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If the sunshine and warm weather are beckoning you to get out and hit the road, you aren’t the only one — plenty of people take advantage of the open road, including motorcycle riders. Unfortunately, summer also brings an increased number of collisions on the road, especially those involving two-wheeled vehicles.

According to the NHTSA Motorcycle Safety 5-Year Plan, motorcyclists accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 5,172 motorcyclists were killed in 2017 alone. The NHTSA also reports that 80 percent of all reported crashes result in injury or fatality for the motorcyclist.

Regardless if you ride a motorcycle daily or have never touched one in your life, it’s important to remember that safe driving involves everyone on the road. This comprehensive guide includes tips for both drivers and riders to share the road and stay safe.

illustrated table of contents for sharing the road

Car Accidents Do Not Compare to Motorcycle Accidents Motorist Awareness How to Drive Safely Around Motorcycles Surviving as a Motorcyclist

Car Accidents Do Not Compare to Motorcycle Accidents

There is no such thing as a small fender bender for a person on a motorcycle — something that causes a dent on your car could be horrible and even life-threatening for a rider. If a rider is sideswiped, it isn’t a door or fender that’s hit — it’s their arms and legs, completely exposed.

Most accidents involving motorcycles, especially multi-vehicle accidents, cause serious or fatal injuries to riders. As the driver of an automobile, it’s your responsibility to be cautious and do everything in your power to prevent motorcycle accidents.

Regardless of who is at fault, the person on the motorcycle always has the worse outcome.

Motorist Awareness: 9 Things Every Driver Should Know About Motorcycles

Motorcycles have just as much right to the roads as cars do and also have many of the same rules. No matter where you live, you’re bound to encounter them on the road. Read on to learn how motorcycles are different than your car, besides having half as many wheels.

illustrated icons of things to know about motorcycles

1. Motorcycles Behave Differently Than Cars

While it may sometimes look like a motorcycle rider is driving recklessly, most of the time they’re navigating road conditions that you might not be able to see or even aware of. A small pothole that a car can roll over without issue might cause a motorcycle to fall.

Tip: Be courteous, give motorcyclists a safe following distance and understand that road conditions impact bikes differently.

2. Motorcycles Sizes Make Them Easily Hidden

The small size of motorcycles allows them to be nimble and navigate between tight spaces, but also causes them to be easily hidden in your blind spots or behind bushes, trees or other objects in the background. Keeping your mirrors properly adjusted helps minimize your blind spots, but keep in mind that some blind spots may be in front of you.

Tip: Always turn your head to check behind you and take an extra moment to look before changing lanes or turning at intersections.

3. It’s Difficult to Gauge Motorcycle Distance

Another problem with motorcycle size is that it’s tough to tell how far away they are and how fast they’re going — if you see them at all. Remember that some motorcycles have two headlights in front, which can make them look like a car in the distance instead of a motorcycle that’s close, especially in the dark.

Tip: Before pulling out in front of a motorcycle, wait a moment to see if you can better gauge how far away it really is — if you’re really unsure, just wait for them to pass.

4. Weather Affects Motorcycles More Than Cars

Bad weather has a much greater impact on motorcycles than it does on cars. Slippery conditions, such as just after rain or snow starts and there is still oil and other fluid on the road, are intensified for two-wheeled vehicles.

Fewer wheels on wet roads means a smaller contact patch, which leads to even longer stopping distances and less maneuverability in a tight situation. High winds can also make it harder for riders to maintain control. Bad weather also affects the drivers of cars by limiting visibility and traction.

Tip: Drive with caution when traversing in bad weather and give a safe following distance to account for motorcyclists increased stopping distance.

5. Riding in the Dark Can Be Dangerous

chart of motorcycle fatalities by time of day

About 43 percent of motorcycle fatalities occur between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m. As a driver, make sure that you keep a safe following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you. Understand that motorcycles are already hard to see, and even harder to see at night.

Tip: Stay extra vigilant for motorcycles in the evening.

6. Motorcycles Are Entitled to Their Own Lane

Motorcycles are just as entitled to a lane as an SUV or a car. Trying to share a lane position with them is not only dangerous, but also illegal. Just because motorcycles can ride side-by-side in some states doesn’t mean that a car can too, so make sure to double-check your local traffic laws before getting on the road.

Tip: Give motorcycles room just like you would give another car.

7. Motorcycles Can Split Lanes in Some States

In 2016, California became the first and only state to legalize lane splitting, where motorcycles are allowed to ride between lanes of traffic to save time, reduce congestion and carbon emissions, and mitigate the risk of being rear-ended. Lane splitting isn’t restricted to highways either — motorcycles can split lanes throughout the state, and attempting to block them is illegal.

Tip: In California, check for oncoming motorcycles before switching lanes.

8. Intersections are Especially Dangerous for Motorcycles

34 percent of motorcycle crashes happened at intersections. T-bone accidents rarely end with everyone being okay, but T-bone accidents involving a motorcycle are almost always life-changing. Trying to make a left turn before the light turns red can kill a motorcyclist.

Tip: Check for motorcyclists before making left turns to avoid potential accidents.

