How Dangerous Are Motorcycles? Are They Worth the Risk?
About 20 months ago, a good friend of mine took off on a two-year trip around the world on his motorbike. He had previously accomplished a 5000-kilometer solo ride, and it became the catalyst for the much longer bike trip.
So, yeah, ultimate #bikergoals. Some of his friends worry about his safety, but I don’t. He’s incredibly skillful and experienced, and I know he takes every precaution — that significantly reduces the risk associated with riding on two wheels.
Not many people can understand the sense of freedom a motorbike can give you, or the adrenaline rush you get cruising down an open country road that makes you want to ride again and again. Is it worth the risk? Hell, yeah.
Are Motorcycles Safe?
So, just how dangerous are motorcycles?
Most riders will tell you that a motorcycle, as a ride, is no more risky than any other vehicle on the road. While it is true that the unique design of a motorbike presents a greater risk of serious injury more than a car, your skill as a motorcyclist will contribute to your safety on the road.
Are motorcycles dangerous? They could be. As a biker, you will need to exercise more care on the road than a motor vehicle driver. Cars have a protective structure that surrounds the driver and comes with safety features such as airbags, seatbelts, and crumple zones designed to protect the driver in case of an accident.
The motorcycle is open, and the rider only has his safety gear like the helmet for protection in an accident and against the elements.
A car has four wheels that give it more balance than a motorcycle, which means that it takes more effort to ride a motorbike than it does to drive a car. On the other hand, motorcycles are easier to accelerate and maneuver through traffic, but it also increases the chances of an accident.
Experience of the Rider
For many motorbike riders, their first experience with a motorbike was in their formative years. However, that doesn't mean they are in a more advantaged position than someone who has taken up riding in their adult years.
As an adult, you are less likely to be reckless on the road because you will probably have a family to go home to, and that is going to keep you grounded. Experience helps you react better to situations on the road, but diligence will help you avoid situations that lead to accidents and keep you alive.
Attentiveness on the Road
An experienced motorcyclist knows that they cannot afford distractions and that they must always be attentive to their surroundings because they understand the motorcycle dangers involved. It also helps you acknowledge your skill level, which you can improve by taking advanced rider courses.
Most riders have an idea of the performance capability of their bikes, but an experienced rider will understand their skill limits and will leave the showing off to professional racers and stuntmen.
Other Road Users
There is one aspect of road safety that a motorcyclist will have no control over, and that is other drivers. According to federal statistics, more than half of all motorcycle accidents are as a result of cars crashing into motorcycles.
Are motorcycles dangerous? While motorcycle accidents are no more frequent than other types of accidents, they are more likely to result in serious injury. Therefore, extra vigilance on the road and skill is needed for a motorbike rider than a driver.
Motorcycle Danger Statistics
Motorcycle accidents are unlike any other vehicular accidents because of the high probability of grave injury or death. According to this NHTSA report, more than 80% of all motorcycle crashes result in injury or death of the rider. Motorcyclists account for 14% of all crash-related deaths, with the majority of the accidents being head-on collisions with cars or trucks.
The good news is that there is much progress being made to reduce the number of motorcycle deaths. Understanding what the major causes of motorcycle accidents are will help you to reduce your probability of being in an accident.
Are motorcycles dangerous? Below are some of the risk factors that cause motorcycle accidents.
Motorcycling requires more mental and physical effort than driving, and many motorbike accidents are a result of the rider's inexperience in knowing how to handle a motorbike in case of a situation. Ideally, a motorcyclist should spend time in rider training courses to build up their skill.
Even with proper training, accidents do occur, but the experience acquired from training goes a long way in helping the motorcyclist make the best decisions on the road.
Maintenance is a crucial aspect that many riders take for granted. While the overall upkeep of a motorcycle will cost less than a car, some parts of it, like the tires, will wear out faster and therefore cost more to maintain. A mechanical fault during a ride will most likely result in a fatal accident. Regular check-ups and maintenance of your motorcycle to keep it in good condition will save your life.
According to the NHTSA, speed contributed to 32% of all fatal motorcycle accidents, and it is one of the most common accident causes. Lighter and more powerful machines can encourage risky behavior, especially in younger and less experienced riders.
While you may have a high-performance motorbike, as a rider, you should be able to know your limits and skill level. Stay within the speed limits and lower your speed in populated areas where the unexpected can occur. It also helps to have training in defensive maneuvers, which trains you on how to react quickly to situations on the road.
Alcohol is another element of risky behavior and riding a motorbike under the influence, even with just one drink, will reduce your ability to react quickly. Considering that a motorcycle does not offer rider protection like a car, accidents involving speed and alcohol will most likely end up in death or a life-changing injury.
Regardless of how careful you are as a motorcyclist, you will never have control of other drivers. You can only be aware and anticipate the worst so that you can have a plan to maneuver to safety. The NHTSA statistics show that 57% of fatal motorcycle collisions involved a car, and 76% of these were head-on collisions. On the other hand, collisions with fixed objects account for 25% of motorcycle deaths compared to 18% of motor vehicle deaths.
For a motorcyclist, a head-on collision with a vehicle or a stationary object at 25 mph will most likely be fatal. You also need to be aware that a motorbike has less visibility than a car, and you have more to lose in an accident than a motor vehicle driver. So, it is imperative to be constantly vigilant of other drivers and riders on the road.
Left Hand Turns
Cars and trucks making left-hand turns at intersections are particularly dangerous for motorcycles, and left-hand turns account for 42% of fatal motorcycle crashes with cars. Many of these crashes occur when the motorcyclist is either going straight or overtaking another vehicle.
