Have you seen the bumper sticker, "Check Twice, Save a Life" recently? Being aware of motorcycles while driving is a must, but it can be hard when most of us are conditioned and taught to look only for larger vehicles. If you're not a biker, understanding the risks for those riding is a serious challenge. May is national Motorcycle Awareness Month, so it's the perfect time to learn what you need to be aware of as a driver to keep motorcycle riders safe.
If involved in an accident, the chance of bodily injury is four times higher for motorcyclists. Even with helmets and protective gear, being exposed and coming into contact with another vehicle is obviously going to be much more dangerous for them than the driver of the other vehicle. Between roughly 40-50 motorcyclists die each year in the state of MA, and the overwhelming majority of them were wearing their helmets. (In New Hampshire, where it is legal to ride without a helmet, the numbers look very different. In 2016 for example, of the 19 motorcyclists who died, only 11 were wearing a helmet.)
Why don't drivers see motorcycles? Is it the size of the bike? Is it the dark clothing the rider wears? Research suggests that the answer is no on both accounts. Automobile drivers don't see motorcycles because they aren't really looking for them. When drivers are tested on their ability to see a motorcycle when they aren't told to expect one, over 60% fail. This type of behavior leads to "Look but Failed to See" crashes, where the driver never noticed the motorcycle. You can read more about how psychologists are studying Look but Failed to See crashes and our perceptions of motorcycles in general here.
If you remember just one thing from this blog post, please let it be that the leading cause of accidents involving motorcycles is a car turning left. You check that there are no cars in the oncoming traffic lane before making your turn, and your mind completely misses the motorcycle, driving head on into a horrible situation. This is a Look but Failed to See situation and they happen far too often. Check again and check specifically for motorcycles next time and every time you turn left.
Use your blinkers and signal when switching lanes. No really, use your blinkers. Put them on before you move into another lane, not as you move into another lane. This gives the motorcyclist time to react. Don't see anyone else on the road? You still need to signal and use your blinker. Bikes are small and can easily fall within your blindspot. Just make it a habit to always signal and give everyone around you time to react accordingly. It's good practice to always assume someone is in your blindspot.
Don't fool around when it comes to intersections. It may sound obvious, but motorcycles are small. They're hard to see and they easily fit within our blind spots. If you'redriving distracted, running a stop light, failing to signal at an intersection, you're adding serious risk to everyone on the road, especially those riding a motorcycle. Most motorcycle accidents involve multiple vehicles, and the majority of those multiple accidents are caused by the other vehicle and not the motorcyclist.
Train yourself to be aware of motorcycles and anticipate their movements just like you've already trained yourself to be aware of other vehicles. You should always engage in safe driving practices, but with motorcycles on the road, now is the time to double your efforts and really check twice to save a life.
Are you a rider? Check out the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's library of resources and or RideApart's 10 Common Motorcycle Accidents and How To Avoid Them (number one is a car turning left).