Sharing The Road With Motorcycles

Motorcycle use is continuing to climb and so are rider crashes. There are now over 4 million motorcycles registered in the U.S. and that number is increasing. The attraction of riding a motorcycle is due to many factors, including decreased operating cost, ease of maneuverability, and the pure pleasure of riding a bike.

However, riding a motorcycle continues to be more dangerous than driving in a car, for many obvious reasons. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), while the fatal crash rate for cars is 13.10 out of 100,000 cars, for motorcycles it was a whopping 72.34 fatal crashes per 100,000 motorcycles. In other words, per vehicle mile traveled the risk of a fatal crash is 35 times as great for motorcyclists.

A key statistic is that according to the Hurt Report (1981), 75% of motorcycle crashes involve a passenger vehicle while only 25% were single vehicle crashes. Let’s look at a few of the findings from this report:

  • 75% of motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle.
  • Motorcycle rider gear significantly mitigated injury during a crash.
  • In single vehicle crashes, rider error was the main factor in two-thirds of collisions.
  • Vehicle failure and weather played a minor role in motorcycle crashes.
  • “The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents…”

Motorists can’t affect the gear a motorcycle rider wears or the skill which they ride their bike. However, given that the statistics around motorcycles are fairly grim and often involve another vehicle, lets look at some ways as motorists we can be safer when sharing the road with motorcycles:

  • Minimize your blind spot by adjusting your mirrors properly. Having properly adjusted mirrors is even more important when traffic includes motorcycles as they have a much smaller profile than the typical car. Given the smaller profile of a motorcycle, proper mirror adjustment becomes even more critical.
  • Motorcycles can ride in either side of a lane. Due to their size, there is effectively 2 “motorcycle lanes” in each road lane and motorcycles typically ride in one of these two “lanes”. Motorists should realize that a motorcycle can be closer than another car, requiring them to stay toward the middle of their lane when around motorcycles.
  • In most states it is legal for motorcyclists to ride two abreast. These motorcycles are not only closer to the surrounding traffic, but literally have limited ability to move toward the center of their lane in an emergency.
  • Motorcycles can start, stop, and turn much quicker than a car. Leave motorcycles additional room so that in an emergency the driver of the car has enough time to react to the quicker maneuvers of a motorcycle.
  • In some states, notably California, it is legal for motorcycles to ride between cars on the freeways. Motorists must take extra care to monitor their mirrors and leave extra room when seeing a motorcycle approach in traffic. Motorcyclists will often take advantage of this maneuver, putting an additional burden on motorists to monitor their mirrors more closely.

The use of motorcycles is on the rise and we’ll be continuing to see more of them on the streets. Please be aware that sharing the road with motorcycles can be made safer by following a few common sense ideas from this article.

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