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INVESTIGATION OF MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENTS WITH NEW ELECTRONIC COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY IN MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT CASES

By Glenn C. McGovern, Attorney Metairie, La. Modern motorcycles are technological marvels. They get more sophisticated and complicated every model year that passes. For the practicing attorney and motorcycle expert investigating a motorcycle crash, a basic knowledge of these new systems is necessary to prove how the crash occurred. Failure of one of these electronic systems can become a product liability case. Modification of said systems by a seller or dealer can be a negligent act that can cause severe injury or death to a rider. Only if the practitioner/investigator is aware of these electronic systems can an accurate determination be made of the cause of the motorcycle crash. Unfortunately, there is not much information available that is covered on this topic in many motorcycle accident reconstruction textbooks. INSPECTION AND RESEARCH IS CRITICAL What does this mean for the attorney or accident reconstruction expert? When a motorcycle is involved in a crash, the motorcycle’s engine, braking and traction electronic systems must be fully examined and researched to determine how the crash occurred. A complete examination includes not only a physical examination of all mechanical parts but a full electronic examination of the electronic parts including the wiring harness, engine control module (ECM), electronic fuel injection unit (EFI), ABS components, the ignition programming in place at the time of the crash (MAPS) and a thorough research of the service manual and any product notices of defects or recalls of the electronic parts. The service manual and owner’s manuals should be obtained and studied. Motorcycles have changed due to trickle down of advanced electronic technology from automobiles, aircraft, Formula F1 racecars and professional motorcycle road racing. Even inexpensive motorcycles like Yamaha’s new $7,999 2014 FZ09 have selectable ignition MAPS the rider can select to pick the engine performance desired for road conditions. WHAT CHANGES HAVE BEEN MADE TO MOTORCYCLES RECENTLY It used to be only automobiles had traction controls and ABS braking systems. Cars have proportioning valves or anti-lock brake systems to prevent the rear brakes from locking. However, for most motorcycles in the U.S., stopping a motorcycle still depends solely on the skill of the rider and his right foot modulating the rear brake lever. In the U.S. ABS braking systems are becoming more available for motorcycles. Honda installed a dual Combined Braking System (CBS) on the Honda CBR 1000F in 1993. Applied pressure to the front brake lever contributed to the rear wheel and vice versa. In many EU countries like the U.K., ABS is now mandatory on motorcycles. Fly- by-wire is used in military and commercial aircraft to operate flight controls electronically rather then through hydraulics or control cables. Some military combat aircraft are so unstable they can only be controlled thru the computer systems. This is instability in the intentional design in combat aircraft allows the aircraft to be much more maneuverable, only if it can be controlled by a human being with a computer system to aid the pilot. The trick is to be able to control such an unstable aircraft. That is why the aircraft controls are electronically operated. Without the electronic controls, on-board computers and computer programming no human could control the F-16 or Stealth Bomber aircraft. But with these electronic computer technologies, they are stable controllable combat aircraft. Many modern high performance sport motorcycles are similar. They are made much easier to ride with the electronic horsepower limiting, braking, engine and traction control systems. ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS FOR ENGINE, BRAKING, AND TRACTION CONTROL Motorcycle engineering is similar to aircraft engineering in many ways. Japanese engineers could not build aircraft in Japan after the defeat of WWII. Thus many bright aircraft engineers went into motorcycle design working for firms like Mitsubishi (who made the famous Zero aircraft in WWII and still owns Kawasaki) Suzuki and Yamaha. The computer technology from Japan, Italy and Germany has revolutionized motorcycles today. Similarly like modern aircraft, many motorcycles have drive-by-wire throttles, electronic fuel injection, traction control, rider selection of various ignition menus (called MAPS), rev limiters, timing retarders and electronic speed governors to control the motorcycle. KTM, a large Austrian motorcycle manufacturer and Bosch of Germany together have introduced electronic traction and braking control system that has servos that measures motorcycle lean and modulate the brakes application accordingly. A rider can go to fast into a turn, lock up the front and rear brakes, and not fall with such a system! This is truly amazing! This Bosch/KTM system is now installed on the 2014 KTM 1190 Adventure models. It took Bosch and KTM three years to do the computer programming for that particular model of motorcycle. This system will be available of other models such as the new 177 brake horsepower 2014 KTM Super Duke 1290 R that has ABS braking, traction controls and electronic ignition MAPS that in effect tames this beast of a motorcycle that has over 106 foot pounds of torque at a mere 2500 r.p.m. The relationship between the throttle and fuel injectors on the KTM Super Duke 1290 R is less than 1:1 for example for controllability. If it were a conventional controlled motorcycle with a 1:1 ratio with cables between the throttle and injectors, the high power to weight ratio and massive torque could not be controlled by most riders on the street. The electronics subdues a high-output engine making it safe for riders of mediocre skill levels. The modern high-performance sport motorcycles would be hard for an average rider to control without these electronic controls systems working properly. This technology has trickled down from racing teams by the factories. Moto GP racing has pioneered these engine, braking