Last May, a study headed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posed an interesting question: does it make sense to apply ignition interlocks to motorcycles?
Examining data from 2011, NHTSA found that motorcycle fatalities “increased from 3,270 deaths in 2002 to 4,612 deaths in 2011.” Of those fatal crashes, 30 percent involved BACs of 0.08 or higher. This was enough for NHTSA to conclude that “it is appropriate to examine the feasibility of wider use of alcohol ignition interlocks to help reduce alcohol-related crashes and fatalities on motorcycles.”
Concerns with ignition interlock device installation
While this premise is sound, it’s also not without some issues. The first being availability—there are no interlocks designed specifically to be used on motorcycles. Instead, interlocks used on passenger vehicles are being adapted to fit onto motorcycles. Another issue is that only two manufacturers offer limited support for the use of their ignition interlocks on motorcycles. Most companies won’t allow their devices to be installed on motorcycles at all.
Safely storing and maintaining a device is another issue. Proper battery power, theft, and damage from drops, weather, or increased levels of vibration are all concerns when it comes to devices originally designed for passenger vehicles. Redesigns can be made in each of these scenarios, but each new solution brings with it added cost.
Safety the biggest issue?
The biggest concerns though are twofold: retesting requirements and liability. An initial breath test allows for a vehicle to be started, but interlocks also require additional tests while the vehicle is in operation. This becomes difficult, if not dangerous, when a rider is operating a clutch with one hand and a brake with the other. Safe retesting therefore, requires stopping the motorcycle completely, otherwise, manufacturers run the risk of liability. In fact, the primary reason given by manufacturers regarding their hesitation to equip motorcycles with interlocks was the potential risk assumed if an accident occurred during a retest while the motorcycle was in operation.
Worth a try
Ultimately, NHTSA concluded that despite the lack of interlock devices being designed specifically for use on motorcycles, “an adequate and safe motorcycle interlock program is possible with existing equipment.” In addition, though reasonable concerns exist with regard to safety, liability, installation, and maintenance, the biggest of which “can likely be overcome with changes in the statutes.”