Motorcycle riding can be fun and exciting, feeling the wind in your hair and enjoying the freedom of the open road. But it also carries more risk than riding in a passenger vehicle like a car – motorcycle riders have an 80 percent chance of injury or death in the event of a crash, as opposed to 20 percent for those in car accidents. It’s important to understand that motorcycles lack many safety measures that cars have, like seatbelts, airbags, or even the sturdy metal of the car’s body surrounding the occupants. For this reason, you are more likely to suffer serious injury in a motorcycle wreck.
But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on riding your bike. Taking proper safety precautions can reduce your risk of accidents and injuries. Here are some ways to stay safe while riding a motorcycle:
South Carolina does not require motorcyclists to complete a safety course before getting a motorcycle license, except in cases where the motorist has failed the motorcycle road test three times. Instead, the SCDMV recommends reading the Motorcycle and Moped Operator’s Manual. However, safety courses can be beneficial for anyone who wants to protect themselves while riding a bike. Even if you believe you’re already riding safely, the fact remains that you can’t control what other drivers do on the road. And you, as a motorcycle rider, are more likely to be seriously harmed by another driver’s errors in judgment. A motorcycle safety course can help you anticipate unexpected situations that may come up with other vehicles, and learn to drive defensively in these circumstances.
If you’re not a beginner, consider an advanced riding course. This will help you work on more skilled techniques, like maneuvering to avoid collisions, control tips, and braking practices.
One of the best things you can do to keep yourself safe on your bike is to always wear a helmet. Multiple studies have shown that helmets reduce the risk of death in a motorcycle accident by 42 percent, and the risk of head injury by 69 percent. South Carolina law only requires a helmet (and eye protection) for riders younger than 21. However, it is in your best interest to protect your head and eyes regardless of your age, to prevent injuries like concussions and traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be very serious and may result in a wide range of symptoms, including pain, difficulty with memory and cognition, changes in mood, sleep issues, anxiety or depression, confusion, seizures, vertigo, problems with vision or hearing, and other neurological issues. Sometimes these symptoms can be treated successfully with medication, physical or occupational therapy, or other interventions, but in some cases, they may become permanent. Because TBI is commonly caused by a hard blow to the head, wearing a helmet is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risk if you are thrown from your motorcycle.
What kind of gear should you get? Look for Department of Transportation or DOT-approved protective wear, including helmets and goggles (some helmets come with built-in eye protection), jackets, and pants made out of leather or other heavy, insulating materials, over-the-ankle boots with non-slip soles, and non-slip, full-fingered gloves. Jackets should have built-in chest and back protectors, as well as guards for your wrists and elbows, and these should be sewn into place so they can’t move in an accident. Gloves with “palm sliders” can protect your hands if you’re thrown from your bike and need to put your hands out in an effort to stop your fall. Protective clothing items should be weatherproof and allow you freedom of movement.
Make sure that everything fits correctly, especially your helmet – shake your head to ensure it doesn’t rotate. If it does, you likely need a smaller size. Also, check to be sure the helmet doesn’t block your peripheral vision. A full-face helmet with built-in eye protection is preferred, but if you opt for a half-face helmet, make sure you get eyewear with safety ratings from ANSI, CE, or MILspec.
Before getting started, it’s a good idea to walk around your bike and make sure everything looks right and is functioning normally, including checking your lights and horn. Also, check on your tire pressure, fuel levels, turn signals, brakes, mirrors, oil, and handlebars. Sometimes even small issues can lead to an accident once you’ve got going, especially at higher speeds. If you find any problems, take care of them before riding your bike again.
This is true of driving a car, too, but it’s actually even more problematic with a motorcycle, as bike riding requires more coordination, which can be affected by alcohol. In fact, the NHTSA found that around 43 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes involved alcohol. If you’re going to be drinking, consider taking a rideshare instead of your bike, or arrange for someone to be a designated driver.
This is another tip that may seem a little obvious, but the fact remains that disobeying traffic laws is a major cause of motorcycle accidents. Speeding, for example, is a leading factor in automotive accidents in general, and in particular, for motorcycle accidents. In 2019, a full third of motorcyclists in fatal crashes were found to be speeding at the time of the accident. This is an especially big problem for younger riders – a full half of those between the ages of 21 and 24 who were killed in motorcycle crashes were speeding. Slowing down both reduces your risk of an accident, and also reduces your chances of injury and death if you do get into a crash.
