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Spring is the season for motorcycle accidents

Did you know that motorcyclists are much more vulnerable in accidents than occupants of passenger vehicles? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcyclists are approximately 28 times as likely to be killed in a motor vehicle crash than are passenger car occupants.

This may not be surprising to motorists. Motorcycles aren’t enclosed, so even a minor wreck exposes you directly to the road and to other vehicles. You have no chance to remain inside the vehicle and away from the pavement.

Worse, a Brown University study found that older riders tend to sustain more serious injuries than younger ones. This is partly because they have reduced reaction time and may have decreased visual acuity. It is partly because older riders favor larger motorcycles, which tend to roll over more often. It’s not just that older people are more prone to serious injury because they’re more fragile.

What can be done to make motorcycling safer?

Many safety campaigns focus on what motorcycle riders can do to stay safer, and that makes sense. However, bikers aren’t getting into motor vehicle accidents alone; there is usually another vehicle involved. But first let’s look at things from the biker’s perspective.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, motorcycle helmets have been shown effective in preventing fatalities in motor vehicle accidents. While less than half of states require all bikers to wear helmets, California does. NHTSA considered whether mandatory helmet laws for all riders are effective and found that they do affect people’s behavior.

For example, in 10 states universal helmet laws were repealed. Helmet use rates went from around 99% to only 50%. When some of those universal helmet laws were reinstated, helmet use jumped back up to around 95%.

Riding a bike with an antilock braking system (ABS) can make a substantial difference in safety. Unlike cars, motorcycles have separate brakes in the front and rear. Braking too hard can lock up the wheel, while not braking hard enough may not stop the bike in time to avoid a collision. An ABS system allows the biker to fully brake without fear that the wheel may lock up. This results in substantially fewer crashes in models with ABS than in identical models without ABS.

All motorcyclists should be sure they have taken the basic training courses required for a motorcycle license — and additional training may be recommended.

Overall, bikers should wear protective gear, try to be as visible as possible and always ride sober.

‘But I didn’t even see that motorcycle’

Unfortunately, bikers can take all these precautions and still be injured or even killed in traffic crashes. All too often, the motorist who caused the accident will say that they didn’t even see the motorcycle before colliding with it, cutting it off, or otherwise causing a crash.

Drivers of cars need to habituate themselves to noticing motorcycles. As soon as the driver spots a biker, he or she should make a mental marker and keep track of where the biker is at all times. Drivers should give bikers extra room and time. Even though motorcycles are highly maneuverable, drivers should assume they have nowhere to dodge out of the way.

It’s also important to remember that natural light and the time of day can affect whether drivers notice motorcycles. According to NHTSA data, over 40% of all motorcycle accidents occur between 3 and 9 p.m. when the light is changing.

In 2017, there were 5,172 fatal motorcycle crashes. That is 59.34 fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles. 

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