Why Loud Pipes Don’t Save Lives

Why Loud Pipes Don’t Save Lives 1

“Loud Pipes Save Lives” is one of the most common motorcycle myths. And, unless you're living in a cave, I bet that you have a couple of friends who told you it works. But as much as we like a Screamin' Eagle sound or an Akrapovic Symphony, we have to admit that loud pipes don’t save lives. 

According to IIHSHLDI (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute) data for 2014, the number of deaths on motorcycles was over 27 times higher than the number of deaths in cars. Yeah, we’re vulnerable. But that’s not a surprise. 

According to the “Hurt Report,” conducted in the USA, 75% of motorcycle accidents involved a collision with another vehicle, usually a car. The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. On the other hand, a New Zealand study showed that in 65,3% of the analyzed accidents, the clothing made no contribution to the conspicuity of the rider. 

Unfortunately, there is no study about the sound contribution to the conspicuity of the motorcyclists, so we don’t have scientific proof to confirm or disprove our theory. 

But you don't need scientific evidence to know that most motorists enjoy listening to music when driving. The radio switches on automatically when turning on the engine and it might be hard for a driver to hear you even if you have an after-market exhaust.  Or you should consider the texting drivers. Or those who are watching YouTube videos while driving. 

Moreover, when you’re lane-splitting the traffic at high speeds, be sure that only the pedestrians will be aware of your presence.  If you're riding at 90 mph, it's almost impossible for a driver in front of you to be aware of your presence. The sound waves are oriented to our number plate and don't act as an ambulance siren. 

And what about that guy coming from a secondary street that doesn’t give way because he "doesn’t see you?" And if he doesn’t see your headlight, you can be sure that he will not hear your engine. 

What I mean is that there are so little chances to be saved by your pipes that you should focus on another thing. The riding skills, for example. Practice emergency braking, try to avoid obstacles at high speed in a safe environment, learn how to ride in the rain, etc. 

Also, there’s no exhaust note that could save your ass when popping a 60 mph wheelie in the city. There’s nothing wrong about a wheelie – I have a mate who does is every single day just as a warm-up. You can ride fast, and it can be ok. But you should do it in a safe environment, else get yourself ready for worse. 

There are different opinions regarding the “Loud Pipes Save Lives” matter. And there is no absolute truth. The loud pipes might draw some attention, but they are useless without some braking skills and good behavior in the traffic. 

Also, there’s nothing wrong with the loud pipes. It’s just that they don’t do the job for you. If you’re riding like a hooligan and don’t have some minimal riding skills, you can add as many loud pipes as you wish. They could wake up the death instead of saving you. 

5 thoughts on “Why Loud Pipes Don’t Save Lives

  1. Safety for a motorcyclist is obtained in layers… layers involve rider skill, experience & gear, motorcycle road-worthiness including ABS & TC, Tyre condition, road condition, weather conditions, speed, visibility etc etc etc… included in that as a layer you could argue is ‘loud pipes’. I can absolutely guarantee you that in the history of motorcycling there has been at least one occasion where ‘loud pipes’ have saved a life. Thing is… loud pipes saving lives is such a safety edge case in terms of the accident parameters that need to be met for it to positively affect safety and save a life are such that it doesn’t really affect overall road safety in terms of accident statistics. So are there circumstances where loud pipes could save a life? I’d say yes but I’d caveat this by saying that pros of applying this layer are virtually obliterated by the cons.

  2. Loud pipes may save lives – pedestrian lives. Yep, the walking dead who lumber into junctions with eyes glued to phone, the sound of a pipe may be the only thing that snaps them out of it.
    Pedestrian lives matter too!

  3. The term “loud pipes save lives” is unhelpful. How about we ditch that pejorative and biased term and the accompanying “those advocating LPSL probably don’t wear ATGATT either” narrative in favor of simple “audible conspicuity” (AC)? As well, let’s consider it not in binary “it either saves lives or it doesn’t” terms but rather in more honest terms of increasing the probability that drivers in your immediate vicinity know you are there, exactly as visual conspicuity (VC) is almost universally accepted as providing.

    I mean, that’s the goal of traditional VC, right? Hi-viz colored clothing, flashy helmets, retro-reflective strips, brake light modulators, headlight modulators and even the “SMIDSY weave” are all intended to increase the probability a driver will see you. Hurt certainly saw such conspicuity as a valid visual risk reduction method. With sound logic, we reason that if we give other drivers an increased probability of seeing us then they are less likely to do something hazardous to our health and safety. It’s not a sure, absolute thing. It’s a probability and we accept it as such.

    With AC, however, sound logic seems thrown out the window. The same standards are not applied. We know VC is not 100% effective in all situations but advocates are okay with this because they accept that VC still lowers overall risk. For AC, however, it seems like study and op-ed authors find specific cases where AC has no value and then, in a galactic leap of intellectual dishonesty, conclude that AC has no value in _any_ situation as a risk reduction measure. They might argue, for example, that the driver of a car turning left in front of you won’t hear your pipes because they shoot sound out the back, ergo AC has zero value because it didn’t save your life in that situation, period.

    Never mind that VC might rendered useless by window tint or a cell-phone distraction or a spilled coffee or a driver distracted by a hot chick on the sidewalk or any of literally innumerable possible distractions. They still support VC. AC, logically and anecdotally for countless riders, provides an opportunity for letting drivers know you’re in their vicinity in different situations. Note, it’s just an opportunity; it won’t reduce risk in _all_ situations and not _all_ drivers will hear you; the driver with the windows up, the AC blowing and the stereo blasting won’t hear you. But neither will they hear the sirens of the ambulance desperately trying to get by; do we conclude that sirens are useless because they fail in this one case?

    So why does this logical discontinuity exist? Why do authors and pundits create edge-condition scenarios where AC fails and then hastily and disingenuously conclude AC has zero value, full-stop? It’s because it’s a political issue. It is odd that the same sound that is allegedly unable to penetrate a car from 3 feet away miraculously manages to rouse the dead a mile away through double-pane glass, brick and concrete, insulation and dry-wall. The sound drivers apparently can’t hear is also, apparently, nonetheless going to piss off those same drivers and make them steer into you in a fit of rage.

    I fully concede that a relatively few bad actors racing with blisteringly loud exhausts in quiet neighborhoods at inopportune times have sullied AC as an effective risk reduction measure on par with VC. It is unfortunate that this has resulted in questionable methods and conclusions in studies skewed through laughable intellectual dishonesty by anti-all-noise political bias.

    Electric vehicles have recently been mandated by governments to make a minimum amount of noise at low speeds to alert pedestrians to their presence. The logic is that EVs are basically silent at low speeds and so present a hazard to the blind or to pedestrians not paying attention. Here we have a clear example of AC at work, fully endorsed (indeed, mandated) by governments.

    Like pedestrians, drivers have five senses, only two of which are of any use in understanding their surroundings. Certainly, taste, smell and touch have no value to a driver, leaving just vision and hearing. We can literally increase the number of senses we have the opportunity to engage by 100% if we make sensible use of AC. As particularly vulnerable street users, why wouldn’t we do this?

    I’m not advocating wide-open, baffle-less pipes. I simply want an honest, reasoned, logical, unbiased and, untainted by political interference, consideration of AC as a valid risk reduction measure. Further, I think it’s possible for a motorcycle to make a level of sound that is higher than is currently allowed by governments now but which does not infringe on the sensibilities of “normies” while delivering enhanced conspicuity and risk reduction. Nothing I’ve yet read has lessened that belief.

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