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Motorcyclist Safety Tips

A motorcyclist should attend a motorcycle rider-training course to learn how to safely and skillfully operate a motorcycle. A motorcyclist has to be more careful and aware at intersections, where most motorcycle -vehicle collisions occur. Motorcyclists must remain visible to other motorists at all times. Don't ride in a car's "No Zone" (blind spot). Anticipate what may happen more than other vehicle drivers may. For example, anticipate that drivers backing their cars out of driveways may not see you; and place greater emphasis on defensive driving. Motorcyclists also must be more cautious when riding in inclement weather, on slippery surfaces, or when encountering obstacles on the roadway. They must place greater reliance on their helmet, the severity of injury should they become involved in a crash. Approximately half of all fatal single-vehicle motorcycle crashes involve alcohol. A motorcycle requires more skill and coordination to operate than a car. Riding a motorcycle while under the influence of any amount of alcohol significantly decreases an operator's ability to operate the motorcycle safely. An estimated 33 percent of motorcycle operators killed in traffic crashes are not licensed or are improperly licensed to operate a motorcycle. By not obtaining a motorcycle operator license, riders are bypassing the only method they and state licensing agencies have to ensure they have the knowledge and skill needed to safely and skillfully operate a motorcycle.

Wear the right shoes, gloves and clothing.

Thick, protective garb not only provides comfort against the elements, but also may be all there is between you and the pavement in a crash.

  • Remember that a motorcyclist must abide by the same traffic rules and regulations as other motorists. Before taking your motorcycle on a public road, become familiar with traffic rules and regulations and any special requirements for motorcycles.
  • Be aware that riding with a passenger requires even more skill than riding alone. Riding with a passenger should be delayed until you have considerable solo riding time and are ready to take on the responsibility of carrying a passenger.
  • Obtain your learner permit or motorcycle endorsement on your driver license before you venture onto the streets. You will be required to display the knowledge and skill needed to operate a motorcycle safely before being issued a motorcycle operator's license. Never drink and ride. Alcohol slows reflexes and greatly limits your ability to operate a motorcycle. Even a very small amount of alcohol can reduce your ability to operate a motorcycle safely.


Protective Clothing and Equipment

Studies show that the head, arms and legs are most often injured in a crash. Protective clothing and equipment serve a three-fold purpose for motorcyclists: comfort and protection from the elements; some measure of injury protection; and through use of color or reflective material, a means for other motorists to see the motorcyclist.

Helmet: This is the most important piece of equipment. Safety helmets save lives by reducing the extent of head injuries in the event of a crash. Many good helmets are available. Make sure it fits comfortably and snugly, and is fastened for the ride. In choosing a helmet, look for the Department of Transportation (DOT) label on the helmet. The DOT label on helmets constitutes the manufacturer's certification that the helmet conforms to the federal standard. Passengers should also wear a helmet.

Eye Protection: Since many motorcycles don't have windshields, riders must protect their eyes against insects, dirt, rocks or other airborne matter. Even the wind can cause the eyes to tear and blur vision, and good vision is imperative when riding. Choose good quality goggles, glasses with plastic or safety lenses, or a helmet equipped with a face shield. Goggles, glasses, and face shields should be scratch free, shatter proof, and well ventilated to prevent fog buildup. Only clear shields should be used at night since tinted shields reduce contrast and make it more difficult to see. Even if your motorcycle has a windshield, eye protection is recommended.

Jackets and Trousers: Clothing worn when riding a motorcycle should provide some measure of protection from abrasion in the event of a spill. These should be of durable material (e.g., special synthetic material or leather). Jackets should have long sleeves. Trousers (not shorts) should not be baggy or flared at the bottom to prevent entanglement with the chain, kick starter, foot- pegs, or other protrusions on the sides of a motorcycle.

Gloves: Durable gloves are recommended. They should be of the non-slip type to permit a firm grip on the controls. Leather gloves are excellent, as are special fabric gloves with leather palms and grip strips on the fingers. Gauntlet-type gloves keep air out of the rider's sleeves. Appropriate gloves are available for all types of weather.

Footwear: Proper footwear affords protection for the feet, ankles, and lower parts of the legs. Leather boots are best. Durable athletic shoes that cover the ankles are a good second choice. Sandals, sneakers, and similar footwear should not be used since they provide little protection from abrasion or a crushing impact. Avoid dangling laces that can get in the way.

Note: Upper body clothing should be brightly colored. Some riders wear lightweight reflective orange or yellow vests over their jackets. Retro-reflective material used on clothing, helmet, and the motorcycle helps to make the rider visible to other motorists, especially at night. A high percentage of car-vehicle crashes occur because the driver of the other vehicle "failed to see the rider in time to avoid the crash."

