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Motorcycle safety: Tips for bikers and motorists

A person riding a motorcycle on a country road on a sunny day.

May 4, 2019—Motorcycle riders are tragically overrepresented in fatal traffic crashes. They're 27 times more likely to die in a crash than those in other vehicles. They're also five times more likely to be injured.

Reducing this toll is a two-way street, however. Both motorists and motorcyclists contribute to crashes, with motorists at fault in more than half of all crashes involving motorcycles. For example, drivers may not anticipate a motorcycle rider's movements. And motorbike riders may not make themselves visible enough to drivers of cars.

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. And there's no better time for motorcyclists and motorists to help make sure everyone stays safe on the road.

What can motorists do?

Check your mirrors carefully before changing lanes. Motorcycles may be hard to see because of their smaller size or because they may slip into your blind spot.

Give motorcyclists enough room to maneuver or stop suddenly. Follow three to four seconds behind them. That's especially important in areas with potholes, pavement seams, slippery surfaces or railroad crossings. Motorcyclists may need to suddenly change their speed or adjust their position in these conditions.

Share the road—not the lane. It may seem as if there's enough room to share a single lane with a motorcycle, but that assumption is dangerous.

Make your intentions known. Always signal before switching lanes or merging with traffic so motorcyclists can find a safe lane position.

What can motorcyclists do?

Sign up for a motorcycle safety course. That's a must if you're a new driver. Even if you've been safely riding a bike for years, you can still benefit from a refresher course.

Always wear a helmet. It's the most important safety equipment you can have. Look for one with a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) sticker—it guarantees the helmet meets safety standards required by law.

Protect your whole body. Your arms and legs should be completely covered, ideally by wearing leather or denim. Boots and gloves will give you a better grip for steering. Be sure your boots or shoes are high enough to cover your ankles.

Don't speed—and be courteous. Never weave in and out of lanes or between them. Don't ride on the shoulder either.

Drive defensively. Most crashes occur when other drivers don't see you. So proceed cautiously at intersections, and yield to other vehicles when appropriate.

Make yourself as visible as possible.. Wear bright or reflective clothing, and use headlights day and night.

Choose a bike that fits you. And be aware that supersport bikes have death rates about four times higher than standard ones.

Watch for road hazards. On the list: Potholes, manhole covers, oil slicks, railroad tracks and gravel.

Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; National Safety Council

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