American’s love their motorcycles and summer is a time when many of the more than 8 million motorcycle riders in the United States take to the open road. But the rising number of accidents and fatalities in recent years shows just how vulnerable motorcyclists are.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2020 was the deadliest year for U.S. motorcyclists, with 5,579 deaths from motorcycle crashes. Motorcyclists are about 29 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and four times more likely to be injured. This is due to a combination of factors including the different functionality of being on two wheels rather than four, direct exposure to the elements and traffic, without seatbelts or a protective cab, as well as the actions of others on the road. Certainly, the human body is not designed to withstand the trauma that comes with a collision at speeds of 40 MPH or greater.
Most motorcycle fatalities are a result of collisions with other motor vehicles. This means both motorcyclists and other drivers need to play a role in prevention.
Rider Safety Tips
Here are some basic recommendations for being safe when you ride:
- Be aware that, because of your size, you may be invisible to many vehicles on the road.
- ALWAYS wear a helmet. Even if it is not the law in your state a helmet is the best way to prevent a severe head injury. A motorcycle rider not wearing a helmet is five times more likely to sustain a critical head injury. Your helmet should include eye protection and a face shield.
- Inspect your bike. Before you take your motorcycle out of the garage, make sure it is in good working order. Check your tires, breaks, signal lights, mirrors and horn. Make sure your engine is not leaking and that the clutch and throttle are working properly.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Avoid scrapes, cuts and other injuries by wearing protective clothing like long pants, boots with nonskid soles, leather jackets, gloves, etc. Also, wear something bright, or use reflective tape on your clothes so that you are visible.
- Check the weather forecast. Depending on your level of experience, you may want to avoid riding in rain or snow to stay safe.
- Be awake and sober. Staying safe takes focus. Avoid riding a motorcycle when you are fatigued and never be impaired. Consider that 28% of riders who died in a motorcycle crash in 2017 were under the influence of alcohol.
- Follow all traffic rules. You may be tempted to speed by other cars or squeeze through tight spaces. Don’t. You are vulnerable on your motorcycle. Pay attention to the rules of the road to mitigate risk.
- Ride defensively. Stay a safe distance from other drivers. The general rule of thumb is to be four seconds away from the vehicle in front of you. This can help avoid a collision if traffic suddenly stops. Turn on your headlights, signal well in advance of turning or changing lanes, try to stay out of a driver’s blind spot.
- Be observant of your surroundings. Road conditions are always changing. Keep an eye out for potholes, bumps, sand gravel or oil – all of which can prove hazardous for a motorcyclist.
- Take a motorcycle safety course. Complete a formal riding education program, get licensed and take riding courses from time to time to develop riding techniques and to sharpen your street-riding strategies.
Motorist Safety Tips
- Reduce your speed and always increase your stopping distance when driving behind riders.
- Exercise extra caution at intersections. One of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents occurs when a driver fails to spot a rider at a left-hand turn.
- Actively check your blind spots before making any lane changes. This means physically turning your head to ensure the path is clear.
- Stay alert at all times and always be willing to share the road.