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NEWS | Aug. 16, 2011

Watch out for motorcycles, scooters and mopeds

By Motorcycle Safety Foundation

There are more than four million motorcycles registered in the United States. The popularity of motorcycles is attributed to their low initial cost, use as pleasure vehicles and for some models, fuel efficiency.

Motorcycle fatalities represent approximately five percent of all highway fatalities each year, yet motorcycles represent just two percent of all registered vehicles in the U.S. One of the main reasons motorcyclists are killed in mishaps is because the motorcycle itself provides virtually no protection in a mishap. For example, approximately 80 percent of reported motorcycle mishaps result in injury or death; a comparable figure for automobiles is about 20 percent.

An automobile has more weight and bulk than a motorcycle. It has door beams and a roof to provide some measure of protection from impact or rollover. It has cushioning and airbags to soften impact and safety belts to hold passengers in their seats. It has windshield washers and wipers to assist visibility in the rain and snow. An automobile has more stability because it's on four wheels and because of its size, it is easier to see.
A motorcycle suffers in comparison when considering vehicle characteristics that directly contribute to occupant safety. What a motorcycle sacrifices in weight, bulk and other characteristics is somewhat offset by its agility, maneuverability, ability to stop quickly and ability to swerve quickly when necessary.

An article in the Barriere Star Journal dated Feb. 14, 2011 states, "In a collision, motorcyclists are seven times more likely to be killed than other road users. Young drivers tend to be involved in more motorcycle-related mishaps. However, there is an emerging trend that riders in their 40's and 50's are increasingly becoming the fatal victims of this type of mishap."

Following are some safety tips for both motorcycle riders and vehicle drivers:

Safety tips for motorcycle riders:

Make yourself visible
  • Wear an approved helmet and protective gear
  • Choose a bright colored helmet that meets the recognized safety standards, such as Department of Transportation or Snell Memorial Foundation.
  • Never assume other drivers see you.
  • Wear bright and reflective protective gear.
  • Make sure all your lights are working before every trip.
  • Wear protective gear such as a motorcycle jacket, pants, gloves and boots. These provides better protection than street clothes.
Improve your traction
  • Keep your tires properly inflated and in good working condition.
  • Scan the road ahead for potential hazards.
  • Avoid riding in the center of the lane where oil and other fluids can gather.
  • Whenever possible, let other vehicle operators see you. They may not see you or they may misjudge your distance and speed.
  • Watch for other vehicle's front wheel movements and signal lights.
  • Stay out of other driver's blind spots.
Intersection and signaling
  • One of the most common types of intersection mishaps occurs when oncoming vehicles turn left in front of motorcyclists. When you see oncoming traffic signaling to turn left, reduce your speed and adjust your lane position to avoid a potential collision.
  • Signal well in advance when you change lanes or turn. Check your mirrors and make sure you have plenty of space behind so the vehicle behind can slow down for you safely.
  • Slow down on curves.
  • Many motorcycle mishaps occur in curves and often involve the motorcyclist going off the road or across the center line. To avoid this, plan your trajectory prior to reaching the curve and adjust your lane position and speed. Always look where you want to go.
  • If you are a new rider or have not been riding for a long time, get professional riding training to learn and refresh handling skills, emergency braking, collision avoidance, lane position, etc.

Safety tips for drivers
  • Always watch out for motorcyclists
  • Scan the road carefully for motorcycles when you are about to enter an intersection.
  • Watch for oncoming motorcycles that may be turning left.
  • Watch the rider for clues as motorcycles signals are hard to see.
  • Don't share a lane. Never drive beside a motorcycle in the same lane.
  • Whenever possible, let the motorcyclist know that you have seen them.
  • Read the vehicle language. Don't assume the motorcycle is turning left because it is in the left part of the lane.
Following a motorcycle safely
  • Leave at least three seconds between you and the motorcycle in front of you, and longer when the weather and road conditions are less than ideal.
  • Allow plenty of space when passing a motorcycle. Your vehicle may throw dirt or water in the rider's face and pose a serious hazard to the rider.