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Research examining the effectiveness of motorcycle rider education on crashes and injuries goes back to the 1970s (Raymond and Tatum, 1977; Lawlor and Swain, 1978; Osga and Ellingstad, 1978) and continues to this day (Billheimer, 1996). These studies are typically designed to answer the question, Are riders who receive training less likely to be involved in crashes than their counterparts who do not? The evidence has been less than decisive, with most studies finding positive effects of rider education, but other studies finding no effects, or even negative effects (Raymond and Tatum, 1977; Mortimer, 1982).

In retrospect these findings are far from surprising. None of these studies actually measured program effectiveness. The authors simply assumed that rider instruction is effective. Yet, it is more plausible that some programs do a good job at educating riders and others do not. Hence, findings of no impact or negative impact of rider education on subsequent crashes may merely reflect poor instructional practices on the part of that program.

This last point highlights the crucial importance of effectiveness of rider education practices in trying to understand the impact of rider education. What States do and how they do it to (a) encourage riders to take State-sponsored motorcycle training, (b) teach them basic riding skills, and (c) encourage riders to become fully and properly licensed are critical to a program’s ability to affect rider behavior.

The promising-practices model introduced in this report addresses a gap in the research on motorcycle safety. Documents and studies highlighting what states should do in terms of rider education and licensing are scant. To date, no integrated model of promising practices in rider education and licensing has been developed. There have, however, been two concerted attempts at addressing suggested licensing practices, on the one hand, and suggested rider education practices, on the other (NHTSA, 1993, 2000). Although neither of these documents is comprehensive, both provide a basic blueprint from which to build an integrated model of promising practices in motorcycle rider education and licensing. In the following section we present what we consider to be a comprehensive model of promising practices in rider education and licensing, using these two documents as a starting point. This comprehensive model is used to examine the practices of all 47 States that offer state-legislated motorcycle rider education.


The promising-practices framework used to examine State motorcycle rider education and licensing programs was drawn from NHTSA recommendations about the key features of high-quality training (NHTSA, 1993, 2000). High-quality training refers not only to the delivery of course content to students but also to a carefully designed administrative structure and a comprehensive licensing system. According to NHTSA guidelines, promising practices should encompass three elements:

  • Program Administration
  • Rider Education
  • Licensing

These three areas form the core of the promising-practices model developed in this report. Program administration refers to the structure and organization of a jurisdiction’s rider education and licensing activities. The second area of promising practices, rider education, focuses on the details of delivering training efficiently and effectively to motorcycle operators. Finally, licensing practices encourage operators to ride legally and prescribe procedures for ensuring that only skilled riders are licensed to operate motorcycles.

The promising-practices model for rider education and licensing is presented in Figure 1. Each of the three main areas in the model comprises a series of different practices, all of which are essential for providing quality training and ensuring effective licensing of riders. The key components of the model are described in greater detail below.

Program Administration

Within the area of program administration, three practices are important for promoting effective training and licensing of riders:

  • integration between rider education and licensing;
  • adequate, dedicated funding source; and
  • collection of rider training, licensing, and crash data.

Figure 1. Overview of Promising-Practices Model of Motorcycle Rider Education and Licensing


  1. Integration between rider education and licensing
  2. Adequate, dedicated funding source
  3. Collection of rider training, licensing, and crash data

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  1. Comprehensive curricula
  2. Effective training and delivery
  3. Outreach and information efforts
  4. Incentives for training
  5. Regular program assessments and quality control
  6. Instructor education and training

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  1. Graduated licensing system
  2. Comprehensive testing
  3. Comprehensive procedures for obtaining and renewing a license
  4. Incentives for licensing

The synthesis of rider education and licensing is a recurrent theme in the research literature because it may encourage riders seeking licensing to also seek training. When motorcycle rider licensing is separate from training, novice riders applying for licenses may miss opportunities to improve their skills through rider classes. Integration also reduces redundancies across administration, education, and licensing and streamlines the processes for opening roadways to qualified and safe riders.

Although specific funding amounts will differ across States, an adequate and dedicated funding source ensures that training opportunities will be available from year to year and that students will be able to receive appropriate training from a State-certified provider. Across the country, rider training programs are largely financed through a percentage of the revenue from State motorcycle registrations. Finally, the collection of rider training, licensing, and crash data allows States to carefully monitor the impact of program activities by centralizing all information in a single database.

