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Europe mandating anti-lock brakes on motorcycles

November 27, 2012

A BMW motorcycle ABS unit on a bike.

Photo courtesy BMW Motorrad

The European Parliament has approved a proposal to require anti-lock braking systems on all new motorcycles and trikes with engines larger than 125cc beginning in 2016.

The measure—adopted on Nov. 20 by a 643-to-16 vote, with 18 abstentions, in Brussels, Belgium—still needs to be adopted by each member nation of the European Union. But it’s expected to be approved.

And that means that ABS will probably be on virtually all motorcycles sold in the United States in the not-too-distant future. 

The AMA doesn’t oppose ABS, but has always maintained that ABS should be a rider’s choice, must be affordable, and riders must be able to switch ABS on and off on dual-sport machines. 

The European Parliament’s vote is a concern because of something called global harmonization, which is a term for the process by which vehicles of all types—including motorcycles—are likely to be built to uniform standards worldwide, says Imre Szauter, AMA government affairs manager.

Harmonization has advantages for manufacturers, who would be able to make just one version of a bike and sell it in every market. But it also has the potential to make vehicle standards passed in other parts of the world—like the European Union—the de facto law of the land here in the United States.

In 1998, representatives to the United Nations agreed to standardize vehicle technical regulations worldwide, including those covering motorcycle brakes.

On Aug. 24, 2012, the U.S. Transportation Department issued its final rule on motorcycle brake systems safety standards, in part, “to harmonize with a global technical regulation (GTR) for motorcycle brakes.

“The GTR was developed under the United Nations 1998 Global Agreement with the U.S. as an active participant, and it was derived from various motorcycle braking regulations from around the world, including the U.S. motorcycle brake systems standard,” the final rule said.

While that final rule is very technical and really doesn’t impact motorcyclists, it shows how the global harmonization process works, and it shows how decisions made in Europe could impact riders in the United States.

But U.S. officials don’t need to wait for a global technical standard requiring ABS systems on new bikes to mandate it. They could simply make a rule, and that’s what the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety wants them to do.

 The institute has said it’s “seeking a federal requirement that manufacturers equip all new motorcycles with this technology” and “NHTSA [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] has what it needs [in terms of research] to move forward with a regulation.”

While NHTSA so far hasn’t indicated it is moving in that direction, the European Parliament vote may cause the U.S. agency to reconsider.

Another way that mandatory ABS could find its way on bikes in the United States is if bike makers simply decide to equip all machines with ABS.

BMW Motorrad USA started making ABS standard equipment on all its bikes beginning with the 2012 model year.

“The bottom line is that we can expect a big push in future years for all new motorcycles sold in the United States to be equipped with ABS,” Szauter says. “Whether that push is at the U.N. level, the U.S. government level or even the manufacturers’ level, the AMA will be there making sure that the concerns of American motorcyclists are heard.”

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