May is National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Some consider this to be the unofficial start of the summer road trip season, and safe driving practices by everyone on the road will hopefully lead to a safer summer.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,579 motorcyclists were killed in traffic crashes in 2020, representing an 11% increase from 5,044 fatalities in 2019. Motorcyclists were about 28 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident per mile driven.
Speeding and alcohol impairment are two of the main contributing factors to these deaths. NHTSA reported that 34% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2020 were speeding. Drivers involved in fatal crashes also had the highest percentage of alcoholism at 27%.
Even if you drive sober and at a safe speed, accidents can still happen. NHTSA recommends drivers and riders obey all traffic rules, drive and ride safely, and avoid distractions that endanger motorcyclists and other road users. Additionally, he recommends that drivers yield to motorcyclists, especially when turning at intersections. Remember that motorcycles are smaller than most vehicles and difficult to see, and should have a longer following distance.
He also notes that many turn signals on motorcycles don’t cancel automatically, so be careful not to rely solely on turn signals to gauge what a rider is going to do. People should allow enough space and time to gauge their reactions.
It is important to be aware of contributing factors in the road and surrounding areas that may pose a hazard to cyclists. For example, grass clippings on the road often go unnoticed by drivers. However, grass clippings are a hazard to drivers and can cause wrecks. Grass clippings can act as a barrier between the rider’s tires and the road, and can cause them to slide and lose control.
NHTSA further encourages riders to wear high-visibility protective gear and DOT-compliant motorcycle helmets. He estimates that helmets saved 1,872 lives in 2017 and that an additional 749 lives could have been saved if people wore helmets. It also advises bikers to take biker training courses and to ride with a current motorcycle license.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers the following advice for riders and riders:
Tips for Drivers
• Take extra time to look for motorcycles. Due to its small size, a motorcycle can be easily hidden in a car’s blind spots, so check — then check again — before changing lanes or making a turn.
• Predict that a motorcycle is closer than it looks. A motorcycle may seem further away than it is due to its small size, and it can be difficult to gauge the speed of a motorcycle. When checking for traffic to turn at an intersection or into (or out of) a driveway, predict that a motorcycle is closer than it looks.
• Keep a safe distance. Motorcyclists often slow down by letting off the throttle or downshifting, thus not activating the brake light, so allow more following distance, about three to four seconds.
• Understand changing lanes. Motorcyclists often adjust their position in a lane to be seen more easily and to minimize the effects of road debris, passing vehicles and wind. Understand that riders adjust lane position for a purpose, not to show off or allow you to share the lane with them.
• See the person. When a motorcycle is in motion, see more than the motorcycle, see the person under the helmet, who could be your friend, neighbor or relative.
Advice for riders
• To be visible. Motorists often have difficulty seeing motorcycles, so wear light-colored clothing and a light-colored helmet. Always have your headlights on, day and night, and avoid driving into the blind spots of cars and trucks. If possible, flash your brake light when slowing down and before stopping.
• But pretend to be invisible. If you assume that others on the road can’t see you, and that any car that may hit you will hit you, you’ll tend to ride in a hyper-aware state of mind and learn to notice every detail of your surroundings. Take extra responsibility for your safety and ride defensively.
• Equip yourself for each outing. Wear proper riding gear from head to toe. Full-face helmets offer the best protection, and jackets, pants, gloves, and boots designed for riding will generally be made of abrasion-resistant material, include protective armor, and provide additional comfort.
• Use good street strategies. Constantly scan the road for changing conditions and use the search-assess-execute strategy to assess and respond to hazards before you need to respond to an emergency.
• Before riding, check your bike. Make a habit of doing a pre-ride check, which includes examining your tires and wheels, checking your bike’s fluids, cables, frame, lights and electronics, and brackets. Use the T-CLOCS inspection checklist to help you.