Boomers whose children have left home often find themselves with freedom they haven’t known in years and realize that without the responsibility of supporting and rearing children they have the time and means to indulge themselves in various hobbies, including riding. Motorcycle registrations are increasing for the “40 and over” age group more than any other age bracket with the South reporting more registered bikes than any other region in the country. (1)
Alabama has some of the most beautiful scenery in the country and one of the best ways to experience it is on a motorcycle. Motorcycling is a great way to spend quality time with that special someone, whether it be riding together or each on his or her own bike. With the fun and excitement, however, can come hidden dangers if the rider and passenger are not prepared.
Knowing how to avoid common mistakes makes riding much safer and more enjoyable, and since reports show fatalities for passengers are on the rise (2) anyone who anticipates travelling as a passenger on a motorcycle with any frequency should be as interested in safety as the operator. Let’s examine some known accident causes and look at ways to avoid them.
The last in-depth study of motorcycle accidents nationwide was published in 1981. That study, known as the Hurt Report, remains the most comprehensive study of motorcycle accidents in the U.S. It enabled rider safety instructors to address the issues common in crashes and establish safety training classes to prepare riders for avoiding them.
The last year complete crash statistics were compiled for Alabama was 2009, although there is a partial report available for the first nine months of 2010. The following are taken from those reports and from other sources in the notes and bibliography.
In 2009, there were 1562 crashes involving a motorcycle in Alabama with 74 fatalities. The youngest person injured on a motorcycle was age 10, and the oldest was 89. The youngest fatality was age 15, compared with the oldest who was 74. (3)
O the 1562 crashes, 507 of those were caused by another vehicle violating the motorcyclist’s path and colliding with the motorcycle. There were 25 associated fatalities. (4)
There were 750 single-vehicle (motorcycle only) crashes in Alabama in 2009. (5) Nationwide, in 2006, 25% of the motorcycles involved in fatal crashes collided with fixed objects. (6)
These are frightening statistics but they can be changed drastically through education, training, and experience.
Dixie ABATE, Inc. (ABATE) (American Bikers Aimed Toward Education) recommends new riders and returning riders take a safety course to learn maneuvering techniques and how to anticipate and avoid situations that can pose a threat.
Motorcycle accidents in Alabama in 2009 that might have been prevented through rider training included: driver not in control (no further details) (137), avoiding a vehicle or object in the roadway (78) an unseen object/person/vehicle in the path of the motorcycle (50), over-correcting/over-steering (9), misjudging stopping distance (8), improper lane change (5), improper turns (4), and improper passing (4). (7)
Posted speed limits are a good idea of the speed at which a motorcycle can safely travel yet riders often exceed them. That can be especially dangerous for new riders. There were 115 crashes caused by the motorcycle traveling at excessive speed in Alabama in 2009 (8), and nationwide (2006) 37% of motorcyclists involved in fatalities were speeding. (9)
I doubt we could find a single rider who hasn’t heard the term, “road rash”, yet many riders and passengers do not realize the severity of the burns a rider or passenger can sustain by tumbling down the pavement with exposed skin. I cannot say enough about the importance of proper riding attire. Shorts and flip-flops have their place, but it’s not on a motorcycle. [See: http://www.rockthegear.org/index.php?/videos/%5D
The leathers worn by bikers aren’t a fashion statement. They cover the body, especially vulnerable areas like elbows, hands, feet, hips, and knees, with an extra layer of skin – one which can be shed without pain – in the event of a crash. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security and opt not to wear protective clothing, even for a short run, because studies show most accidents occur a short distance from home. (10)
A rider can control the distance between the motorcycle and the car ahead, yet 14 crashes happened in Alabama (2009) because the motorcyclist was following another vehicle too closely. (11) By the same token, a rider should never underestimate the danger of being hit from behind. If a vehicle is following too closely or driving erratically, pull over at the first safe opportunity and allow the vehicle to pass. Up-right and riding beats the heck out of horizontal on the pavement, and you won’t hurt any less by knowing the accident was the fault of another driver.
