Motorcycle Safety Tips: How to Avoid Accidents

 Author: R. Clayton Allen, Esquire

Anyone who drives a motorcycle knows how dangerous it is out there on the roads and highways. Many of the cars, trucks and buses being driven are being operated by drowsy drivers, inattentive drivers, speeding drivers, aggressive drivers. And present economic conditions means that many vehicles on the road are poorly maintained or have defective equipment, including brakes, tires, and signal lights, which make the roads even more dangerous. Although many motorcycle drivers do drive defensively and safely, here are some reminders and tips for safer driving.

1. Get Proper Training in Operating Your Bike and Practice Regularly. Many accidents and injuries involving motorcycles are caused by drivers who are inexperienced or only ride occasionally. Sometimes operators take another persons bike for a ride when they have little or no experience. Often these rides end in tragedy. So - don't lend your bike to someone who is unlicensed or inexperienced. Be sure you're your license and training are up to date. If you haven't ridden in a while, or if you get a new bike significantly different than your old bike, take your bike to an empty parking lot and practice before you hit the open roads again. In a recent study, the National Highway Safety Administration found that in nationally 26% of motorcycle fatalities involved a motorcycle driver who had no license or an expired license. (1)

2. Concentrate on Your Driving - and Don't Drink and Drive At All. As we know, operating a motorcycle takes more concentration and attention than operating a car or van. With only two wheels, motorcycles are less stable than vehicles with four wheels or more. Debris or cracks in the road affect a bike much more than those other types of motor vehicles. With alcohol, judgment is the first ability to be impaired; motor control is affected at higher concentrations. While operating a motorcycle, you need to have all your faculties at 100% to drive safely. According to the NHTSA, in 2007 about 27% of motorcycle riders involved in fatal accidents had a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08 (the federal legal impairment standard). And about 36% of bikers involved in fatal crashes were speeding. (2)

3. Drive Defensively - Anticipate Other Drivers' Actions. Motorcycles are smaller than cars, and less visible. In addition, other motorists often drive in a sort of "mental cruise control" where they aren't focusing to see vehicles on the road smaller than a car. So for motorcycle riders it's even more important to always drive defensively. In 2007, per mile traveled, there were 27 times more deaths from motorcycle accidents than from car accidents. (3) In fatal accidents involving motorcycles, in 2007 about 77% of the time the collision was from the front. (Motorcycles were struck from the rear only 8% of the time). (4) Many of these impacts occur when a left-turning motorist turns in front of the motorcycle. So watch for oncoming motorists and, if they are slowing or signaling a left turn, slow your speed so you can react quickly if the motorist suddenly turns in front of you. You may have the right of way, but in an impact between a car (or larger vehicle) and a motorcycle rider, the latter usually sustains the worst injuries. Similarly, be aware of vehicles, conditions and objects around you, and plan your escape route if you suddenly have to take defensive action. And in 2008, about 26% of motorcycle fatalities result from a collision with a fixed object. (5)

Driving a motorcycle on the road gives a rider a great sense of freedom and is widely enjoyed by many people. In fact, registered motorcycles have almost doubled over the last ten years. However, motorcycles require greater vigilance by operators to have a safe and enjoyable experience. So - enjoy your bikes, but think safety!


(1) NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts Report - Publication No. 810892: "Fatally Injured Motorcycle Operators by License Status", Jan. 2008. (At http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov. )

(2) See NHTSA Traffic Safety Annual Assessment reports at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov .

(3) 38.98 fatalities for motorcycles versus 1.42 for cars, per 100 million vehicles miles traveled. See U.S. Dept. of Transportation Nations Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 2008 Traffic Safety Facts (Early Edition), Table, p. 17. (At http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov).

(4) Front impact 1,963 of 2,561 total (76.6%); Rear impact 81 of 2,562 (7.5%). See U.S. Dept. of Transportation Nations Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 2008 Traffic Safety Facts (Early Edition), Table, p. 81. (At http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov. )

(5) U.S. Dept. of Transportation Nations Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 2008 Traffic Safety Facts (Early Edition), Summary on p. 63.

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