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Motorcycles: Please share the road

Motorcyclists are everywhere. Don’t believe me? Check out some statistics on motorcyclist wrecks and see some tips on how to be safe.

In 2013, motorcyclists were five times more likely to be injured and 26 times more likely to be killed in a wreck than car-drivers.

56 out of every 100,000 was involved in a fatal crash. In cars, that number was only nine out of every 100,000.

80 percent of motorcycle crashes result in injury or death while only 20 percent of car crashes have the same result.

Despite the statistics, motorcyclists are safe drivers. In the state of Florida, motorcyclists are required to take an operations and safety course, while car drivers are only supposed to take a test. Motorcyclists have a better field of vision. Motorcycles are more maneuverable and therefore can evade an accident more effectively. Motorcyclists are more present; they do not use their cell phones, apply make-up or eat while driving. Motorcyclists are painfully aware of their vulnerability and plan accordingly.

In fact, a 2003 study by the National Highway Safety Administration showed that among all wrecks between motorcycles and cars, the motorcyclist was not at fault or less at fault 80 percent of the time. So if motorcyclists are at fault in only one in five accidents, what is happening the other four-fifths of the time? Are car drivers getting more dangerous?

Many motorcycle-riding instructors and enthusiasts think so. While they do not assert that car drivers are less competent, the vehicle industry and insurance companies have made car-drivers more careless. As vehicle safety ratings get higher, our mentality about accidents changes. We see a car accident as an acceptable risk, because we have good insurance and safe cars. We say, “My SUV is big and safe, so I won’t get hurt.” That mentality accepts the risk of an accident but not the consequences.

If a driver has a wreck with a motorcycle, they will probably come out of it okay. An average motorcycle is about 500 pounds; the tiniest Mini Cooper is over 2,500 pounds and a big truck or SUV can weigh in at 5,000 pounds or more. At one-tenth the size of a truck, the motorcycle will bear the brunt of the damage and the motorcyclist will bear the brunt of the injuries.

So how can car-drivers become safer for the motorcyclists with whom they share the road?

First, a car-driver has to want to be safer. Being a motorcycle-conscious driver takes discipline and vigilance which can sometimes be inconvenient.

Do not engage in in-car distractions. Loud radios, applying makeup, phone use and eating in the car can all result in an accident. This can be inconvenient as phone use is very prevalent and can sometimes be the only time in your day to place a call. Car drivers must ask themselves: is this distraction worth someone’s life?

Roll the windows down. Car companies are getting better at sealing out outside noise so that music and conversations in the car sound clearer. Unfortunately, this robs drivers of their awareness. A motorcycle horn is not as loud as a car horn so a lot of motorcyclists will rev their engines to get a car-driver’s attention to themselves. Motorcyclists have a saying: “loud pipes save lives” which means that a louder motorcycle is more likely to be noticed, if you don’t see it, you might at least hear it— but not if your windows are shutting out all the noise.

Punch bike! Did you play “punch buggy” when you were a kid? Punch buggy is a game where kids look for Volkswagen Bugs and then playfully punch their siblings or friends when they see one. Even now, you probably notice VW Bugs more than most cars on the road. Consider replacing Bugs with motorcycles and scooters and playing “punch bike.” You’ll be surprised by how many of these you can count in a trip around town or during a trip out of town.

Use signals properly. Motorcyclists count on car-drivers to use turn signals properly; signal well ahead of making a turn to declare your intent of doing so. This lets other drivers plan accordingly. Once you signal, commit to what you’ve declared. If you decide you don’t need milk from the grocery store after all, continue to turn, go into the store’s parking lot and exit safely. Jumping in and out of the flow of traffic is dangerous, especially if a motorcycle is nearby.

Don’t brake suddenly. There are situations where you will have to brake suddenly, especially in emergencies, however, for daily braking, ease on the brakes slowly. This gives you plenty of space to come to a complete stop and it gives anyone behind you plenty of time to figure out what you’re doing.

Give a little space. Motorcyclists don’t like to be close to cars. When you are near a motorcyclist, give them a little bit of breathing room. This motorcyclist likes four to five car lengths but one to two is sufficient. Treat the motorcyclist like another car-driver, allowing them as much space as you would another vehicle. Do not get close to a motorcycle’s fender, even in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Even a tiny bump can unbalance a rider and they don’t appreciate getting dumped on the asphalt.

Dim your lights. If you are approaching a motorcyclist at night, dim your lights. Motorcyclists sit low, so your bright headlights are aimed right into the rider’s face, blinding him or her. Do not get antsy if the rider does not offer you the same courtesy. A motorcycle has one headlight, so to get the same visibility range, they keep their brights on. Dim lights on a motorcycle can offer as little as 20 feet of vision range. A motorcycle travels 20 feet per second at only 14 miles per hour so dimmed lights are a no-go for motorcyclists, as a second or less is not enough time to prevent a disaster. In Madison County, it is especially important for a rider to maintain a good distance of visibility; hitting a nocturnal animal is gross for a car-driver but it can be deadly for a motorcyclist.

This motorcyclist loves car drivers who are big, predictable, consistent, considerate, patient and alert. Follow the tips above and you can become a motorcyclists’ ally on the road. Only safe driving will lower the high incidence of motorcycle injuries and deaths.

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