and traction devices that are now in production motorcycles. A Moto GP racing motorcycle like the 2012 Honda RC213V has 1000 c.c., over 250 horsepower, weighs less than 346 lbs. and can exceed 217 m.p.h. These Moto GP motorcycles reach speeds of Formula 1 racecars. Yet, these modern motorcycles are controllable due to the electronic controls developed by the manufacturers to control such high performance motorcycles. Even the factory professional racers get help in controlling Moto GP motorcycles. Riders have been hurt due to failures in braking and traction controls. Consumers are now beginning to enjoy the benefits of this new technology in street legal high-performance motorcycles. The trickle down of such electronic controls and the new designs has made motorcycles safer. Normally, a rider mistake such as locking up the front brake in a turn would result in a violent ejection of the rider off the motorcycle. These new sophisticated electronic systems on motorcycles prevent such crashes, despite the rider’s errors. IF YOU ARE INVESTIGATING A MOTORCYCLE CRASH YOU NEED TO SEEK THE ADVICE OF AN EXPERT WHO UNDERSTANDS THESE ELECTRONIC SYSTEMS. In any motorcycle crash of a sophisticated motorcycle like the Kawasaki Ninja ZZR1400, Ducati Diaval, Aprilla Tuono V4R ABS, BMW HP4 and R1200 HP2, Suzuki Hayabusa for example, have multiple electronic safety systems designed into the motorcycles. All have selectable ignition programs that the rider can select. They vastly alter the handling of the motorcycle depending on which is selected. The BMW HP4 is one of the most sophisticated motorcycles. It has over 193 horsepower and weighs just 423 lbs. (2.1 lbs. per horsepower power to weight ratio) Yet it is extremely controllable and safe with its plethora of electronic features that include: Standard Race ABS with IDM calibration (part integral, 4 modes, can be switched off); DTC: Dynamic Traction Control, disengage able, four modes (Rain, Sport, Race, Slick), adjustable in Slick mode; DDC: Dynamic Damping Control semi-active adjustable suspension, four modes (Rain, Sport, Race, Slick), adjustable in all modes. The top speeds of these street-legal motorcycles are limited by manufacturers agreement to 183 M.P.H. by rev limiters in the ignition systems. The ignition intentionally misfires above that speed to limit the top speed of the motorcycle. The lower gears (usually 1st-4th gear) and less than ½ throttle positions are connected to programmed safety ignition curves or MAPS that make them safe and controllable to average riders on the street, in rain and in urban congested traffic areas. For example, if used in the street mode, wheeling or lofting the front tire is impossible. These systems will also affect how a motorcycle crash occurred or why it occurred. In some cases, the crash can be caused by the failure of these systems to operate or intentional modification of said safety systems. The onboard computers can be reprogrammed or “flashed” to alter performance for racing purposes that are not suitable for street use. This must be investigated and tested. Sometimes certain safety systems, like speed governors, rev limiters or timing retarding MAP programs are intentionally altered or even totally disconnected. This can lead to crashes caused by overriding the safety systems the motorcycle engineers wisely built into the high performance motorcycle to prevent loss of control. It is very rare to find a pure stock unmodified high performance motorcycle so a through inspection of any motorcycle is important. Unless one knows what to look for or who to consult for help in the motorcycle evaluation, the cause of the crash may be missed. These various traction controls, ABS braking and stability systems in motorcycles can also make accident reconstruction more complicated. Motorcycles leave less evidence in a crash than automobiles due to the smaller tires and lighter weight. These systems will alter the braking evidence of the motorcycle and the rubber tire marks that must be interpreted by experts. CONCLUSION Modern technology is making motorcycles safer. But the new motorcycle electronic systems present challenges by requiring more knowledge of the sophisticated motorcycle computer braking, traction, and engine systems. With education, knowledge and testing these challenges can be overcome and are an important consideration in accident reconstruction of motorcycle accidents. Glenn McGovern has raced motorcycles since 1974, held a FIM competition motorcycle license and raced in Europe in the FIM World Motocross Veterans World Championships in 2007, the first American to compete in the series. McGovern holds a motorcycle endorsement, MSF certificates and still races nationally and is Vice-Pres. of the GNO ABATE Chapter. “Motorcycle Accident Reconstruction and Litigation”, 5th Edition, 2011, authors Kenneth S. Obsnski, Paul Hill, Eric S. Shapiro, Jack Debes, Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company, Inc., p. 11, 13 only has a brief mention of ABS braking systems. “The Motorcycle Accident Handbook”, by Hugh J. Forton, Esq., published by Hanrow Press in 1986 does not mention any electronic controls as they were not in existence and is no longer published. “Eagles of Mitsubishi The Story of the Zero Fighter” by authors Jiro Horikoshi, Shojiro Shindo, Harold N. Wanteiz translator. Jiro Horikoshi was a pacifist who could not be employed in a motorcycle factory due to the war, so he ended up as design team manager at Mitsubishi and designed the Zero fighter. He was dismayed his designs were used by the Kamikaze. See “Crash Proof KTMs”, Bike Magazine, December 2013 issue, p. 15 See “Bonkers KTM 1290 Super Duke R”, Bike Magazine, December 2013 issue, p. 59 “1000 cc Honda Moto GP Bike Puts out More than 250 hp According to Satellite Team LCR”, “Motorcycle Daily”, motorcycledaily.com/2012/03/1000cc-honda-moto-gp-bike-puts-out-more-than-250hp-according-to-satellite-team-ler/, March 23, 2012. See “Crash Proof KTMs”, Bike Magazine, December 2013 issue, p. 15 Boule, Joe (21 July 2000), “Putting the brakes on big bikes: Kawasaki backs off 300 km/h barrier amid rumors of a speed cap; [Final Edition]”, Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, Ontario: James Orban): C.1.FRO, ISSN 0839-3222