May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

A NHTSA report points to distraction, speeding and alcohol as factors in rise in traffic fatalities.

Peak motorcycle riding season is underway just as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a grim report showing traffic fatalities across the board up sharply from 2020 to 2021, with distraction, speeding and alcohol as key factors. Motorcycle and scooter riders, with their smaller profiles, are at an even greater risk of not being seen by drivers, so the Motorcycle Safety Foundation is urging all roadway users to “Expect Us, See Us,” and actively search for riders and stay focused on the road. 

“The NHTSA data may be from 2021, but distraction, speeding, and driving or riding while under the influence continue to be problems today; however, these are all things we can change,” said Rob Gladden, vice president of training operations for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). “May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and we want to call attention to how smart, attentive driving and riding behaviors can save lives.”

Distraction-affected crashes rose 12% from 2020 to 2021, according to NHTSA, while speeding-related fatalities increased by 7.9%, and alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities rose 14%. 

“One of the biggest risks to motorcyclists is drivers who don’t see the rider and turn across their paths, even if they are not driving distracted,” Gladden said. “So if you are distracted — using your cell phone, eating or engaged with other passengers — the risks rise exponentially for riders. If driving, please be vigilant. Actively search for motorcyclists and look twice, especially before changing lanes or turning.” 

NHTSA also reported that in 2021, motorcyclist fatalities were up 7.7% from the year before, while passenger vehicle occupant fatalities rose 10%, large-truck occupant fatalities rose 23%, pedestrian fatalities increased 13% and pedalcyclist fatalities increased 1.9%.

The number of alcohol-impaired riders involved in fatalities jumped 19% from 2020 to 2021, according to NHTSA. Among passenger car and light truck/SUV drivers, alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities were up 12% and 27% respectively, making it clear that if you drink, don’t drive or ride. Alcohol not only affects a rider or driver’s judgment, but it also affects their perceptions and reaction time. 

Make safety a priority this May during Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. The MSF offers five additional ways your behavior can help save lives.

As Car and Truck Drivers 

  • Actively look for motorcyclists: While many cars have blind-spot detection and collision-avoidance systems, they are not a fail-safe. Also use your eyes and mirrors to check all around you. Motorcyclists can easily be hidden in blind spots or by other vehicles, so look twice before maneuvering into or around traffic.
  • Focus on driving: Put down the phone; don’t let pets and passengers distract you. 
  • Use your turn signals: Signal your intentions. It can help others know what to expect or even alert them to get out of your way if they are in your blind spot.
  • Give two-wheelers some space: Don’t tailgate or get too close next to riders. Give them space to maneuver and adjust to roadway conditions.
  • Keep it in the vehicle: Don’t throw trash or cigarettes out the window. Make sure cargo is secured so it doesn’t fall onto the road and become a hazard. 

As Motorcycle and Scooter Riders

  • Be visible: Wear bright clothing and a light-colored helmet. Always have your headlight on, day and night, and avoid riding in the blind spots of cars and trucks. If possible, flash your brake light when slowing and before stopping.
  • But pretend you are invisible: If you assume others can’t see you, you will tend to ride in a hyper-aware mindset and learn to notice every detail in your surroundings. Constantly search for changing conditions using the Search-Evaluate-Execute strategy (SEE) to assess and respond to hazards before you have to react to an emergency.
  • Gear up every ride: Wear proper riding gear from head to toe. Full-face helmets provide the best protection, and jackets, pants, gloves and boots that are made for riding will generally be made of abrasion-resistant material and provide additional comfort and protection.
  • Follow the rules of the road: Riding respectfully — and legally — creates a safer environment for everyone. Unexpected maneuvers could startle or confuse others and cause a crash.
  • Before you ride, look over your bike: Do a pre-ride check, which includes looking over your tires and wheels, checking fluids, cables, your bike’s chassis, lights and electronics, and the stands. Use the T-CLOCS inspection checklist to help you.

“And of course, don’t drive distracted, keep to the speed limits, and don’t ride or drive under the influence,” Gladden said. “These not only safeguard lives — they’re also the law.”

Let’s all do our part to ensure everyone’s safety. Please #SeeMotorcycles and #ExpectUsSeeUs.

Safety booklets, tips, and other reference guides are available at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation website, msf-usa.org. For those looking to learn to ride or brush up on riding skills, a hands-on safety class is your best bet. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation, the country’s leading safety resource and advocate for motorcyclists, creates education and training systems for riders of every experience level. The MSF’s Basic RiderCourse is among the best ways to learn to ride and get licensed. MSF also offers refresher courses and advanced skills courses for experienced riders.

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