During the month of May most states ramp up on their Motorcycle Safety Campaigns. This usually consists of messages displayed on a few digital signs that read ‘Watch for Motorcycles’ or ‘Look Twice for Motorcycles.’ The old crusty yellow bumper stickers that were designed in the 70’s make their way back on the DMV shelves for patrons to take on the way out. If we are really lucky, a local news station will do a quick segment on motorcycle safety and include the current statistics of registered motorcycles and annual fatalities. Better than nothing I suppose, but a mediocre effort to help make it safer on the roads for two-wheelers.
Motorcycle Awareness needs to be embedded in the minds of drivers before they get on the road, then followed up in meaningful ways, much like the subject of Drunk Driving. Many drivers ed programs have a very short portion of the curriculum which touches on the subject motorcycles/scooters, but it needs major improvement. Some years back, I worked with the Illinois Secretary of State’s Commercial Driving Division to mandate a portion of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation curriculum to be included in teen driving programs all over the state. More states need to follow suit. It is a good start, but it is not enough, and motorcycle safety should not be limited to the month of May.
Let’s start with what we know based on the Hurt Report and subsequent crash studies.
- The majority of motorcycle accidents occur when a vehicle turns left in front of a rider.
Now let’s ask why.
Is it because they cannot judge our speed ( lack of depth perception)?
According to a study conducted by Pat Delucia, coordinator of the Human Factors Psychology Program at Texas Tech University, and published in the professional journal, Current Directions in Psychological Science, these types of brain miscalculations play a crucial role in motorcycle crashes with automobiles. The study referenced above and several other similar studies, suggest our human minds have a natural tendency to correlate size with distance. Specifically, the smaller an object is, the more our brains equate this with being farther away. This leads to critical miscalculations specifically related to bikers riding on vehicles (motorcycles) that are, on average, about 80 percent smaller than even a compact to mid-size passenger sedan.
Are the motorists suffering from Innatentional Blindness?
The concept brought to light by the book The Invisible Gorilla. Essentially, this occurs when we do not see something in front of us because we are not looking for it.
What can we do about it? Talk about it. Educate motorists in advance. Motorcyclists should ride with this knowledge, use extra caution when riding through intersections, and make yourself visible and your intentions clear. Work on improving your evasive and emergency braking skills, wear good riding gear.
- The majority of motorcycle accidents involve riders who are self-taught or learned from a family member or a friend.
Why? Are they being given bad advice? Choosing the wrong motorcycle? Overconfident?
What can we do about it?
Seek formal training. There are motorcycle courses available in every state to accommodate every level of rider. There is no such thing as an expert rider, and if you think you are one, you are the perfect candidate to take a course. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) is a good place to start for beginner riders, and they also offer advanced courses. There are so many comprehensive two-wheeled training classes out there for every type of riding (street, dirt, track), there is no excuse.
- Almost 50% of all riders killed had been drinking, according to the MSF
For some groups of riders, alcohol is associated with being a part of the motorcycle culture. Riding is often a social activity. Also, group rides typically occur over the weekend when alcohol consumption is more common and usually enjoyed in larger quantities.
What can we do about it? Talk about it. Stop drinking and riding. Seriously, it’s silly.
We can all do a better job of making the roads safer for motorcycles and scooters. Start talking about it. We have social outlets now that we didn’t just a few years ago. Get trained, stay informed, and inform others. Oh yeah, and good helmets are really good at what they do. See you out there.