Rider Education

Practices related to program administration center on the organization of State agencies responsible for rider training and licensing. The second area of promising practices, rider education, focuses on the details of delivering training efficiently and effectively to motorcycle operators. The following key practices are related to rider education:

  • comprehensive curriculum;
  • effective training and delivery;
  • outreach and information efforts;
  • incentives for training;
  • regular program assessments and quality control; and
  • instructor education and training.

Across the country, the most recognized curriculum for rider education programs are the courses created by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). MSF courses are the product of careful planning and consideration and, as of 2001, had been adopted by all States with administrative agencies responsible for the oversight and administration of motorcycle rider education and safety programs.1 The second feature of rider education, effective training and delivery, reflects a program’s ability to adequately supply training classes to meet demand. To satisfy demand, programs should provide training at sites accessible by riders throughout the State and offer classes frequently and with little delay to interested riders.

Outreach and information efforts about rider training and safety are important not only for encouraging operators to enroll in classes but also for educating the nonriding public about motorcycles on roadways. Even with outreach and information efforts, not all riders will be inspired to enroll in classes. To encourage reluctant operators to seek training, incentives are key. Keeping costs for training low, or even better, free, is one effective practice. Additionally, to reduce the burden on operators seeking licensing, States can implement a “one-stop shop,” in which riders receive their motorcycle license with successful completion of a training course. Finally, programs can offer reductions of points on licenses for riders who successfully complete a training course. Point reductions are a particularly strong incentive because they are applied to violations that occur in all motor vehicles, not just motorcycles.

By implementing regular program assessments and quality control, States can monitor their operations and identify areas in need of refinement and improvement. Because rider training courses are typically held at multiple locations throughout a State, it is imperative that States institute quality-control procedures to ensure that all riders receive adequate training and supervision.

The final set of promising practices related to rider education concern instructor education and training. Quality training depends in large part on a staff of qualified and competent instructors. States should monitor their instructional staffs through certification requirements and also provide opportunities for experienced riders to teach classes. New instructors can be recruited through preparation courses and through offering certification reciprocity for instructors trained in other States.


All States and the District of Columbia require that motorcycle operators who use public roadways must possess a valid motorcycle license or endorsement and that to receive a license, operators must pass a written knowledge test. Beyond these stipulations, States vary in their procedures for licensing riders and for encouraging unlicensed operators to ride legally. According to the Motorcycle Operating Licensing System (NHTSA, 1997), a promisingpractices model for licensing should include the following:

  • graduated licensing system;
  • comprehensive testing;
  • comprehensive procedures for obtaining and renewing a license; and
  • incentives for licensing.

NHTSA strongly supports the enactment of graduated licensing by States because it compels novice operators to successfully demonstrate proficiency at several intermediate steps before being granted full riding privileges. Model graduated licensing programs typically require that riders obtain learner’s permits with a limited validation period and without automatic renewals. To carefully measure a rider’s proficiency, licensing agencies should implement comprehensive testing practices that require applicants to pass both a written knowledge test and a skills test. Similar to its role with rider education curricula, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) is the primary provider of motorcycle-related test material to licensing agencies.

In addition to providing comprehensive testing, jurisdictions should also institute comprehensive procedures for riders to obtain and renew motorcycle licenses. Key practices include providing riders with an operator’s manual to prepare for testing and mandating that riders under the age of 21 complete a rider education course before receiving a license. If possible, licensing agencies should also employ examiners trained in riding motorcycles to administer skills tests (NHTSA, 2000).

Finally, licensing agencies should offer riders incentives for seeking licensing. The simplest incentive that jurisdictions can offer is a reciprocal license waiver for riders who were licensed in another State or the District of Columbia. Upon presenting a valid out-of-State operator’s license to the licensing agency, the rider exchanges that license for a license valid in the new jurisdiction. In addition to reciprocal license waivers, States should also recognize reciprocity for rider education completed in another State. Under this incentive, when operators present their certificate of completion for an out-of-State rider education program, the knowledge and skills tests necessary to obtain a license are waived. Many States currently offer testing waivers for riders who have completed a rider education course within the State; reciprocity in rider education simply allows this incentive to be recognized across jurisdictions.

1Oregon introduced a non-MSF novice curriculum developed by Team Oregon, the State motorcycle training and safety contractor, in 2004. This curriculum, called the Basic Rider Training (BRT) course, is approved for use by the Oregon Department of Transportation.

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