The Shared Responsibility of Motorcycle Safety.
As Americans we love our motorcycles and the freedom of the open road. However, because motorcycle riders have to share our busy roads and highways with passenger vehicles and large trucks, a crash on a motorcycle comes with a higher risk of injury and death for the motorcycle rider. The simple truth is that a person in a car or a truck who is wearing a seat belt, has airbags, and is in an enclosed space, is less likely to be subjected to fatal trauma in an automobile accident. Motorcycle riders and motorists can work together to adopt the safe driving habits necessary to decrease motorcycle accidents and fatalities.
Motorcycle Riders: Helmets Save Lives and Prevent Traumatic Brain Injuries.
One of the most important things that motorcycle riders can do to protect themselves from being killed or severely injured in a crash is to wear a helmet whenever they ride. Regardless of how people feel about helmet laws, statistics show that motorcycle helmets save lives. Common sense tells us that when a motorcycle rider goes over the handlebars on impact, their chances of survival are greatly improved if they have something protecting their skull from impact. A variety of studies have been done which indicate that motorcycle riders are 37% to 42% more likely to survive a crash if they are wearing a helmet.i ii Researchers from Michigan compared data from before and after a helmet law was passed and found that that helmet free riders are nearly twice as likely to die in a crash as opposed to helmeted riders.iii This is likely because head injuries are the cause of death in over half of fatal motorcycle accidents.iv
A common sentiment voiced by advocates for helmet free motorcycle riding is that a person should be able to ride without a helmet if they want, and if that person dies in a motorcycle crash, then maybe it was just that person’s time. However, a motorcycle rider needs to consider that his or her death would burden that person’s family with both grief and financial loss. It should also be considered that motorcycle crashes are more likely than car and truck accidents to result in a traumatic brain injury.v Riders should also consider what their life might be like if they got into a crash, survived, but had to spend the rest of their lives in a wheel chair or without their normal brain function. Studies indicate that wearing a helmet significantly reduces the risk that a motorcycle crash will result in a head injury to the rider.vi
Defensive Driving Saves Lives
Both motorcycle riders and motorists can practice defensive driving in order to decrease the number of motorcycle accidents and fatalities. Defensive driving is best defined as driving with a focus on anticipating dangerous situations and prioritizing safety over speed.
Motorists should always take the time to look for motorcycles when determining if it is safe to change lanes, merge into traffic, or turn onto a busy road. We all know that we should make sure it is safe to proceed before doing those things, but all too often motorists don’t look for a long enough period of time. A common error happens when a motorist looks for a split second, decides it looks clear, and then proceeds to change lanes, merge into traffic, or turn onto the busy road, and hits (or gets hit by) a motorcycle rider. The problem is that a brief glance will not always provide an accurate picture of the situation: a motorcycle may be in the driver’s blind spot, or blocked from vision by a larger vehicle, or traveling faster than the motorist anticipated.
While the above advice applies to motorcycle riders as well, the key to defensive driving on a motorcycle is being aware that motorists tend to have more trouble seeing motorcycles. This means that if you are driving a motorcycle you should not assume that the driver of a particular vehicle sees you, and you should adjust your actions accordingly. For example, keep your eyes on a vehicle that rolls up to a stop sign as you are approaching. If the person does not see you and turns out in front of you, you may have to take evasive action in a split second.
Other ways that motorcycle riders can stay safe are as follows:
- Be aware of weather conditions you are likely to encounter on your trip. High winds and wet or icy roads can be especially dangerous for motorcycles;
- Take steps to maximize your visibility. If you can, use brightly colored paint on your motorcycle, or wear brightly colored clothing or helmets;
- Avoid excessive speeds. Animals, potholes, or even minor road debris can be fatal to a motorcycle rider who hits one of these things at a high rate of speed;
- Be extra cautious at intersections and curves. These two types of areas can be the most dangerous for motorcycle riders. Keep your eyes open and your speed low.
i https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/80986 ii https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0012707/ iii http://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/51/7/2 iv https://www.east.org/education/practice-management-guidelines/helmet-efficacy-to-reduce-head-injury-and-mortality-in-motorcycle-crashes v https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4437263/ vi https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/811208
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