9. Motorcycles Can Ride in HOV lanes

By federal law, motorcycles are allowed to ride in HOV lanes, even if they only have one passenger. This is because HOV lanes tend to be wider and move more than lanes with heavy traffic, making it safer for motorcycles to ride in them.

Tip: Be courteous in the HOV lane and keep a safe distance between you and the motorcycle.

How to Drive Safely Around Motorcycles

Cars are one of the biggest threats to a motorcyclist’s life when they’re out on the road. In fact, most motorcycle-related accidents normally occur when non-motorcycle drivers violate the motorcyclist’s right of way, according to the NHTSA and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

While modern cars have become cocoons of safety and entertainment equipment, motorcycles are largely unchanged. Keeping motorcyclists safe is just as much the responsibility of a car driver’s as it is the motorcyclist, so it can be helpful to learn a few extra tips for driving safely around them.

icons with tips for cars to share the road with motorcycles

Understand Your Size Difference

Like we’ve said earlier, motorcycles are much smaller than cars and can easily endanger a motorcyclists life. If a small pothole can cause a bike to fall or tip over, imagine the result if a large car makes impact with a motorcycle.

Tip: Educate yourself on the differences between motorcycles and cars so you can better understand how motorcycles move and operate.

Be Predictable

Predicting what other vehicles on the road are doing is especially crucial for motorcyclists. One of the biggest ways you can help them is by driving predictably. Don’t pull out into traffic suddenly or make any erratic lane changes.

Tip: Use your signal and turn your head when checking prepping to switch lanes or make a turn.

Check for Motorcyclists When Maneuvering the Road

Motorcycles are more easily lost in your blind spots compared to other vehicles. Since they have such a low profile and move around the road much more than cars, it can be really difficult to see them in your mirrors.

Most accidents happen at intersections because the driver didn’t see the other person coming.  In fact, 41 percent of two-vehicle fatal motorcycle accidents were the result of a car turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing or overtaking other vehicles. Give motorcycles extra space and time when making a turn across traffic.

Tip: Signal lane changes and double check your mirrors for motorcycles, especially in bad weather and low light conditions. You should also wait a moment to see how far away a motorcycle really is when pulling out of parking lots of driveways.

Be Sure About Their Signals

When you’re approaching a motorcycle with its turn signal on, wait a moment to see what it does. Unlike your car, the turn signals on a motorcycle aren’t usually self-cancelling, so they might be left on by a rider who is unaware that they’re still on.

Tip: Give the motorcyclist and yourself a bit of time to make sure that they’re actually going in the direction that they’re signaling.

Give Yourself Time to Stop

visualization of ideal car following distance

The brake lights on a motorcycle are small and many motorcyclists slow themselves down by downshifting and engine braking, so their brake lights might not even come on. In dry conditions motorcycles can also stop much more rapidly than cars.

Motorcycles are also already hard to see because of their size, so give yourself ample time to stop when you’re following them in-case you can’t see their signals.

Tip: Esurance recommends that you follow at least four seconds behind a motorcycle.

Surviving as a Motorcyclist

There’s no doubt about it, riding a motorcycle is dangerous. The number of motor vehicle crashes has increased 144 percent between 1997 and 2017. Here are a few tips to live by to reduce the chance of you becoming another statistic.

Being Ready to Ride a Motorcycle

Have a License

Of the motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes in 2017, 29 percent were riding without a valid motorcycle license. Even if you’re returning to riding after taking a long break, you’ve been riding motorcycles off-road for a while, or have never been on a motorcycle before, you need to have proper training before hitting the road.

Licensing regulations vary between states, but all of them require some sort of endorsement on your license that you get from taking a course. The Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators breaks down the licensing experience.

Practice Operating Your Motorcycle

Once you have your license, practice riding your motorcycle in a parking lot or open roads so that you can become more familiar with the controls, weight, and balance before you try to ride on busier roads or in traffic. Don’t learn on a motorcycle that’s too big or too powerful for your ability level.

If you’re a beginner, you WILL drop your motorcycle, so it’s better to start on something less expensive and smaller. Even if you’re an expert, practicing the basics in a parking lot will help you hone your skills — keep in mind that you’re never as good of a rider as you think you are.

Do a Pre-Ride Check

Before you go out on your motorcycle, make sure that it’s ready for the road by doing a pre-ride check. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s T-CLOCSsm checklist is a good guideline to follow when preparing to ride. A good pre-ride check might only take a few minutes and could save you from some severe consequences.

list of motorcycle parts to check pre ride

A short check should include:

  1. Tires. Check the tire pressure to make sure that they’re not over or underinflated, check the tread depth and make sure your tires aren’t excessively worn, and that the rims are in good shape.
  2. Brakes. Hop on your bike, hold the front and rear brakes and try to rock it back to make sure that your brakes and shocks are working.
  3. Controls. Turn the handlebars from lock to lock to make sure you have the full range of steering and that there aren’t any cables or wires that get caught, then make sure that your levers, turn signals, brake lights and headlights all work properly.
  4. Drivechain. Check your chain and gears by looking for any missing chain-links or any missing or malformed teeth in the gears. Also look for a worn or cracking belt.
  5. Fluids. It’s usually safe to assume that if you don’t see any leaks on the ground underneath your motorcycle that the fluids are still inside where they belong. However, it’s still a good idea to check the oil, coolant and brake fluids every so often.
  6. Frame. Look primarily for any cracks in the welds or lifting paint that might indicate damage or stress on the frame.