Read your owner's manual thoroughly.

Use it to get familiar with your motorcycle. Attend a motorcycle rider-training course. It is the best way to learn how to operate a motorcycle safely and skillfully. Rider- training classes provide unique knowledge and skills that you may not learn if a friend teaches you how to ride.

Follow these rules:

  • Treat other motorists with courtesy and respect.
  • Avoid tailgating.
  • Avoid riding between lanes of slow moving or stopped traffic.
  • Know and obey traffic laws, including ordinances in your community.
  • Avoid excessive noise by leaving the stock muffler in place or using a muffler of equivalent noise reduction.
  • Use signals when appropriate.

Be Courteous

The practices of some riders are offensive to other motorists (e.g., weaving in and out of stalled traffic, riding on shoulders). Being inconsiderate of other motorists creates a negative image for all riders, and can cause crashes.

Drive Defensively

  • Be especially alert at intersections because approximately 70 percent of motorcycle-vehicle collisions occur there! Watch for vehicles that may unexpectedly turn in front of you or pull out from a side street or driveway. At intersections where vision is limited by shrubbery, parked vehicles, or buildings, slow down, make doubly sure of traffic, and be prepared to react quickly.
  • Check the rearview mirrors before changing lanes or stopping. A quick stop without checking rear traffic may result in a rear-end crash. When changing lanes, use signals and make a visual check to assure that you can change lanes safely.
  • Watch the road surface and traffic ahead to anticipate problems and road hazards. Road hazards that are minor irritations for an automobile can be a major hazard for a rider. Hazards include potholes, oil slicks, puddles, debris or other objects on the roadway, ruts, uneven pavement, and railroad tracks. Painted roadway markings and manhole covers can be extremely slippery when wet. Go around most hazards. To do so safely, you must be able to spot such hazards from a distance. Slow down before reaching the obstacle and make sure you have enough room before changing direction. Railroad tracks should be crossed at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible.
  • Experienced motorcyclists often have this advice for new riders: "Assume that you are invisible to other motorists and operate your motorcycle accordingly." Position yourself to be seen. Ride in the portion of the lane where it is most likely that you will be seen by other motorists. Avoid the car's "No Zone" (i.e., blind spot). Use your headlights, day and night. All motor vehicles have blind spots where other vehicles cannot be seen with mirrors.

These blind spots are to the left and right rear of the vehicle. Do not linger in motorists' blind spot. Wear brightly colored, preferably fluorescent, clothing. Use retro-reflective materials on clothing and motorcycle, especially at night. Maintain a safe speed consistent with driving conditions and your capabilities. Gravel on the road and slippery road surfaces can be hazardous. Avoid sudden braking or turning.

When riding in the rain, riders find they get better traction by driving in the tracks of vehicles in front of them. But avoid following too closely, and riding on painted lines and metal surfaces such as manhole covers because they offer less traction. If caught in a sudden shower while riding, pull off the highway under some shelter (e.g., overpass) and wait for the rain to stop. If you must ride in the rain, remember that conditions are most dangerous during the first few minutes of rainfall because of oil and other automobile droppings on the roadway. If possible, sit out the beginning of a rain shower.

Don't tailgate, and don't let other drivers tailgate you. Following too closely behind another vehicle may make it difficult for you to brake suddenly. Further, you won't have time to avoid road hazards and traffic situations ahead. If another vehicle is following too closely, wave it off with a hand signal or tap your brake pedal. If they continue to follow too closely, change lanes or pull off the road, and let them pass.

Pass only when it is safe to do so. Do not pass or ride on the shoulder. Pull over to the left third of the lane before passing and make sure that you are at a safe following distance. Use turn signals, and avoid crowding the other vehicle as you pass. Remember to make a head check before changing lanes.

Use brakes wisely. Use both brakes together. Brake firmly and progressively and bring the motorcycle upright before stopping. Remember that driving through water can adversely affect the brakes. After passing through water, look for following traffic, and when safe to do so check your brakes by applying light pressure.

Dogs can be a problem for riders. Don't become distracted and don't kick at a dog. As you approach a dog, downshift, when you reach the dog, accelerate quickly away.

Carry the owner's manual and recommended tools and spare parts on your motorcycle. Adhere closely to the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule. Before each day's riding, perform a visual and operational check of the motorcycle and its operating systems. Check lights, turn signals, tires, brakes, fuel and oil levels, mirrors, and control cables. Replace broken, worn or frayed cables at once. Lubricate and adjust your chain as prescribed in your owner's manual.

Riders must ride aware, know their limits and ride within them. They must also be aware of and understand their motorcycle's limitations and the environment in which they ride.