Never drink and ride. Motorcyclists are much more likely to suffer trauma in a crash (12) yet forty-eight crashes happened in Alabama (2009) because riders failed to follow this advice. Nearly half of the fatal crashes studied in the Hurt Report  showed alcohol involvement (13) and nationwide (2006) 27% of motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over 0.08 grams per deciliter.
The 40-44 age group shows the highest percentage of alcohol-impaired riders, (14) and 3.9 percent of motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes had at least one previous conviction for DUI on their records. (15)
A rider has a mere two seconds to execute a maneuver to avoid colliding with an object in its path so it doesn’t take a genius to see that any degree of reduced reaction time may easily spell disaster. (16)
Riding in the early morning and late evening when deer and other animals are most active can be dangerous. Don’t just watch the tail lights on the vehicle ahead, instead, continuously look ahead and to each side so if an animal appears you’ll see it right away. Twenty-one riders in Alabama (2009) crashed trying to avoid an animal in the roadway. (17)
Motorcycles lose a great deal of traction on wet pavement and twenty-five crashes were the result of the rider failing to operate the motorcycle at a speed safe enough for weather conditions. (18)
Rain and other inclement weather shouldn’t be a rider’s only weather concern. Researchers found that weather was a factor in only 2% of motorcycle crashes. (19) Wearing sunglasses or goggles to reduce glare and keeping the goggles and helmet face shields clean so you have a clear line of vision will considerably reduce the risk of accidents. Researchers found that 73% of riders involved in crashes were not using any eye protection and the impairment of vision was a contributing factor in the accident. (20)
Check your bike for defects and make needed repairs promptly. Twenty-two accidents could have been prevented in Alabama (2009) by performing an inspection of the motorcycle at regular intervals. (21)
Motorcycles are more likely to be involved in a fatal collision resulting from colliding with a stationary object than other vehicles. Nationwide (2006) 25% of motorcycle fatalities occurred because the motorcycle collided with a fixed object. (22)
Eight crashes resulted from contact with a defect in the roadway in Alabama (2009). (23) Pay special attention in any location where construction is taking place. Look for potholes, uneven lanes, shoulder drop-offs, bumps and dips, pavement ridges, a raised surface onto a bridge where repaving is scheduled, road closings, etc.
Debris on the roadway can pose a serious threat so never follow a vehicle from which items might dislodge and either hit the motorcycle or land in the roadway in front of it.
Riders might never consider any danger of falling asleep while operating a motorcycle, yet it was reported four times in Alabama in 2009. (24) Use extra caution when taking any medications that can cause drowsiness and be aware that riding in hot weather can stress the body leading to overexertion much quicker than might be expected.
Always secure any cargo being carried on a motorcycle and make sure it is properly centered so that the load is evenly distributed. Two accidents occurred in Alabama (2009) because a load shifted while the motorcycle was in motion. (25)
One can hardly imagine the use of an electronic device while riding, but at least one accident occurred in Alabama (2009) because the rider was doing just that. (26)
Always dress for conspicuity. I’m living proof that bright colors won’t always prevent an automobile from turning in front of a motorcyclist and causing a crash, but statistics show it will make a difference often enough to warrant doing so. The use of headlamps during daylight hours increases conspicuity as does pumping your brakes a couple of times before stopping. The blinking of the brake light is more likely to catch the attention of the driver behind you.
Before setting out on the road, make sure your mirrors are placed for optimal vision of traffic behind you, and just as importantly, that they eliminate blind spots.
The weight and power of motorcycles has increased drastically from models available 10 to 20 years ago and this is a factor in a considerable number of crashes. Returning riders sometimes fail to realize the larger bike doesn’t handle like a smaller one they had years before.
