If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 26 September 2011

IAM and ABS 3

I have been having some correspondence with a gentleman called Vince Yearley of the IAM over their support for EU proposals for mandatory ABS on new bikes. Previous posts here and here.

I received a second reply from Vince today. Here is what he said:
Dear Richard

Your points about compulsion, not choice, are well made. As I understand it, you have no problem with ABS on bikes if it is an option.

I am reluctant to talk about instances of compulsion, such as seat belt laws or mandatory wearing of crash helmets for motorcyclists where there has been a road safety benefit. It is the compulsory fitting of ABS to new bikes we are addressing.

And I don’t believe we have taken a formal position on the other European moves you cite (compulsory high viz clothing and anti tampering measures).

“Increasing skills” and raising driver and rider standards are what you have signed up for over the last 19 years (apols for earlier error). Those principles are just as important whether or not your bike in future comes with ABS fitted as standard as I believe it is still possible to make riding errors even on bikes with the best spec. I really hope that our one news release declaring support of ABS on motorcycles won’t cause you to consider leaving the IAM.



And my reply to him this evening:

Hi Vince

I really do appreciate your taking the time to make a substantive reply to my comments. You are correct in your first paragraph. I have no objection the ABS on bikes per se. I have had it on two bikes in the past and never once caused it to activate, apart from in informal testing. Neither of my current bikes has it, and I don't miss it. I pride myself on my forward planning and riding skills and hope that they keep me out of trouble. If I am wrong in that, then that is my concern and no-one else's. I would be pleased if ABS were an option on any bike where there was a demand for it. Freedom of choice applies to those who want ABS too. As long as it is an option, and not mandatory.

I cannot deny that there has been a road safety benefit in the laws on seat belts and crash helmets, although it is not as clear-cut as many would like to think. The reduction in KSI numbers for car occupants after the seat-belt law, for example, was accompanied by an increase in injuries and deaths for cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users. I am sure you are familiar with the concept of risk homeostasis or risk compensation. Seat belt laws, in effect, made life safer for car occupants and more dangerous for everyone else. On the other matter, I believe that anyone who doesn't wear a crash helmet is an utter fool - but I don't support compulsion there either. Your life; your choices.

I am pleased that the IAM has not yet taken a formal position on the other topics under discussion, such as compulsory hi-viz and anti-tampering, and I hope that perhaps the organisation will take a more anti-authoritarian view if these subjects are debated in your policy discussions. Governments will always interfere, firstly because they think they know better than everyone else how people should live their lives, and secondly because they can. This does not mean that private organisations such as the IAM should support them in that.

I doubt that we will agree on this matter, but I am grateful that you have given my remarks your attention and I hope that, if you have any input into the direction of IAM policy in the future, you will remember this exchange and realise that not all of your members are happy with the IAM's embracing of mandatory measures 'for our own good'. My membership is due for renewal next month and I shall probably let it continue, because I do support all the work the IAM does in promoting skills and high standards. But I am still unhappy that my fees and the fact of my membership are being used to support something which, philospohically and politically, I am dead against.

Thank you again, and apologies for the inordinate length of this reply.

As it is a safety organisation, I can see why the IAM supports everything from seat belts to ABS. What I can't get over is their support for the EU mandating this for everyone regardless of their wishes or needs. I don't want to be accused of tinfoil-hattery, but I can seriously see a situation developing where the EU (or any government) will say:

Well, we made them have ABS and we made them wear high-visibility clothing. They took that OK. They took on board the message that motorcycling was inherently dangerous, and that technology and conspicuity (mitigating the consequences) rather than skill and intelligence (preventing dangerous situations developing in the first place) were the way to make it safer. They believed that we were 'experts' and knew best what is good for them. The next step is to convince them that no sensible person needs more than 80 bhp. And then 60. and then 40. And then we can help them achieve these greater safety benefits with remote throttle control to help them keep to speed limits (I am not making that bit up). When they are all doing 30 mph and slower than almost anything else on the road, but still getting wet and cold, they will start to give up this dangerous pastime altogether. After that, banning 'dangerous' motorcycles will be easy.

The 'salami-slice' method. It worked with smokers. I am not happy that the IAM is collaborating with it.


