The freedom of motorcycling on the open road might be best summed up in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig: “You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” Riders also feel a sense of community, they report, a shared bond in the outside world. 

There’s an allure to motorcycle riding, as all those who love it will tell you. However, it’s also one of the more dangerous kinds of vehicles when a collision does occur. Riders lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle and weigh so much less than a car… or semi-tractor trailer. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “the federal government estimates that per mile traveled in 2013, the number of deaths on motorcycles was over 26 times the number in cars.” 

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation details tips on safer driving to help level the playing field for the bikes on the road. Many of them are self-evident, but think of them as a philosophy. If the tips below become second nature, you may increase your chances of staying clear of an accident.

Be visible. Motorcycles are harder for other drivers to see, which cuts down on reaction time. Keep your headlight in good working order, and leave it on no matter the time of day. Reflective material, like adhesive strips or decals, also help other drivers see you. Keep in mind that cars and trucks have blind spots, so don’t travel in these areas. When decelerating, be sure to flash your brake light and let others know that you’ll be slowing down, or coming to a complete stop. Motorcycles stop much more quickly than other vehicles, so alerting other drivers about your moves will help them give you room. Don’t be afraid to honk if someone clearly doesn’t see you. 

Dress for safety. A well-built helmet is mandatory; head injuries affect motorcyclists at a high rate. According to the IIHS, “helmets are about 37% effective in preventing motorcycle deaths and about 67% effective in preventing brain injuries. Yet only 19 states and the District of Columbia mandate helmet use by all riders.” Eye protection is important too. Colors can help you maintain visibility, so wear bright clothing, and choose a light-colored helmet to help other drivers see you. Exposed skin will lead to very painful injuries if you go down, so make sure you wear long sleeves, pants instead of shorts, protect your ankles with boots and your hands with gloves. 

Be smart. Be on the lookout for changing road conditions. Give other drivers lots of room, and be on the alert for changes in their behavior, such as watching for distracted or erratic drivers and staying well clear of them. Give yourself and other drivers plenty of space. Lane positioning can help you maintain visibility, so ride in the part of the lane where you are easiest to see. Watch for turning vehicles, even if they don’t always signal. Do not weave in between lanes, or pass without a lot of clearance. As a rule of thumb, pretend that you’re invisible, and ride extra defensively. This can’t be said enough, either, and goes for anyone driving on the roads – don’t ride when you’re tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Follow the rules of the road, including the speed limit, even though you’re in a vehicle that can quickly go far above those limits. It’s not about a movie, it’s about enjoying the ride from point A to B. 

Practice. Know your bike and how to use it. There are courses available on how to ride safely in many types of road conditions, such as slick roads, night riding, high winds, and uneven surfaces. Don’t wait until you’ve got to figure it out on your own. You can find a rider safety course near you at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation

And remember, anyone driving a vehicle that isn’t a motorcycle often has problems seeing riders. Play it safe, and happy riding. 

Bill Coats knows the unique laws and regulations that effect motorcycling. He has successfully negotiated with auto insurance adjusters who try to get out of paying claims by suggesting factors only motorcyclists have to worry about, such as if someone wasn’t wearing a helmet, they were partially responsible for the crash. He doesn’t let them get away with that. So if you have been involved in a motorcycle accident, or know someone who has, don’t wait. Contact Bill right away and learn about your options for financial compensation and recovery. Serving Whatcom and Skagit Counties, Bill Coats Law is conveniently located in downtown Bellingham, Washington.


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