Three Ways to Make Motorcycles as Safe as Minivans

There’s something Darwinian about motorcycling that you don’t find with Minivans…” – Anonymous

In the end the death rate of motorcyclists and automobile drivers is and always has been 100%” – Anonymous

The problem with motorcycles (in the US) is that it makes up just 1% of the vehicles on the road, but 19% of the fatalities… So traveling by car is reasonably safe. And riding a motorcycle is still reasonably safe (compared to your odds of getting smoking related disease for instance); nevertheless you’re still 19 times more likely to be killed in a motorcycle accident than a car accident.

So what can we do to make motorcycles safer?

Get training and develop your skills – nearly half of all motorcycle deaths are in single vehicle accidents. And, along with that, half of all motorcycle fatalities happen while trying to negotiate a curve. Someone goes too quickly around a turn and winds up driving into a divider (for instance). These are the saddest kinds of accidents because they really don’t need to happen. With proper training and riding skills, and the wisdom to ride within one’s limits, there’s no need to be in a single vehicle accident… EVER…

I’m convinced that training is the key: It is very rare for a MotoGP rider to be killed in an accident…there has only been one in recent memory (and another Japanese rider who was killed in a traffic accident involving a truck). But NONE have ever been killed in a single vehicle accident. These are highly trained riders who take lots of risks. You too can be a highly trained rider – taking fewer risks – and eliminate your likelihood of ever being part of this unfortunate statistic altogether.

Wear a Helmet – You’ll find websites that argue against mandatory helmet laws… And they’ll argue that the number of motorcycle fatalities in helmet-law states are the same or higher than states that don’t have helmet laws… That may be true! BUT… Here’s the thing: 50% of all motorcycle fatalities are people who are NOT wearing helmets, with head trauma being the main injury (National Highway Traffic Administration). So whether or not it’s a law in your state, wear a full face helmet.

Don’t Drink and Ride – People often get by driving a little tipsy… You shouldn’t do it! But people do – and they get away with it for a long time… However, you absolutely cannot, and should not ever try to ride a motorcycle under the affect of any alcohol or drugs or prescription medicines… 31% of fatal motorcycle accidents involved riders who were intoxicated.  You can even do one better by not riding while exhausted…being exhausted or sleepy can be just as dangerous as being under the influence – mtorcycling requires too much concentration for that…

Notice – just by sticking to these three principles you can lessen the statistical danger of motorcycling to a level comparable with driving a car. Add to that some good safety gear, and a healthy does of common sense and you’re in suburban soccer-mom territory (with regards to safety). Accidents will happen, but with a little effort you can prepare for them and avoid the unnecessary risks that make motorcycle statistics look grim.


13 responses to “Three Ways to Make Motorcycles as Safe as Minivans

  1. Those numbers don’t seem to be correct, or at least not current. The 2006 numbers are listed in the page my name links to. Those would be: motorcycles are 3% of registered vehicles and only 12.8% of vehicle fatalities, and motorcyclists are 5.5 times as likely to die in a crash than passenger car occupants (per registered vehicle) but 35 times as likely per mile travelled.

  2. Thanks!

    Yes – go with JD’s numbers as per the link

    Also – helmet use is slightly less effective at 37% instead of being close to 50… Chances are that helmet use corresponded with more cautious riders in the earlier numbers – now that more states have mandatory helmet laws its percentage has dropped…

    And 27% instead of 31% on alcohol related fatalities…


  3. I really enjoy reading your posts and I like that most of the advice transfers just as well for me over here in the UK. Your point about helmets is spot on – I could not imagine riding without one on. I’ve come off my mountain bike and suffered bad concussion while wearing a cycle helmet so to come off a motor powered bike would be so much nastier. Not only that but they protect you from all those bugs and stones that hit your face at X mph. Some of those big bumble bees really hit my visor with a thud – that has to be painful enough to make you lose control of your bike if you got that full on in the face.

  4. Not too sure about the stats and anonymous quotes, but otherwise great pointers.

  5. haha – the stats are from the Hurt Report – which is dated, yes, but not entirely different from what came after, the NHTA from the same time as the Hurt report once again dated – and Jim Fitzpatrick whose “1 in 19” number refers to the UK, not the US…

    The quotes are from me. Anonymously.