Wear your gear

Skidding across the pavement without the proper gear can be like skidding across a cheesegrater. Road rash hurts so protect your body’s largest organ by covering it up. Good gear will save your life in a crash.

Wear a full motorcycle jacket, pants, gloves, boots and a helmet. Helmets are critically important and riding without one is irresponsible. 802 lives would have been saved in 2016 if motorcyclists were wearing helmets. Remember A.T.G.A.T.T. — all the gear, all the time!

Riding Responsibly

Lane splitting

list of motorcycle tips for splitting lanes

Be cautious when splitting lanes. Look for gaps in the traffic where cars might be able to change lanes. The lines of paint in between lanes dramatically reduce your traction. Cover your brakes and your horn to be able to stop quickly or get a driver’s attention when you need to.

When you stop at an intersection, stop within the driver’s field of view. Be extra aware of blind spots and look out for aggressive drivers who might try to block you or open their doors.

Alcohol

Having a drink or two at your local biker bar might sound like a good time after a long day on your hog, but in reality it’s a recipe for disaster. A staggering 40 percent of motorcycle drivers who were killed in an accident had alcohol in their system. Additionally, 49 percent of all fatal motorcycle accidents occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. had a blood-alcohol level (BAC) at or above 0.08 percent.

Be Seen

Since it’s difficult for cars to see motorcycles, it’s important for riders to do everything in their power to be visible. High visibility gear might not be your first choice for fashion, but the bright orange and yellow naturally grab our eye’s attention.

Ride with your lights on so that drivers can see you and even consider adding extra lights. Reflective tape or riding a brightly colored motorcycle can help, and consider using your horn to get driver’s attention instead of relying on the old idea of “loud pipes save lives.”

Always Look

When you’re riding a motorcycle at highway speed, you’re traveling at over 100 feet per second, leaving you little time to react if you’re not paying attention to your surroundings. Look much further down the road than you would in a car so that you can see potential obstacles and threats early.

Looking further down the road gives you more time to make adjustments for things like oil, potholes, debris and distracted drivers. Also look through your turns so that you see obstacles and spot where you want to go.

Slow Down and Back Off

Ride within your ability level — 32 percent of motorcycle riders on average are killed from excessive speed. There’s a big difference between hitting a stationary object like a tree at 40mph and then at 60mph, and that difference could decide if you live or die in the event of a crash. Don’t disadvantage yourself by riding too fast or too close to other vehicles and limit your ability to see around them and what’s coming in the road.

Be Cautious at Night

icon list of safety tips for night riding

36 percent of motorcycle accidents occur when it’s dark. The easiest way to mitigate this risk is by limiting the amount of riding you do at night. If you do have to ride at night, make sure you’re sober, reduce your speed so you don’t outride your headlights, and always ride with your lights. Wear bright colors and reflective gear when riding at night to increase your visibility to other vehicles.

Resources for Riders

It’s important to understand all safety practices as a rider. There are many organizations, associations and government entities that are committed to educating riders and drivers about the ways everyone can stay safe on the road.

illustrated books that are resources for riders

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) National Safety Council (NSC) American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Federal Highway Administration (FHA) National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators (SMSA) Image Map

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

The NHTSA website offers safety guidelines for riders and offers educational and informational resources about motorcycle safety.

Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF)

The MSF developed the comprehensive, research-based, Rider Education and Training System (RETS). They offer numerous safety guides and resource for riders and advocates on behalf of riders to raise awareness of the motorcycle community.

National Safety Council (NSC)

The NSC offers several safetying training courses including training for motorcycles.

American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)

AMA has a database of the laws in all states associated with motorcycles and advocates on behalf of riders around the world. They also offer a variety of tips and resources for all riders, including those who participate in competitions and those who enjoy riding for pleasure in their free time.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC has a comprehensive motorcycle safety guide and other resources available for riders.

Federal Highway Administration

The FHA conducts research and works towards ways to make roadways safe for motorcycles. They also periodically release data on motorcycle-related statistics to inform the public about the causes of accidents and how the drivers and riders can prevent them in the future.

National Association of State Motorcycle Safety Administrators (SMSA)

The SMSA houses a collection of motorcycle safety resources and documents on their site. They also implement motorcycle safety programs to increase rider safety.

Ride and Drive Safe

Whether you’re ready to go on a road trip with you and your friends in a 12-passenger van or take a solo adventure in a motorcycle, safety should be at the utmost importance for all drivers. Blind spot monitoring, front-end collision avoidance systems, and even some self-driving features are changing the way we get around, but are no replacement for basic safety practices.

Staying safe on the road as a rider or driver is the best way to make any road trip experience enjoyable for everyone. Double-check that the type of car you rent is the best choice in terms of safety and comfortability for the type of trip you’re planning to take.