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Informed Consent
Signing a liability Waiver should mean something beyond giving away your rights

By: James R. Davis

Doctors are professionals. As a consequence of that, they are required to provide their patients adequate information about a proposed treatment, such as an operation, so that the patient can make an INFORMED DECISION as to whether or not to allow that procedure. And when they have made up their mind, they must evidence that agreement by signing a LIABILITY WAIVER - an indication that they are providing INFORMED CONSENT.

So what does that have to do with riding motorcycles?

Well, let's start with the idea that virtually everbody knows that motorcyclists can die or become horribly damaged if they have an accident while riding their motorcycles on our public streets. Even potential motorcycle training students know all about those possibilities because they can hardly escape the news of such incidents being splashed on newspapers radio or television.

Of course riding a motorcycle is dangerous. No motorcyclist, however, has to sign a liability waiver to engage in that dangerous activity at highway speeds on any roadway in the country. By doing it they are expressing a form of 'informed consent'.

But there are motorcyclists in-waiting out there who wish to begin riding on our streets and though they more or less fully understand the risks involved out there, they have absolutely no way of determining what the risks are of learning how to ride. Even with the utmost concern on their parts about safety, realities conspire to HIDE those risks from these potential new riders.

Realities? Let's look at a few.

  • If you crash a motorcycle that is moving 60 mph, you cannot help but expect to be severely injured or die, but while learning to ride you will never be allowed to move faster than about 20 MPH. The odds are very good that you could survive such a crash, right?
  • You see experienced motorcyclists riding on our roadways without a helmet all the time. It is obvious to you that if you crash without a helmet on your odds of survival are not very good, but while you are in training you are REQUIRED to wear a helmet, and that increased your odds of surviving a slow-speed crash, right?
  • Road rash is ugly and painful and disfiguring and though you see experienced riders on our roadways that are not even wearing jackets, while in training you are REQUIRED to wear one (at least a long-sleeved shirt) so that the odds of getting road rash are small while in training, right?
  • You are certain that a lot of crashes that happen to motorcyclists involve some inattentive car driver, possibly talking on a cell phone, turning their cars into the path of the motorcyclists, but there are no cars on the range while you are in training and no 'traffic' of any kind exists that might turn across your path of travel so a collision is really unlikely while in training, right?
  • You have heard of a lot of motorcycle accidents occurring where the rider simply fails to make a turn and runs off the road and into a tree or fence or building, but that is exactly why you are about to take a formal riding class - to learn how to control your motorcycle and make those turns every time, right?
  • You know that many motorcycle crashes occur because of obstacles that they run into on our roadways like rocks, debris from shredded truck tires, stuff that falls out of truck beds, curbs, and, of course, an occasional deer that runs into the road, but there are no obstacles on a training range - no rocks or potholes of curbs or light poles or buildings - and no deer, so such a crash can't happen to you while in training, right?
  • You know that motorcycles on the roadway have never been bigger than they are today in terms of weight and engine power and that these contribute to crashes, especially for new riders, but when in training you will be allowed to use only 'small' motorcycles in terms of weight and engine size, so even a beginner should be able to handle these 'underpowered' 'beginner' motorcycles without their likely losing control of them, right?
  • You know that a lot of people learn to ride by being 'coached' by well intentioned friends who don't have the slightest idea of how to teach and who may not be very safety conscious themselves, but you are going to be trained by 'professionals' who are CERTIFIED by the Motorcycle SAFETY Foundation, so they know everything about their motorcycles and about how to teach you all about how to SAFELY ride a motorcycle, right?

