that appear to be most successful in the eyes of program administrators and participants. The report concludes with a set of recommendations on promising practices that States can use in efforts to improve their motorcycle rider education and licensing programs.

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