May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. This is an ideal time for drivers of full-sized vehicles to review ways they can stay alert to the potential presence of motorcyclists on the road. Motorcyclists should wear full-coverage DOT-approved helmets for the best protection. Motorcycle gloves, long-sleeved clothing made from abrasive-resistant materials, and boots that cover the ankle should also be standard equipment according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).
All motorcyclists must take a special riding education class and pass a written and riding test to receive a license separate from their regular driver's license. However, even the most thoroughly prepared rider depends on drivers around them to ensure a safe trip.
As the seasons change, it's important for drivers to be aware of motorcyclists. In areas of the country where harsh winter weather keeps motorcyclists off the road, the change to warmer Spring temperatures means drivers must pay special attention to the potential presence of motorcycles.
Given the relatively uncommon status of motorcycles vs cars on the road, it can become easy for a driver to "pattern match" vehicle silhouettes when quickly looking for other vehicles. Stop, slow down, and remind yourself to look closely for smaller vehicles like motorcycles and scooters. -Joel Ohman, founder of Car Insurance Comparison
For motorcyclists, even a minor accident can be catastrophic. They sustain serious injuries more than 35 times as often as the driver of a full-sized vehicle. For every mile traveled, motorcyclists are 27 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash, and 5 times more likely to have injuries related to the crash.
12 Ways to Help Motorcyclists Stay Safe on the Road
1. Drivers should stow their cell phones in the glove compartment to eliminate distractions. It's crucial to communicate this rule to teen drivers and follow up by understanding when they don't immediately answer a call or text. According to NHTSA-funded research, drivers of passenger vehicles are distracted more than half the time.
2. Only drive when sober and alert.
"Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) puts both motorcyclists and other vehicles at risk for serious consequences. Alcohol is the biggest factor in motorcycle-related fatalities." -Lauren Sandford, Consumer Advocate, ConsumerSafety.org
3. Encourage passengers to alert drivers to the presence of motorcycles. It's important for everyone in the car to watch for things that a driver may not see. A passenger in the front or back seat has a different range of vision than the driver and could prevent an accident by speaking up.
4. It's easy to misjudge a motorcycle's speed and distance. Give them extra room and extra time. Most motorcycle accidents happen from automobiles rear-ending motorcycles. For automobiles, this could result in a minor fender bender, but for motorcycles, this can be fatal. The best thing any driver can do to prevent motorcycle accidents is to be more aware of their surroundings. No matter if that is braking in traffic or changing lanes, motorcycles are most vulnerable when you're not aware of them, said Darwin Stephenson, motorcycle enthusiast and safety advocate.
5. Make sure mirrors are in the proper position when entering a vehicle as the driver. Check blind spots with mirrors and by physically turning around before changing lanes. While this is an important habit to cultivate for drivers, it's especially crucial during times when there could be a motorcycle in the vehicle's blind spot.
6. Talk with young and inexperienced drivers about being aware of the presence of motorcycles. Make sure they understand that a fender bender for them could be fatal for someone riding a motorcycle or scooter.
7. Use caution when opening the door to exit a parked car, especially in areas with heavy traffic. Always look behind the car before opening a door.
8. Slow down when going through intersections. One of the leading causes of collisions with vehicles and motorcycles is the driver failing to notice the presence of a motorcycle at an intersection.
9. Use special caution in areas with road construction. Motorcyclists can't navigate road hazards as easily as full-sized vehicles. A small change in the grade of a road or a sudden stop can throw a motorcyclist.
10. Don't rely on a motorcycle's turn signals. Like cars, sunlight at the right angle can render turn signals invisible. Motorcyclists may inadvertently leave their signal on or neglect to use turn signals, as well.
11. Keep the volume turned down. A driver may be able to hear a motorcycle even if they can't see it. When driving with the volume up, the driver loses the advantage of being able to hear what's going on outside of the vehicle. Approaching motorcycles in the car's blind spot, sirens, or warnings from passengers go unnoticed when onboard entertainment volume overwhelms noises outside.
12. Provide safe space during inclement weather. And remember that motorcyclists get caught in inclement weather, too. They have a tougher time handling the oil and debris on pavement during rainstorms, so give them extra room to maneuver. Follow at a further distance to make sure it's possible to maintain a cushion of space.
Raising awareness of the presence of motorcyclists on the road is crucial for everyone's safety. The NHTSA has several campaigns designed to support and educate drivers of vehicles and motorcycles. Stop Impaired Riding and Share the Road are excellent sources of information for new drivers.