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Motorcycle Safety is a Two-way Street

  • ​When spring is in the air, motorcycles are everywhere. Do you long for the freedom that comes with riding on the open road? Then it's critical to respect your machine and improve your skills throughout your lifetime.

    But that's only half the story when it comes to motorcycle safety. Motorists interested only in four-wheeled vehicles still have a major responsibility in keeping motorcyclists safe on the road.

    In recognition of National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in May, National Safety Council reminds riders – and drivers – to do their part.


    First, Some Stats


    In 2013, 4,668 motorcycle riders and passengers died in crashes, and nonfatal injuries that year totaled 88,000, according to Injury Facts 2015, the statistical compendium on unintentional deaths and injuries published by the National Safety Council.

    "Although motorcycles make up 3% of all registered vehicles and only .7% of all vehicle miles traveled in the U.S., motorcyclists accounted for 15% of all traffic fatalities, 18% of all occupant fatalities and 4% of all occupant injuries in 2012," according to Injury Facts.

    More than one-quarter of riders who died in a motorcycle crash in 2013 were alcohol-impaired, and in 2012, speeding was a factor in 34% of motorcycle crashes, compared with 22% for fatal passenger car crashes.


    Drivers: Do You Ever Think About Motorcycles?


    The vast majority of vehicles on the road are not motorcycles. They're cars and vans and trucks. It's quite possible that as a driver you rarely think about the motorcycles that share the road with you.

    This is a problem.

    "When motorcycles and other vehicles collide, it is usually the other (non-motorcycle) driver who violates the motorcyclist's right of way," according to an issue statement from NHTSA. "There is a continuing need to help other motorists 'think' motorcycles and to educate motorcyclists to be aware of this problem."

    Why do drivers often violate motorcyclists' right of way?


    • Motorcycles are relatively small and drivers don't see them
    • Drivers don't anticipate motorcycles' movements
    • The driver's view of the motorcyclist is obstructed, often by the vehicle's blind spots or other vehicles
    • The driver is distracted


    NHTSA believes driver education programs should emphasize these issues – especially in programs for mature drivers who may have diminished abilities.


    Older Riders: 35% of All Fatalities in 2011


    Riders 50 and older made up 35% of all motorcycle fatalities in 2011, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. So-called "re-entry riders," who rode in their 20s and decided to take it up again in their late 40s to 60s face additional challenges today: more traffic, more powerful bikes, more distracted drivers and diminished physical skills.

    If you're going to ride a motorcycle, it's important to commit to a lifetime of learning new skills and brushing up on the old ones.

    Read about Baby Boomers and motorcycle safety concerns in Family Safety and Health magazine, published by the National Safety Council.


    Skill and Gear Can Protect You


    A helmet is the most important equipment a biker can use. Helmets are estimated to be 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries for operators and 41% for passengers, and they saved an estimated 1,699 lives in 2012, according to Injury Facts 2015An additional 781 lives could have been saved that year if all had worn helmets.


    • A full-coverage helmet offers the most protection
    • Look for the DOT sticker, which guarantees the helmet meets safety standards required by law
    • Never buy a used helmet; helmets are useless after they've been worn in a crash
    • Here is a fact sheet on motorcycle helmet use in 2014


    Not every state has a helmet law, but even if yours doesn't, wear one anyway.  A motorcycle crash is a "violent event." More than 80 percent of all reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death, according to NHTSA.  In addition to wearing a helmet:


    • Choose a bike that fits you; "supersport bikes" have driver death rates about four times that of cruisers or standard bikes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
    • Invest in antilock brakes
    • New riders should take a motorcycle safety course, and experienced riders should take refresher courses after being off their bikes for a while
    • Know the rules of the road
    • Be aware that riding with a passenger requires considerably more skill
    • Never drink and ride
    • Drive defensively, especially at intersections, where half of all collisions occur
    • Watch for hazards like potholes, manhole covers, oil slicks, puddles, debris, railroad tracks and gravel
    • Assume you are invisible to other motorists and position yourself to be seen
    • Use headlights day and night
    • Be courteous; don't weave in and out of lanes, or ride on the shoulder or between lanes
    • Don't speed
    • Wear bright and/or reflective clothing that is durable and boots that cover the ankles
    • Wear goggles, glasses or use a face shield that is ventilated to prevent fogging, and make sure it's clear if riding at night


    Other Resources


Video by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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The National Safety Council eliminates preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy.

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