From Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones, to Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, there has always been a certain culture, image or mystique surrounding motorcycles. Ask any motorcycle rider what they love about riding and you will get answers like: I love the wind in my face, there’s nothing like the feeling of freedom on the open road, it’s the best way to see the country, the power and sense of speed is exhilarating, it’s fun and it’s an adrenaline rush. Some may even say, “It’s the risk and danger of it.”
Whether riding a tricked out Harley, a classic Indian or just a daily commuter, there is just something about cruising down the highway or zipping through town on a motorcycle. In today’s economy of high gas prices, they can offer an affordable alternative when filling up at the pump. But there is also another side to motorcycles: accidents.
There is a saying among motorcyclists: “If you ride long enough, it’s not if you’re going to have an accident, it’s when”. And when those accidents happen they are far more likely to cause severe injury or death. Statistics show that on a per-mile driven basis, there are 35 times more deaths among motorcycle riders than automobile drivers. In Emergency Rooms, a dark term for motorcycles is donor cycles. That’s a pretty alarming and the statistics bear closer examination, so let’s break it down.
- 56% of motorcycle deaths involve collisions with other vehicles
- 78% of those deaths are from head-on collisions with automobiles or trucks
- 25% of motorcycle deaths involve hitting a fixed object
- 75% of motorcycle accidents involve the rider not properly negotiating a curve
- Half of all motorcycle accidents involve speed and/or alcohol
Here’s one more statistic that may not be so surprising. “Super sport” motorcycles – the high powered machines that are built on a lightweight racing frame modified for street use – have a four times higher death rate than conventional motorcycles. These bikes can reach speeds of over 160 miles per hour and are most often driven by male riders under thirty years of age. Insane speed, plus testosterone, plus youthful, poor judgment can be a lethal combination.
Yes those are sobering statistics, but it doesn’t mean anyone who owns a motorcycle should put it up for sale immediately or send it off the salvage yard to be crushed. There are ways to reduce the risk of becoming a statistic and continue to enjoy your two-wheeled fun machine. It just involves taking a few precautions and using a healthy dose of common sense.
First and foremost, protect yourself.
- Always wear an approved helmet – no exceptions! 37% of riders who died when not wearing a helmet would have probably survived had they worn one.
- Wear eye protection: face shield, goggles or sun glasses
- Wear protective clothing: full finger gloves, long pants, boots, and motorcycle jackets made of leather or other protective material. Some jackets have built-in padding and even body armor.
- Wear bright colors, even if it’s just your helmet
- Maintain your bike
- Be aware of road hazards like pot holes, loose gravel, wet pavement and animals
- Take a safety class
Second, don’t just pay attention. Be vigilant! Not everyone on the road is motorcycle conscious and not everyone out there is motorcycle friendly. Drive defensively and never assume other drivers notice or even see you. Remember, the widest part of you and your motorcycle is probably the handlebars. The most common comment made by drivers after a collision with a motorcycle is, “I didn’t see it.”
Finally, and it should go without saying, never ever ride after you’ve been drinking. Even a small lapse in reaction time or judgment can be disastrous – even fatal.
Motorcycles can be dangerous and are by design not as safe as being inside an automobile. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be a fun way to get around. Know the risks, protect yourself and always be alert and watchful. Like Steppenwolf song said, “Get your motor runnin’, head out on the highway!” And always, be careful out there.