May is Motorcycle Awareness Month. May’s warmer weather marks the time of year when we start seeing more motorcycles on Idaho roads. While the financial benefits are great and the open-air experience is exhilarating and exciting, the risks associated with motorcycles become more apparent this time of year too. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said motorcycle deaths accounted for 15 percent of total fatalities for the year 2013 and that number has increased in 14 of the last 16 years.
NHTSA’s research shows that per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists are about 39 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash. A majority of collisions involving a motorcycle and another motor vehicle tend to occur at intersections or during a lane change. When motorcycles crash with other vehicles, the other vehicle driver often violates the motorcyclist’s right-of-way (NHTSA, 2011). Motorcycles and their riders are smaller visual targets than cars or trucks, and drivers may not expect to see motorcycles on the road.
Safe riding practices and cooperation from all road users will help reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on our nation’s highways. No matter what vehicle you’re operating, driver awareness is essential to making our roadways safer for everyone. For those road users who prefer four wheels, here are some tips to remember that may help avoid accidents involving motorcycle riders:
- Never drive while distracted. Doing so can result in tragic consequences for everyone on the road, including motorcyclists.
- Share the road. A motorcyclist has the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities as any other motorist on the roadway. Vehicle size is NOT a factor!
- Allow motorcyclists a full lane width. Do not attempt to share the lane: a motorcyclist needs room to maneuver safely.
- Because of the smaller size, drivers can also misjudge how close a motorcycle is, and how fast it is going. This is especially true at intersections.
- Know your blind spots! Perform a visual check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots at intersections and before entering or exiting a lane of traffic.
- Never tailgate. In dry conditions, motorcycles can stop much more quickly than cars.
- Don’t be fooled by a flashing turn signal on a motorcycle—it may not be self-canceling and the motorcyclist may have forgotten to turn it off. Wait to be sure of the rider’s intentions before you proceed.
Although many motorcycle fatalities involve a car or truck, a substantial number are single vehicle crashes, or accidents that could have been avoided with basic knowledge or experience. Motorcyclists are responsible for their own safety, obeying traffic laws, and use of good judgement.
“Distraction, speed, not wearing a helmet, operator error-these are all elements that contribute to injuries and deaths for motorcycle riders,” says Shawn Garets of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP). “Wear your protective gear, make sure you are visible, stay within speed limits — and always ride sober.”
Here’s a few more tips for the two-wheeled riders:
- Obey all traffic laws and be properly licensed and insured. In 2012, more than one-fifth of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were riding with invalid licenses.
- Wear a DOT-compliant helmet and use reflective tape and gear to be more visible. Use reflective tape and stickers to enhance visibility. NHTSA estimates helmets saved the lives of over 1900 motorcyclists in 2013.
- Never ride while impaired or distracted. While riding sober may seem like common sense, alcohol still accounts for almost one-third of motorcycle fatalities in the U.S..
- Avoid riding in poor weather conditions.
- Use turn signals for every turn or lane change, no matter what other vehicles are around. When possible, motorcyclists should combine hand signals and turn signals to draw more attention to themselves.
- Inspect and maintain your motorcycle regularly. A small mechanical problem can escalate quickly while on a busy highway.
- Use lane position to be most visible to other drivers.
- Take a motorcycle safety course such as IdahoStar to improve your riding and increase your safety and enjoyment.
Helmets: While Idaho does not require adults to wear motorcycle helmets, it’s highly recommended. “By far, helmets are the single most effective way to prevent serious injury and death in the event of a motorcycle crash,” says Kendell Poole, chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). “There is a statistically obvious correlation between helmet laws and rider deaths: When helmet use goes down, rider fatalities go up.”
You can find more information about motorcycle safety at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s website or contact your Farm Bureau agent.