As mentioned earlier, motorcycles are difficult to see, and many motorists will be on the lookout for other cars and not motorcycles at the intersection.
Lane splitting is when a motorcyclist rides between two lanes of cars in traffic. While it can be safe when done at a safe speed, relative to the traffic, it is also a major cause of accidents. Many motorists don't anticipate being overtaken in slow-moving traffic and therefore will not be looking out for a motorcyclist. As a rider, you will be near the cars when lane splitting, and if a car driver decides to change lanes abruptly, you will have very little space to maneuver out of the way.
Lane splitting is not illegal per se in most states. However, if an accident occurs during lane splitting, in many instances, the accident will be attributed to the motorcyclist unless they can prove that the car driver was inattentive. Lane splitting has its benefits as it helps to reduce traffic congestion and helps to reduce overheating in your motorbike. It is only safe if you exercise extreme caution and a safe speed.
How To Stay Safe on Your Motorcycle
How dangerous is riding a motorcycle? The answer is largely dependent on the rider.
Operating a motorcycle requires more mental and physical effort than driving, and a motorcyclist has a significantly higher risk of serious injury in an accident than a driver.
However, with constant training to improve your skills, wearing your safety gear all the time, and always being vigilant on the road can reduce your chances of being in an accident. Most motorcycle accidents are preventable, and there are some basic motorcycle safety tips that you must follow to stay safe on your motorcycle.
If you decide to own a motorcycle, you will need to go through a beginner's riding course that will teach you how to react to road conditions and avoid accidents. Correct body posture and how to use your motorbike will make a big difference in rider safety.
As the saying goes, "Properly trained riders are safer riders." That means you have to invest in training to develop your skills. Defensive maneuvers that give you the skills to balance your motorcycle when braking, swerving, steering, and taking corners do not come naturally to most riders. Constant practice and taking advanced courses like the Motorcycle Safety Foundation advanced riders course will improve your mental and physical skills for street riding.
All the Gear, All the Time
It does not matter how you dress when driving a car, but it is absolutely important to have on your full motorcycle gear when riding. Without it, your skin will be grazed off like soft cheese when you go down and you have a high chance of a serious head injury, setting you up for a very long and painful recovery.
Riding gear includes chaps, pants, sturdy boots, a full leather jacket, and gloves, as well as a DOT approved helmet. Getting road rash really sucks but having a head injury because you did not wear a proper helmet is very much worse.
You can get breathable gear from motorcycle shops that allow air circulation so you don't feel sticky. Also, consider getting high visibility gear to make it easy for other road users to see you.
Responsible riders obey traffic laws, know their skill limits, and they do not take risks. Always anticipate what other drivers are going to do and be constantly aware of your environment and the road condition.
Motorcycles do not register to other drivers easily, and many accidents are caused when the motorcyclist is in the driver's blind spot. Stay visible by having highly reflective gear, and also consider installing a headlight modulator to draw other drivers' attention to yourself.
Motorcycling requires a lot of mental concentration, and a slight slip of attentiveness can be very costly. It includes taking alcohol or drugs when riding, which can severely impair your judgment.
The MSF courses train riders to use their search, evaluate, and execute strategy, which helps to keep the motorcyclist's mind engaged with constant monitoring of their environment when riding. However, if you are going to drink, under medication, or you are tired, do yourself and everyone else on the roads a favor, and don't ride.
Prepare to Ride
There are very few motorcycle accidents that are due to mechanical failure, but that does not mean that you should neglect to maintain and check your motorbike before every ride. The MSF provides a handy safety inspection checklist that you can download. In short, you should check the following;
- Look for signs of tread wear, bulges, or low pressure that could cause a tire to blowout.
- Check that all the lights and signal indicators are working.
- Brakes, clutch, and throttle should be working properly.
- Check for oil or gas leaks under the motorbike.
- Clean and adjust mirrors for clear viewing.
Are Motorcycles Worth The Risk?
It is a tricky question because it depends on the individual and how they weigh the risks versus the rewards of motorcycling. Some people get involved in near-death accidents and they completely go off motorcycles, while others get back their motorcycles as soon as they are healed and able to ride again. Let us look at some of the reasons why a motorcycle is worth the risk.
Motorbikes cost considerably less than cars, and you can get a good quality motorbike for half the price of a car of the same quality. However, motorbike parts and maintenance cost slightly more than cars because motorcycle parts wear out faster than a car's parts.
To cut costs, you can take a motorcycle maintenance class that will enable you to maintain the motorcycle yourself. On the upside, insurance costs are less, and your motorbike will hold its resale value much better than a car.
Increased Awareness of the Environment
Unlike a car, the experience of riding a motorcycle is more intense and engaging. Your mind is constantly aware of the surroundings, and although it can be exhausting, it is also rewarding. You get to feel the sun and the rain, and you get to smell cut grass and vegetation, the lakes and rivers, and you appreciate more the sights and views of nature.
Convenient for City Transport
Having a motorcycle in a crowded city is more convenient than having a car. You can save time on the road because you can cut through the traffic. It is also more fuel-efficient than a car, which makes it better for the environment. Lastly, it is a lot easier to park, especially on busy streets, and it also costs less in parking fees.
So… how dangerous are motorcycles?
It depends on what kind of rider you are. In the end, you can reduce the risks by staying focused, wearing your gear, and knowing your limits. Sometimes, despite practicing all of the safety rules, the unexpected does happen. But, it is how you get up from that experience that will determine if it is still worth riding.