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Friday, April 24, 2009

Why You Should Take a Motorcycle Safety Course

Motorcycle ridership has increased tremendously over the past ten years and with that increase in ridership, there has been a remarkable increase in motorcycle fatalities. While the fatality rate of motor vehicle occupants has gone down, motorcycle fatalities have more than doubled since 1997. According to the federal government, per mile traveled in 2006, the number of deaths on motorcycles was about 35 times the number in cars. To understand what is happening, we need to look at some motorcycle statistics.

  • While it is true that most motorcycle fatalities involve collisions with motor vehicles, those types of crashes make up just a little over half of the total motorcycle fatality rate. Almost half of the motorcycle fatalities were the result of single vehicle crashes.

  • In multi-vehicle crashes the motorcyclist was hit in the front 78% of the time and they were struck in the rear only 5% of the time.

  • An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study showed that the majority of fatal multiple vehicle crashes were head-on crashes in which the motor vehicle was either running a traffic control device or turning left in front of the other vehicle. However, it also showed that the motorcyclist was often either speeding or not in the proper lane.

  • Twenty-five percent of the single fatal single vehicle motorcycle crashes involved striking a fixed object such as a tree or a barrier.

  • In 2007, almost half (48%) of the fatal single vehicle motorcycle crashes involved speeding.

  • In 2007, 41% of the motorcycle drivers killed in single vehicle crashes had a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08%. In other words, they were legally drunk.

  • Sixty-one percent of the motorcycle drivers killed on weekends had a BAC of 0.08% or higher.

  • While it is generally assumed that younger motorcyclists take more chances and have a higher death rate as a result, more and more motorcycles are being purchased by riders over the age of 40 and the fatalities among that age group has grown exponentially.

  • More than 25% of motorcycle fatalities involved drivers who weren't properly licensed to ride a motorcycle, compared to only 15% of motor vehicle operators.

What does all this mean? It seems that too many motorcyclists are taking the motorcycling ideal of freedom of the road too literally. Speeding and alcohol use don't mix with a vehicle that is so unstable and hard to see. It also means that motorcycle riders are not getting the proper training to keep themselves safe on the road. While most states require that a motorcyclist pass a written test to obtain a motorcycle license or endorsement, only two states, Maine and Rhode Island, require that motorcyclists over the age of 21 receive any type of formal training on how to properly handle a motorcycle. The military has long recognized the need for formal motorcycle safety training, requiring service members to attend a course before they can obtain a pass to bring their motorcycle on base. The military also encourages ongoing refresher training.

While you can't control the actions of other motor vehicle operators, a motorcycle safety course can teach you how to properly handle your bike and make yourself more visible while riding. These courses, made up of both classroom and riding range instruction, teach motorcycle drivers the importance of proper safety equipment such as helmets, gloves and clothing that protect a rider in case he or she has to lay the bike down. On the driving range, riders learn proper clutch/throttle coordination and braking techniques and how to negotiate curves and corners. They also learn road hazard avoidance and how to handle various road surfaces. The experience of the instructors, along with class discussions among students, help to emphasize the lessons learned. Many states allow automatic licensing based on successful completion of a motorcycle safety course developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

To paraphrase a quote from the aviation community, "there are old motorcycle riders and there are bold motorcycle riders, but there are no old bold motorcycle riders." Don't allow yourself to become a statistic; learning how to ride your motorcycle properly will allow you even greater enjoyment of the freedom of the road that motorcycling brings.

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