Motorcycle riding has an unmistakable aura of romanticism. Avid motorcyclists will tell you there’s nothing quite like taking to the open road on two wheels, with the wind buffeting your whole body and fewer obstructions to attenuate the sensory experience of hurtling down the highway. But that thrill can be dangerous if you’re not careful.The carnage is, statistically, undeniable: When motorcycles crash, their riders get hurt. In single-vehicle accidents, motorcyclists are injured 96 percent of the time, according to the Hurt Report. Sometimes, they die. Between 1975 and 1999, more than 38,000 motorcyclists perished in single-vehicle accidents alone. And according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, riders were at least 35 times — yes, 35 times — more likely to be killed in a wreck than people in passenger vehicles like cars and trucks, which offer more protection. That’s not stopping people from riding, however. From 1998 to 2007, U.S. motorcycle registrations increased 84 percent, from 3.9 to 7.1 million.More motorcyclists mean more chances for horrific, two-wheeled calamities. But a lot of motorcycle accidents are preventable, and even in unavoidable wrecks, there are precautions that can help reduce the severity of injuries.Keep reading, and you’ll see 10 ways to make your motorcycle journeys safer — for you and for your fellow travelers. After all, there’s nothing romantic about breaking your body to bits.
5: Before You Intersect, Inspect
In about 70 percent of two-vehicle accidents involving motorcycles, the driver of the passenger cars just don’t see the two-wheeler, according to Motorcycle Cruiser.com. In two-thirds of those accidents, the car driver violated the motorcyclist’s right of way and, as a result, caused the collision, according to the Hurt Report.
Intersections are particularly dangerous. When other drivers don’t see bikes, they often make left turns right in front of them or even right into the motorcycle itself.Be alert and wary as you proceed through intersections. Scan every part of the intersection before you enter it, and if a vehicle coming from the opposite direction looks as if it may be planning to turn left, slow down and prepare for evasive maneuvers.
Ride defensively and as though other drivers will never see you. In doing so, you could dodge a really large, wheeled bullet.
4: Forget the Flip-Flops
If you’re ever tempted to wear open-toed sandals and short-sleeved shirts while riding a motorcycle, think cheese. That is, think of your skin as a nice, soft cheese, and the road as a cheese grater, filled with billions of tiny, sharp teeth.
You already know that even one-vehicle motorcycle crashes almost always result in some sort of injury, be it minor lacerations or scrapes, or compound broken bones and gaping flesh wounds. But wearing the proper gear can significantly reduce and, in some cases, even prevent injury.
Wear solid motorcycle boots to prevent exhaust pipe burns and painful toe strikes. Protect your hands with thick gloves, and your arms and legs with good-quality gear, like leather chaps and jackets. All motorcycle shops stock clothing that shields your skin, and often they sell items designed to be breathable even in hot weather. Some jackets have ultra strong armor integrated into the fabric to safeguard you in case of a collision.
Even the best gear can’t save you in a really bad accident. But in the event of a minor collision or wipeout, really good protection can mean the difference going home and spending weeks in a recovery room.
3: Eyes Off the Skies
If you’ve ever taken a long road trip in a car, you know how your mind drifts as you navigate the highways. But cars are more forgiving than motorcycles, and a mental vacation while you’re riding might end in a pricey ambulance ride.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation encourages riders to use their SEE (search, evaluate, execute) strategy to keep their minds engaged on short or long trips. In searching, you use your eyes to continually monitor road and traffic conditions. You evaluate every potential risk. And you quickly develop and execute actions to avoid problems.
In short, really, you just need to keep your eyes, and your mind, on the road. By anticipating problems, you can actually avoid them.
2: Break the Bottle
If you drink, don’t ride. In 2009, 29 percent of motorcyclists in fatal accidents had blood alcohol concentrations above legal limits, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Alcohol slows your reaction time and messes with your judgment. In other words, when you drink and ride, you’re more likely to make mistakes — and your decreased reaction speed means you might not recover.
In 1999, alcohol involvement in fatal motorcycle accidents was a whopping 50 percent higher than it was for cars and trucks. In the same year, almost half of riders who died in single-vehicle accidents were drunk, according to the National Highway Safety Association.
So if you’re going to drink, don’t ride. Your family, and everyone else on the road, will appreciate it.
1: Wear a Quality, Full Face Helmet
Helmet laws vary by state and country. Many people eschew helmet use or flaunt helmet laws altogether for a variety of reasons, from claiming that helmets obstruct their vision and hearing (they don’t) or infringe on their civil liberties.
Whatever your stance on helmet use might be, the empirical data on helmet effectiveness are hard to argue with. In 2008 alone, helmets saved the lives of nearly 2,000 motorcyclists, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association estimates that over 800 more would have lived if they’d been wearing a helmet.
But you can’t wear just any helmet. In the United States, full-face (with chin guards), DOT-approved helmets are your best option. Other regions, such as Europe, have their own standards, such as the CE mark, indicating products that conform to high safety standards.
In spite of these facts, use of DOT-compliant helmets actually decreased by 13 percent in 2010, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Don’t be a clichéd statistic. No part of your brain, or your body, needs to meet the asphalt at high speed. Ride defensively, go slow and keep your eyes on the road, and you’ll ride off into the sunset instead of the hospital.
By Nathan Chandler
Editor: Rachel E. Frank