The death rate for riders of sport bikes, or supersports, is four times higher than for riders of other types of motorcycles because they can reach speeds of up to 190 mph and are modified for street use. With that capability, speed and driver error often factor into sport bike fatalities. Nationwide, (2005) speed was a contributing factor of supersport fatal crashes 57% of the time. For comparison, speed was listed as a contributing cause of crashes in 27% of fatal accidents involving cruisers and standards, and 22% with touring models. (27)
Researchers found that 92% of riders involved in accidents had received no formal rider safety training and more than half of the riders who were involved in accidents had been riding less than five months when the accident occurred. (28)
Surveys of riders who have completed rider training courses indicate that even seasoned riders learned techniques they thought would enable them to avoid situations that might lead to a crash. Consider taking an approved course, and anytime you change bikes give yourself at least six months to get used to the bike and the way it handles.
Even if you’re confident in your skill as a rider, always devote your full attention to the operation of the bike and situations around you when traveling on Alabama highways. According to a report from Auto Insurance News, Nov. 18th, 2011, Alabama ranks in the top 10 for states with the worst driving records coming in at 41 out of 50 states for disobeying traffic laws and 46th for the most traffic tickets written. That means only 9 states have worse driving records than Alabamians and only 4 states issue more traffic citations. Forbes reported Alabama ranks 6th on a list of the 10 states with the highest incidences of drunken driving.
The person responsible for your safety is ultimately you.
In 2008, Alabama was one of only eight states that hadn’t identified motorcycle crashes as a priority crash problem and one of only six states that had not instituted a Sharing the Road safety and awareness campaign. We were one of only nine states whose Strategic Highway Safety Plan did not include motorcycle safety. (29)
We are one of a handful of states that do not require a skills test before granting a motorcycle license. Upon passing a multiple-choice written test, any 14 year old can obtain a license for a motor-driven cycle and at age 16 can obtain a license for a motorcycle without ever taking a skills test.
There are currently still no plans to implement any of these programs or to require a skills test for obtaining a motorcycle license in Alabama.
In closing, I’ll share a bit of wisdom I received when I started riding my own bike, “It’s not a matter of if something will happen, it’s a matter of when and how you react to it. Don’t panic, wait till you can safely pull off the roadway, and stop.” That advice was much appreciated when my windscreen came loose while traveling at maximum posted speed down I-65.
For more information on motorcycle safety and awareness, see www.DixieABATE.org. You don’t have to ride or attend meetings to be a member of ABATE and your membership dues will help fund our safety and awareness campaign.
- Governor’s Highway Safety Association Annual Report. 2009.
- Trafficsafety.org. Also see Florida Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles Traffic Crash Statistics Report. 2010.
- GHSA Annual Report. 2009.
- GHSA Annual Report. 2009.
- Hurt Study Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures. (Hurt Report). 1981. Published Tucson AZ., Item #11.
- GHSA Annual Report. 2009.
- Trafficsafety.org. See also Motorcycle Riders Involved in Fatal Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes By State and the Riders BAC. FARS Yearly reports from 1982 to 2009. Also FARS Motorcycle Rider Fatalities in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes by State and the Rider’s BAC. Reports from 1982 to 2009.
- Hurt Report. Item # 25.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention Report. Motorcycle Safety.
- Hurt Report. Item #27.
- GHSA 2009.
- GHSA 2009.
- Hurt Report. Item#10.
- Hurt Report. Item#41.
- GHSA 2009
- GHSA 2009.
- Hurt Report. Items #22 and 23.
- GHSA Report 2009.
Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) Annual Report. 2008 and 2009.
(GHSA) Annual Report. Preliminary report, first nine months of 2010.
(GHSA) Motorcyclist Traffic Fatalities by State. 2010. Washington.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) 2002-present.
NHTSA Traffic Safety Fact Sheets, Years 1993-2009
NHTSA Crash Stats for Alabama, 2009.
NHTSA Recent Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes, An Update. June 2006.
NHTSA Motorcycle Safety Program. Jan. 2003. & Revised 2007.
Hurt Study Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures. 1981. Published Tucson AZ.
Records from county court houses in AL.
State of Alabama. Department of Revenue. Motor Vehicle Registrations 10-1-2009 to 9-30-2010.
Insurance Information Institute. Motorcycle Crashes. Aug. 2010.