It is always a smart idea for motorcyclists to think about ways to be safe on the roads. And the beginning of a new year is as good a time as any.

As Consumer Reports writes:

The cold reality is that motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a crash than people in a car, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). And nearly half of all motorcycle deaths are the result of single-vehicle crashes. Keep in mind that 48 percent of motorcycle fatalities in 2010 involved speeding, according to the IIHS, and alcohol was a factor in 42 percent. Eliminate those factors and you’ve dramatically reduced your risk.

The numbers are even scarier for older riders, who are increasingly taking up or returning to motorcycling after many years. Because of slower reflexes, weaker eyesight, more brittle bones, and other disadvantages, riders over 60 years old are three times more likely to be hospitalized after a crash than younger ones.

There are an estimated 67,000 motorcycle accidents in the U.S. annually, writes Joe Warner for But most of them can be avoided, he notes.

Following are safety tips culled from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Consumer Reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Always ride smart and sober The percentage of intoxicated motorcycle riders in fatal crashes is greater than the percentage of intoxicated drivers.

Make yourself visible

  • Remember that motorists can have trouble seeing motorcycles and reacting to them on time.
  • Use reflective strips or decals on your clothing and your motorcycle.
  • Be aware of blind spots that cars and trucks have.
  • Make sure your headlight works and is on both day and night.
  • If a driver does not see you, make sure to use your horn.
  • Flash your brake light when you are slowing down and before you stop.

Wear Safety-Minded Clothing

  • Remember that the only thing between you and the road is your protective gear.
  • Wear a light-colored, high-quality helmet, and eye protection; helmets saved 1,829 motorcyclists’ lives in 2008. NHTSA says that helmets do not interfere with your vision or hearing. Consumer Reports writes that riders without a helmet are 40% more likely to suffer a fatal head injury in a crash, and three times more likely to suffer brain injuries than those wearing helmets, according to government studies.

Consumer Reports writes:

When Texas and Arkansas repealed their helmet laws, they saw a 31- and 21-percent increase in motorcycle fatalities, respectively. ‘It is absolute insanity to repeal helmet laws,’ says Orly Avitzur, M.D., a neurologist and a Consumer Reports medical adviser. ‘Because helmets do save lives, it is insanity to expose the skull and the brain to potential trauma that could be prevented or at least mitigated.’

A full-face helmet that’s approved by the Department of Transportation is the best choice. (Look for a DOT certification sticker on the helmet.) Modern helmets are strong, light weight, and comfortable, and they cut down on wind noise and fatigue. Keep in mind that helmets deteriorate over time, and may not be safe even if they look fine. The Snell Memorial Foundation, an independent helmet testing and standards-setting organization, recommends replacing a helmet every five years, or sooner if it’s been damaged or has been in a crash. Beyond potential deterioration due to aging and exposure to hair oils and chemicals, Snell points out that there is often a notable improvement over that time in helmet design and materials.

  • Wear bright-colored clothing
  • Wear leather or other thick, protective clothing; wear long sleeves, full-length pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves.

Use Strategies for Safety

  • Always search the road for changing conditions. Remember the acronym SEE — which stands for Search, Evaluate, Execute — in order to give yourself more time and space for safety.
  • Give motorists the time and space to respond to you.
  • Ride in the part of a lane where you are most visible.
  • Watch for turning vehicles.
  • Signal your next move in advance.
  • Don’t weave between lanes.
  • Ride as if you were invisible; ride extra-defensively.
  • Avoid riding when you are tired or under the influence of alcohol or drugs of any kind.
  • Heed the rules of the road and stay within the speed limit.
  • Avoid riding in bad weather.
  • Watch for road hazards.

Choose Your Bike With Care

  • When shopping for a bike, choose one that fits you; when seated, you should be able to place both feet flat on the ground. Handlebars and controls should be within easy reach.
  • If a bike feels too heavy for you, it is not the right bike for you.
  • A small model (with a 250- to 300-cc motor) is a good starter or commuter bike.
  • You will want a motorcycle with a 500- to 750-cc engine if you do a lot of highway riding, in order to easily keep up with traffic.
  • Invest in antilock brakes (ABS), as they are a proven lifesaver; IIHS data shows that motorcycles with ABS brakes were 37% less likely to be involved in a fatal crash. These brakes are now standard on many high-end models and cost only a few hundred dollars more on basic bikes. You might be able to offset some of the cost with an insurance discount, Consumer Reports writes.

Know Your Bike

  • Take courses on how to use your bike. You can find courses at or by calling 800-446-9227. They range from free to about $350 and can get you an insurance discount. Some manufacturers offer a credit towards the cost of a new motorcycle or training if a rider signs up for a course, Consumer Reports writes.
  • Keep your bike well-maintained; before each ride, make sure your lights, horn and directional signals are working. Check the chain, belt or shaft, as well as the brakes. Inspect the tires for wear, and make sure they are at the correct pressure. Worn-out brakes and improperly inflated tires greatly increase safety risks, Consumer Reports writes.
  • Practice your driving ahead of time, before going into heavy traffic. Know how to handle your bike on wet or sandy roads, in high winds, on uneven surfaces and in other difficult circumstances.

Motorcycle Accident Infographic

Infographic authored by Sutliff & Stout.
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