  1. Having seen a Police Action Camera programme last night that showed stoopid car drivers texting and eating spaghetti whilst on the move I propose that a system is made mandatory that unless both hands are on the steering wheel the brakes are applied*. This is one of the real road safety problems that needs solving.

    *obviously a gear change and knob adjustment filter would be required.

  2. I think you are onto something here. There needs to be some work done on the 'allow' list - is picking one's nose OK? But there's definite potential. I saw one bloke shaving on the M4 once. It was a battery shaver, mind. Amateur. A proper wet shave with a badger brush and shaving soap in a bowl would have been something to behold.

  3. Well said, Rich (- throughout this mini-series, that is).

    I have to say that I think any organisation claiming to want to "increase skills and raising driver and rider standards" is staggeringly misguided in thinking that those principles retain the same level of importance given the forcible addition of safety aids. Obviously - and by definition - a safety aid mitigates against either actions or the consequences of those actions.

    One assumes that the IAM extrapolate this as meaning that people, say, freed from the need to learn how to brake without crashing will use that capacity to learn better observational skills, or pick smoother lines. Maybe that's even true for some of their members - who, are, after all dedicated to that sort of thing. In practice, though, for most people not wearing the badge, it just means they won't know how to brake without crashing because they'll have a machine that works it out for them.

    Anyone who doubts that fundamental facet of human nature is welcome to study literacy measures since the advent of spell checkers and the acceptance of text-speak, or numeracy since the calculator, general knowledge since the advent of Wikipedia. Or even driving standards (not necessarily road safety) since cars went down the route of onboard computer management.

    I can understand a road safety organisation embracing these sorts of measures. I cannot, for the life of me, see why a road skills organisation would want to.

  4. I wish I'd had you to edit the letter before I sent it. Good point about the skills. I suspect that the IAM is just another mainstream group now, though, dedicated to encouraging the progressive consensus: 'if it's good for people, we will use force to make sure they do it'. I will probably staty with them for now, but I am this close (holds finger and thumb with a standard NGK 0.8mm gap) to leaving them. One more 'for your own good' move like this and I am off. The only benefit of membership for me is the little badge on the bike that may just get you off with a warning rather than a ticket - and I haven't even got one on either bike at present. The local group is too far away to be involved with, and the magazine is amusing, but not worth the subscription ("Dear editor, I always travel at 5 mph below the posted limit, to allow myself an extra safety margin, and I always reduce my speed by 10 mph in the wet. Why can't all drivers be forced to adopt this simple but effective measure?" It's an exaggeration, but not by much.) We shall see.

  5. Last year they published a letter from the editor of Diesel Car magazine (not attributed but I googled his name), who stated that motorcycles had no place in the road safety conscious IAM etc etc.

    P.S I do think that ABS is a good idea e.g. what happens if you hit a patch of diesel spreading across the carriageway near a junction? At least you will stay upright before you collide with the IAM member driven Volvo estate that has just pulled out....

  6. I must have missed that letter, although it's a good thing I did. Apoplexy would have been the result. In fact, the IAM magazine, although I poke fun at some of the readers' letters, has focused more and more on bikes over the last few years as far as I can see.

    My point about ABS is not that it is a bad thing. It is the way that because you think it's a good idea, then I must have it. (Not you personally, obviously.) I'm sure there are circumstances where ABS is great. I wouldn't be without it on my car, and it will be an important factor in my decision when I get another one. But on a bike, I prefer it without. And in my view if I prefer it without it's no-one's business but my own.

    Volvo estate + IAM badge = gargantuan levels of smugness, IME.

  7. Is it possible to buy a car without ABS these days? I thought that it was made mandatory in the EU in 2007.

    So assuming that I ride mostly in the company of ABS equipped cars (true in Knutsford!) it's probably a good idea if I have it on my bike too.

  8. Nikos, that's your choice, and I am happy that you have it. All I am asking is that I have the choice not to have ABS if I wish.

    ABS on bikes and cars is not equivalent. On cars, it seems to be a good thing 99% of the time (although I would have loved an 'off' switch last winter when we had sheet ice here), but the benefits on a bike are far less clear-cut.


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