And so, in your mind, the odds of dying or being horribly mangled as a result of an accident while being trained in how to SAFELY ride a motorcycle are essentially non-existent. You are going to be trained so that you, unlike those other foolish 'stunters' and 'street racers', can ride on our roadways with relative safety - because training is all about SAFETY and happens on a SAFE training range and is provided by Motorcycle SAFETY Foundation CERTIFIED instructors who will not allow UNSAFE behaviors by the other students and while wearing all the SAFETY gear that you think is necessary to SAVE YOU from road rash and/or collision damage even if a crash does occur at the SLOW SPEEDS you will be allowed to ride at during the time you are being provided the EXPERIENCE and SKILLS necessary to ride at highway speeds on our roadways. After all, your State seems to think that is so as they will issue you a motorcycle endorsement upon successfully completing this training class evidencing that THEY think you will then be qualified to do so.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise to you that before you are allowed to swing a leg over the seat of a motorcycle during your class you are REQUIRED to sign a liability waiver which says, TWICE, once in BOLD FACE type, that you could be severely injured or even KILLED during training and that you understand and accept that risk and will hold the Motorcycle SAFETY Foundation harmless should that happen.

Do you REALLY understand the risks involved to you during training? What are the odds that you will crash your motorcycle during training? What are the odds that you will be severely injured or even die while in training? The fact is, you have NO IDEA!!!!!!!

Any claim that you are providing 'informed consent' by signing that document is absurd in the extreme. How, for example, could you possibly understand the risks you are about to take when your instructors don't even know what they are???

Sure, they know that you COULD crash and suffer injuries or even die, but do they know what the odds are? THEY DO NOT! The MSF HIDES that information from them. DO they know that DEATHS have occurred during basic rider training? Yes, but not how many and not as a result of the MSF advising them. They know because a couple of people, like myself, have collected the facts about these 'incidents' and made that information public.

Students lose control of their motorcycles during training and run right off the range, often at full throttle, STRAIGHT into buildings, parked cars, pedestrian onlookers, even parked motorcycles or OVER CLIFFS! (And you thought the training ranges were 'safe', right?)

Students ROUTINELY drop their bikes during training and end up on the ground as a result. Sometimes without injury, other times with bruises or broken bones OR FACIAL SCARING or BROKEN TEETH. But you were sure that because you are required to wear a helmet that such things couldn't happen, right? Did you know that 36% of all head impacts during motorcycle accidents occur in the CHIN area of the face and you are NOT required to wear a full-face helmet during training?

Did you know that a few years ago the MSF increased the engine size of the motorcycles that could be used for training to 500cc's (so that Harley-Davidson, one of their sponsoring owners, could use there Buell motorcycles for training and thus enhance SALES of their brand) and do you think that was done with your SAFETY in mind?

Rather than SAFETY being their principal training objective, did you know that the Motorcycle SAFETY Foundation changed their curriculum by dumbing it down in order to make is more 'FUN' and 'EASY'?

And did you know that for the first 25 YEARS of motorcycle rider training there was not one single fatality, and then there was one (in Pennsylvania). After that death the Motorcycle SAFETY Foundation dumbed down their curriculum, and in the last seven or eight years there have been no fewer than NINE DEATHS or NEAR-FATAL accidents that have occurred during basic rider training classes? This new dumbed down curriculum is the one you will be taking.

So when you sign that 'liability waiver' in order to learn how to SAFELY ride a motorcycle are you now of the opinion that had you not read this article you would have been providing 'informed consent'?

If a doctor wanted you to begin taking a new medication of some kind and you asked him/her if it had any dangerous side effects, would you be satisfied (or informed) if he told you that in all the years that medicine has been available to combat your illness only five people have died, or would you expect him to tell you that five people out of the 5,000 who have taken that particular medicine have died as a result?

So if your instructor were to say that "the MSF has graduated 4 million students over a period of about 35 years of training and only 10 deaths or near fatalities have occurred during that time" that you were being properly 'informed'? Or would you EXPECT him to say that "before we changed the curriculum only one person ever died while in training over a period of 25 years, but since we changed the curriculum [to make it more FUN and EASIER, the one that you will be taking,] over the past seven years several hundred thousand students have taken the course and there have been AT LEAST nine deaths or near-fatal accidents during that training[, and, by the way, that 'improved' curriculum uses a NEW AND IMPROVED method of teaching we like to call 'learner based' where you more or less get to teach yourself how to ride safely]"?

They will not do so. Of course what is bracketed and in red is what they might not say if the message was actually a marketing message instead of answering your question. You don't think the MSF would stoop to using marketing messages?

Copyright 1992 - 2024 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

A plea for your help