Other important rules of the road include always using your turning signals, obeying traffic signs and signals, and yielding when required.
One very common type of motorcycle accident that we see a lot is a T-bone crash, where a larger vehicle like a car attempts to make a left turn in front of the motorcycle, causing the bike to hit the car. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as the driver looking at their phone or ignoring a traffic signal. However, one thing that comes up a lot is the phrase, “I just didn’t see the motorcycle.” While motorists should always look carefully in both directions before turning, it’s still important for the bike rider to be as visible as possible. Due to the smaller size of bikes, they can be very easy to miss, even when the other driver takes a good look in the motorcycle’s direction. This can be an even bigger problem in low-visibility situations like gray or cloudy days, foggy or rainy weather, or even on stretches of road with a lot of trees or other landmarks that may block the view.
It’s recommended that you always ride with your lights on, even if it’s daytime. Wearing bright or reflective clothing is also a good idea, so you will be visible even if your bike isn’t. Some motorcycle accessory stores offer reflective or bright riding accessories for your bike as well. Again, using your turn signals or hand signals can also add to your visibility.
As far as left-turn collisions go, in addition to making yourself as visible as possible, you should always be alert when approaching intersections or anywhere a car might turn from (such as a parking lot). Be ready to take evasive maneuvers if, for whatever reason, a car driver still doesn’t see you and turns in front of your bike.
If you’re used to driving a car, you may think that things like potholes, loose gravel, or oil slicks on the road are minor annoyances at most. In a car, these hazards are unlikely to pose a major threat. But remember that motorcycles are small and much easier to destabilize than larger passenger vehicles. A pothole that causes you to grimace and mumble something about the city’s road maintenance efforts while in your car could cause an accident if you’re on a bike instead. Even small amounts of gravel or spilled oil or other fluids in the road can be similarly dangerous. Railroad tracks may also be problematic, especially if you go over them at higher speeds. The best solution is to keep your eyes on the road and make note of any potential hazards, even small ones. When you see them, slow down and navigate around them carefully if you can.
Allowing a safe following distance of at least four seconds will give you more time to stop or slow down if anything unexpected happens. You never know when the driver in front of you is going to stop suddenly. It’s also helpful to think about where you can move if something happens and you can’t stop in time – for example, moving to the shoulder to avoid a collision.
This is the practice of zipping between rows of cars that are moving slowly or not at all. It can be tempting, knowing that a motorcycle can easily go between rows of vehicles, allowing you to skip past the traffic jam. But it also increases your risk of an accident, as the other drivers aren’t expecting a bike to be in between the lanes. Additionally, you’ll find you have very little space to maneuver in this situation. It’s also illegal in South Carolina and you can get a ticket if caught.
However, it is legal for two motorcycles to ride next to each other in the same lane, which is also considered lane splitting. This presents less of a problem for other drivers, but can still reduce your ability to maneuver if necessary, so it’s better to avoid this practice as well.
Like road hazards, poor weather conditions are also more problematic for motorcycle riders. Rain, snow, and sleet can all cause slick road situations that might be irritating for a car driver, but could easily destabilize an entire motorcycle in a hurry. Fog is also very dangerous for bikers, as it makes you even harder to see. If at all possible, consider rescheduling your ride when the weather is going to be bad. If you have to be somewhere and have access to a car, it might be better to leave your bike at home when the weather is foul.
In case you do take a spill on your bike, it’s always a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand. This should provide bandages, hand sanitizer, gauze, adhesive tape, and disinfectant wipes. Try to keep your phone handy in case you need to call 911 – some riders use bike helmets with a Bluetooth interface, so they can make calls even if they can’t reach their phone.
If you do have an accident, first check yourself for injuries and call an ambulance if needed. Then, if you’re able to get up, see if you can move your bike out of the roadway (if it landed in the roadway). If you had a collision with another vehicle, exchange contact and insurance info with the other driver while you wait for the police to arrive and make a report. Take pictures of any damage to your bike and the other driver’s vehicle to document what happened, and look around to see if there were any witnesses. If so, try to get their names and contact info in case you need it later.
If you or a loved one have been hurt in a motorcycle accident, don’t wait – please contact Auger and Auger for a free consultation. We’re happy to review your case and explain your options for seeking damages. Call 855-969-5671 or contact us online today.