Staying Safe and Avoiding Motorcycle Accidents

Riding a motorcycle is an inherently dangerous activity.  In fact, the Hurt Study, a comprehensive motorcycle accident report conducted in the early 1980s, reports that a motorcyclist is injured in 98% of multiple vehicle accidents and 96% of single vehicle collisions in which a motorcycle is involved.  With almost 50% of these injuries being “non-minor”, this report essentially finds that in almost every motorcycle accident almost every motorcycle rider is injured and very often those injuries are serious.

Given the prevalence of motorcycle accidents and the near certainty of injuries to motorcyclists involved in an accident, InjuryBoard has put together the following safety resource to help you and your family guard against injuries resulting from a motorcycle collision.

How You Ride Matters

According to the Hurt Study, 92% of motorcyclists involved in accidents were self-taught or learned to ride motorcycles from family or friends.  Not surprisingly, more than half of the motorcyclists involved in collisions had fewer than five months of experience in riding.  While the study is more than 20 years old, statistics show that under-trained riders are still the single most common factor in an accident.  It goes almost without saying, then, that the single most important thing a rider can do to stay safe and avoid injury is to learn how to ride properly.

To help make sure you have developed the skills you need to operate a motorcycle safely before ever venturing out on the road, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has developed a series of skill building classes for both beginning as well as experienced riders.  MSF is an internationally known non-profit organization sponsored by motorcycle manufacturers that provides training and tools designed to promote motorcycle safety.  MSF is probably best known for their Riders Education and Training System (MSF RETS), which they use to train over 400,000 riders each year.

The training is structured into three levels of learning:

Beginners’ Classes -- Beginners’ classes are excellent because a student need not own a motorcycle to enroll in the courses.  The classes are designed for beginning riders who already have motorcycles or people who are thinking of purchasing a motorcycle.  These courses generally take place on weekends, and provide basic instruction to first-time riders so they may develop the skill sets and mental attitudes they need to become safe riders.  The class provides a motorcycle and helmet for each student for hands-on instruction, including negotiating curves and crossing narrow bridges with oncoming traffic.

These classes are an excellent way to “try out” motorcycle riding.  You may learn that you’re enthusiastic about riding, but you may save yourself some money by discovering that you dislike motorcycles before you make the commitment to buy one.  Another positive aspect of these courses is that they may keep some unmotivated and unsafe riders off the streets.

Experienced Riders’ Classes – These classes are designed for riders who have either completed the Beginners’ Class, or who have already developed basic motorcycle riding skills.  The course is given in a single day and you must provide your own motorcycle.  The course instructor takes students through various types of terrain, teaches them how to maneuver around debris in the road, and offers practice with blind intersections and intersections at night.

Experienced Riders’ Classes 2 – In this course, riders build upon the skill foundations they learned in the first and second classes.  The primary focus of these classes is obstacle avoidance, crossing over unavoidable obstacles, avoiding wildlife, and negotiating rocks on curvy mountain roads.

Older Riders – “Returning motorcyclists” should also make an effort to re-learn how to ride a motorcycle.  Returning motorcyclists are people who have decided to begin riding motorcycles again after an extended hiatus.  Due to changes in technology, manufacturers make motorcycles differently than they made them years ago.  Returning riders should enroll in skill-building classes to familiarize themselves with the newer styles of motorcycles and to reacquaint themselves with motorcycle safety techniques.

Over the years, MSF has proven that even the most experienced riders can still benefit from learning new techniques or practicing already developed skills, and these classes are a proven way to develop the operational know-how necessary to feel more confident on the road.  For more information on these classes as well as  information on riding courses, state motorcycle laws and reports, and safety tips, please visit the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

KEY STRATEGY – Both beginning and experienced motorcycle riders can benefit from taking a riding education class.

How Accidents Occur... and How to Avoid Them

The following is a list of some of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents.  Take steps to avoid them and you will reduce your risk of an accident significantly:

Unseen Riders – Research shows that the major cause of motorcycle accidents has been and continues to be the failure of other motorists to see motorcyclists in traffic, especially at night.  Almost 60% of motorcycle fatalities occur after dark.  This is yet another reason why making every attempt to be visible on the road is of vital importance.

Lack of Experience / Poor Riding Skills – as we’ve seen above, lack of training and experience on your bike can cause you to be a danger not only to yourself but to others on the road with you.  Take the time to develop basic skills and good techniques before ever venturing on to public roads.

Bad Road Conditions / Undivided Highways – Bad road conditions such as potholes, debris and uneven places in the roads can have a tremendous impact on a motorcycle and rider.  Also important and a large contributor to accidents is roads which lack a divider between opposing or facing traffic.

Excessive Speed – Speeding is a major factor in accidents as well.  Speeding displaces the alignment of the motorcycle, as it causes the front end to become unsteady.  It then becomes easier for the motorcyclist to lose control and possibly collide with either a stationary object or another moving vehicle.

Drunk / Impaired Driving – Statistically speaking alcohol in any amounts impairs judgment and slows reaction time.  With both judgment and reaction time being essential to safe riding, it makes good sense to refrain from drinking and drug-use (including some prescription and over-the-counter medications) while operating your motorcycle.

Poor Weather Conditions – Because of the open nature of a bike, motorcyclists are especially vulnerable to the elements.  Extra precautions – including being willing to pull of the road and stop during bad weather – are needed every time you plan a ride.

More Ways to Stay Safe

There are many precautions you can take to combat these risks of injury.  First, and most importantly, you should protect your body from injury by wearing a helmet, heavy boots, gloves, and a padded riding jacket while riding your motorcycle.  Next, if you must ride at night, make yourself visible to other drivers.  Studies show that using motorcycle headlamps during daylight and wearing brightly colored clothing can reduce the risk of an accident by increasing your visibility on the road.   

Although road and weather conditions may be beyond your control, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of an accident caused by these conditions, as well.  Avoid riding your motorcycle on rough roads or in bad weather conditions.  If you must regularly ride in bad conditions, take classes (as explained above) to help you improve your riding skills.  Do not exceed the speed limit.  Finally, always avoid riding while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.  Alcohol contributes to nearly 50% of fatal motorcycle accidents.

Many of these safety measures are common sense.  If you take precautions and ride sensibly, you will be rewarded with wonderful riding experiences and the reduced chance of accidents.

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