When the snow and ice begin to clear and the sun finally starts to warm the air, everyone gets a little excited. We all look forward to blue skies, fair weather, and all the fun outdoor activities of spring and summer. For some, the ideal warm day is spent at the beach, for others it’s an opportunity to lounge around the pool and spend the afternoon reading, but few people get more excited for warmer weather than those who ride motorcycles.
Motorcyclists sometimes get a bit of a bad reputation. Pedestrians and drivers of passenger vehicles alike often see them as dangerous hooligans who have no respect for the road or their own safety. In reality, most motorcyclists are actually very safety conscious. They’ve been required to complete safety training and licensing programs to make sure they can operate a bike safely, and part of the purpose of these programs is to make the risks of riding a motorcycle abundantly clear to all participants.
Most motorcyclists take all the required precautions every time they ride. They wear helmets and appropriate riding gear, use their blinkers to signal turns or lane changes, and steer clear of dangerous riding practices, like lane splitting or doing wheelies on the highway. Unfortunately, the actions of a few bad motorcyclists have contributed to giving all of them a bad reputation with commuters and everyday drivers.
The thing is, most people who have never ridden a motorcycle have no idea what they are and are not capable of, or even how they differ from a sedan, SUV, or pickup truck. As the driver of a passenger vehicle, or even a tractor-trailer, it’s a good idea to develop a working knowledge of motorcycles and their capabilities, so that you can do your part to help them and yourself stay out of a motorcycle accident.
Motorcycle Accidents-What the Research Says
Surprisingly, not a lot of research has been conducted on motorcycle accidents, at least not compared to the amount of research that’s been performed on car accidents. The most prolific study on the matter was conducted in 1981 in the city of Los Angeles, California. Called the Hurt Report, the study focused primarily on accidents that involved a motorcyclist and at least one passenger vehicle.
The results of this study gave us a very revealing glance into how so many motorcycle accidents happen. In fact, two-thirds of the accidents investigated in the report were caused by the driver of the passenger vehicle failing to give the appropriate right of way to the motorcyclist. Since the time the Hurt Report was published, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been keeping track of the numbers, and from that you can see that the statistics concerning motorcycle accidents really haven’t changed much since the early 80’s.
Motorcyclists are killed by drivers of cars and trucks all the time, and many of these deaths are the result of the driver of the car simply “not seeing” the motorcycle rider. The good news is that accidents like this can easily be prevented with a little common sense and vigilance on the part of all drivers on the road. So ask yourself this question: do you know the best practices for driving near motorcyclists?
Tips on Avoiding Motorcycle Accidents
It goes without saying that the most important thing to do while you’re driving is to remain aware of your surroundings. Use your senses, sight and sound, to make sure you aren’t following a bike too closely, drifting into their lane, or about to change lanes on top of them. Blind spots can be one of the biggest downfalls for drivers, so it’s essential that you check them by looking into your mirrors and quickly glancing over your shoulder. That way, you can be absolutely certain that the action you’re about to take isn’t going to put you or anyone else at risk.
Aside from being observant, there are several other tips that can help you have a greater understanding of what it means to be a motorcyclist and develop a greater knowledge of the challenges motorcyclists face on our roads every day:
- Obviously motorcycles are smaller than cars. This simple fact can make it hard for the driver of a passenger vehicle to determine just how close they are to a bike. Its size could make it appear to be farther away, when in reality it’s closer than you think. Double check and watch the motorcyclist closely to determine the true distance between you and them.
- Because they’re so small compared to a car, motorcycles can easily hide out in a driver’s blind spots. They can also be hidden from view by road signs, mirrors, or the roof pillars that hold your vehicle together. Always check twice to avoid changing lanes on top of a motorcycle.
- One of the biggest attractions people have to motorcycles is their maneuverability. They’re smaller and, in some instances, that makes them easier to handle in a car. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that they can react any faster than you can. Don’t expect a motorcycle to be able to dodge an obstacle or a pothole any better than the driver of a car would.
- Sometimes motorcyclists change lanes more frequently than cars do. In most cases, this isn’t because they’re trying to show off or act foolishly, they’re actually much more likely to be changing lanes often to adjust for weather conditions, road debris, or to position themselves in a place where they are clearly visible to other drivers.
- Motorcycles operate off of a manual gearbox, just like a manual car does. This means they can make use of engine breaking, which is when they slow their speed by shifting the bike to a lower gear. Remember though, this kind of breaking does not activate the brake lights, so be sure to leave extra following distance when behind a bike and try to keep an eye on their speed fluctuations.
- In most conditions, a motorcycle is able to stop in about the same stretch of road that a car can. In rainy conditions however, their ability to stop is much worse. Fewer and smaller tires gives them less surface area and that means less traction when braking. If the weather is bad, give the motorcyclist ahead of you plenty of space to react.
- Part of the great thing about turn signals in a car is that they are self-cancelling, meaning they go off automatically after you have completed a turn of a certain degree. This isn’t how motorcycle blinkers work though, so you may occasionally see a motorcyclist driving with their turn signals on for a prolonged period of time, especially if they are new to the world of motorcycle riding.
- Don’t assume that every motorcycle rider is a speed demon. Remember, their size puts a skew on your frame of reference. Many times, they’re actually going slower than it looks like they are to you.
- Sometimes people who like to ride bikes like to ride them together, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most people get annoyed when they come across a large group of motorcycles in a pack, but they don’t realize that it’s no different then when a group of cars is driving together in traffic. If you do come across a group of bikers, don’t try to merge into the middle of the group, as it creates a dangerous situation for yourself and all of the motorcyclists.
- Perhaps the most important tip is, be cautious. We’ve stressed the importance of being aware of your surroundings, but few people realize how quickly a simple distraction can turn into a life-altering accident with catastrophic injuries.
When it comes down to it, a motorcycle is no different than a car or a big rig or any other vehicle on the road. The people driving them are normal people, just like yourself. They have families, they go to work, and they like to enjoy themselves. So the moral of the story is, take care when you’re driving, regardless of who is around you. When you’re driving a car, it only takes a split second to take a life, and if that accident is caused because you were too distracted to drive, it’s going to impact you for the rest of your days.
So from the attorneys at Hagelgans & Veronis, we hope that you’ll use these tips as an opportunity to make driving safer for you, your family, and everyone else on the road, including motorcyclists. If you’re a motorcyclist who has been involved in an accident, or if you’re a driver who has had an encounter with a motorcyclist and you don’t know what to do, call us at 1-877-454-8529 for a free consultation and to find out more about how we can help you.