Studies suggest that motorcyclists are 35 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash than automobile passengers. Per vehicle mile, they are 8 times more likely to be injured. There are multiple factors that lead to these numbers. What makes riding a motorcycle more dangerous than other forms of transportation? And what can we do to reduce our chances of being injured or being part of an accident in the first place?
The Risk Factors
There are four things that factor in how high the risk for a motorcycle rider is:
- The Rider | The rider’s skill, preparation, reaction speed as well as their mental and physical condition play a part in how likely an accident will occur.
- Other Traffic Participants | The behavior and alertness of other road users can cause an accident when they drive erratically or overlook motorcycles.
- The Traits of Motorcycles | Motorcycles offer less protection and are harder to control than cars.
- Outside Influences | The weather or road quality can impact the motorcycle rider. Potholes, train tracks or wet roads are safety hazards for bikers.
Methods of Lowering Risks
A motorcycle offers no protection against impacts. There is no motor carriage with airbags and seat belts to keep us safe. In a crash, it is entirely possible that our body will directly impact with objects with no protective layer between us. Except there is one protective layer we can create: motorcycle clothing.
Motorcycle clothing is padded, armored and abrasion resistant. It is built to withstand contact with the pavement, cuts, or penetrations and impact force. Hard shells and foam function as protection for our most vulnerable body parts, such as fingers, our back, and our head. High-quality motorcycle gear can absorb the force of an impact and redistribute its energy to lessen the blow to our body.
It adds comfort, improves control, and shields us from weather influences. The clothing should have light colors, lightly colored accents or reflective panels to increase visibility.
A visor helps us to protect our eyes from foreign objects and improves visibility during rain and (if tinted) sunshine. Our sight isn’t the only sense we can protect. The frequent noise exposure can cause a motorcycle rider to lose their hearing. Motorcycle earplugs are specifically designed to lower the noise intensity while still allowing the rider to hear important traffic cues.
While the bike itself does not have an airbag system, you can buy suits, jackets, or vests with airbags built in. They use CO2-Canisters that are built into the suit and can be exchanged when necessary. Some work by using a tether cord you connect to your bike. The airbag deploys when the pull on the tether is hard enough to detach the cord. Other airbag clothes include on-board sensors that can detect a crash in real time and deploy withing fractions of a second.
Motorcycle gear is only as effective as the rider who decides to use it. Many motorcycle owners rely on their abilities to keep themselves safe or forgo protective gear for shorter rides. Investigations into motorcycle accidents and the patterns among dead or hospitalized motorcycle riders have given us insights into what factors into the highest accident rates.
Motorcycle accidents with injuries and fatalities were the most common:
- in the summer.
- on rural roads.
- in men of young age.
Whether men of young age are generally more impulsive and risk-taking is up for debate. What we can say with more certainty, however, is that riders tend to ride with higher speeds on rural roads and wear less protection in warm weather. The high-speed increases our velocity and impact force during an accident. Exchanging protective gear for less effective gear that covers less area, or no gear at all, leaves our body more vulnerable.
Riding intoxicated is another major reason for motorcycle accidents. Motorcycle riders who were hospitalized after an intoxicated motorcycle crash were largely aged between 30-49 years, did not wear a helmet and rode during the night or evening.
Crash prevention courses and other driving or riding lessons can help us to become more aware of dangerous situations and learn the best reactions to typical accident causes. Training these in a safe environment can help us solidify theoretical knowledge and driving skill. It improves our awareness towards potential hazards, our reaction speed and can ingrain the right behavior in our muscle memory. This makes it easier to apply it in an actual emergency.
Other traffic participants can also benefit from these courses. Car drivers especially need to be trained to be more aware of motorcycle riders and their vulnerability in traffic situations.
Many parts of the dangers in traffic are not under our control. Other drivers, the condition of roads and the weather can increase our chances of being in an accident. What we can control, however, is our skill level, our alertness, and our protective gear. Being aware of what increases our risk of injury is the first step of learning how to avoid these situations and stay safe. By using the right gear during all rides and training our riding skills we have an influence on the probability of getting into a crash, getting injured or having a fatal accident.