  6. starkravingmadeleine

    Great post. As a female sportbike rider I get tired of people gasping at “how I’m going to get killed” riding a motorcycle. Most of the motorcycle accidents I see are young men riding waaay beyond their ability (120+mph wheelies on Los Angeles highways…) and/or riding while very drunk. I’m surprised that the drinking/riding stats are so low.

    Another thing you could mention are intersection accidents… a hot-shot motorcycle rider blasting off on a green to get schmucked by someone just slightly blowing a red light or making a fast left turn in front of oncoming traffic that don’t see them.

    Safe riding everyone!

  7. I also suggest wearing jeans and a biker jacket… it’s not for the looks. If you fall and your bike falls with you, you can slide for a long distance, scraping away skin on your arms and legs.

  8. Speaking of jeans – what do people think of the “reinforced” jeans that I’ve seen sold by a few companies (Icon, Joe Rocket, etc)? You know, the ones with Kevlar fibers, etc.. Do they realistically offer any protection above a normal pair of jeans, or will they rub out almost as quickly in a slide?

    As I see more and more people riding in NYC, I’m surprised as to how little protective gear I see, especially among those who should know better (your suit is not going to help you!) – ride safe, people! And that goes for scooters as well!

  9. Check out Draggin Jeans on you tube. Apparently they will hold up in a crash but result in “indian” burn (the black mark when your skin doesnt break). Althought they have no impact protection-which is more important.

  10. People, the numbers are always going to change for one. So don’t live by the ones you know about currently. But in any case I’ve been teaching motorcycle safety for 8 years now and it’s great to see someone a least try to get the point across that safety gear is a big concern when on a bike. I hear way to many people make excuses on why the won’t wear the gear and a lot of the time it doesn’t make any sense. I ask my students, what costs more, protective gear, or a nice little ride to the E.R.? That gets people thinking for sure. Which is good. Like starkravingmadeleine said in her comment, I also tell my students, know your limits and ride within them. It is very important that people know that. Like she has stated, people are riding outside of their limits, and the end results are what I like to call, less riding time.

  11. And you reason that these steps will making biking as safe as driving a minivan how, exactly?

    The fact is that even if you do all the above, you still have much lower visibility than an automobile, and more importantly you are still naked out there, while the minivan driver is surrounded by a two-ton protective cage with air bags.

  12. Hey Mark C – I take it you don’t like hyperbole.

    That’s okay… You’re right – I’d rather crash in a minivan than on my bike any day!

    But I think not-crashing is actually safer than crashing in a minivan – and that’s pretty much the point.

    One advantage the bike has is more opportunities to NOT-crash. Being smaller it has more escape routes, faster and more practical braking ability (ever try emergency braking in a minivan? Or a full minivan?), and fewer blind spots… And because speeding up and slowing down is not a problem, you can pick and choose what traffic pattern you want to cruise in (whereas in a car, you pretty much have to take what you can get in terms of which cars are around you)…

    But it all depends on proper training – and when all else fails, the last 10-20mph of a crash… Which is why statistically riders who are trained, responsible, and wear a helmet fair pretty well…

    I don’t think anyone will choose to ride a motorcycle for its safety benefits – but that doesn’t mean (through training and basic precautions) motorcycling can’t become much safer than it is today (statistically)…even on par with minivans today…

    After all – flying in a commercial plane is safer than crossing the street (in some places). Who would have thought that flying thousands of feet up in the air at 400 mph in a metal container could ever be safer than walking? The safety of the airplane has nothing to do with being able to survive the crash – but everything to do with avoiding crashes altogether.

    Thanks for the thought!

  13. at martin banana. Not to cause any controversy but jeans arent exactly adequate for protection. While they are better than shorts, they offer very little abrasion resistance and essentially NO impact protection. As stated draggin jeans and also hornees offer much better protection than your standarad levis but still arent the best (in my opinion) Perhaps its just me but i’d prefer a good set of leathers anyday.

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