The hobby of riding a motorcycle is seen to be a leisurely, pleasant experience according to a large population. Some view it as completely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. There will be differences in opinion the more people you talk to about it.
The biggest debate is whether or not motorcycles are actually dangerous. You hear of horror stories involving motorcycles which in turn makes most people believe that they are, in fact, dangerous vehicles.
Are motorcycles dangerous? The answer to whether or not motorcycles are dangerous depends a lot on the rider and their driving abilities. The word dangerous means it is likely to cause harm or injury. In this case, motorcycles can be considered dangerous. On the flip side, any other vehicle can be considered dangerous too as they also holds risks.
Throughout this article, you’ll be able to see the reasons why a motorcycle can be dangerous and the statistics that go along with it. You’ll also be able to read how to decrease risks while riding with numbers and statistics that may indicate that motorcycles might not be as dangerous as you think. This article isn’t here to convince you whether or not motorcycles are dangerous, rather this is a helpful guide to show you the points and help you decide for yourself.
Danger Risk: Lack of Protection
It’s important to understand that a motorcycle itself is not dangerous. It’s the possibilities of what can happen while you’re riding that increases a rider’s risk.
Compared to other vehicles, motorcycles have a lot less protection against anything they could collide with. And this doesn’t just mean roll bars, it also includes the lack of seat belts as well as airbags. However, motorcycle manufacturers are working on developing technology to somehow implement airbags on motorcycles.
Because there is a lack of protection, the motorcycle rider is more susceptible to colliding with the hard objects around them such as the road, car, tree, etc. It’s these collisions that create the injury and is what can cause a motorcycle to be more dangerous.
Danger Risk: Other Drivers
Perhaps the biggest danger outside of the motorcycle itself that puts a motorcyclist at risk is the other drivers around them. Not everyone rides a motorcycle and therefore a good chunk of the driving population are completely unaware of them because they don’t really know what to look for. This is probably something they could improve on in driver’s education in school.
In fact, other motorists are so unaware of motorcycles that out of all motorcycle accidents and crashes, other vehicles are at fault 40% of the time. And about half of all accidents involving a motorcycle and another vehicle are done by another vehicle making a left hand turn and intercepting with the motorcycle somehow.
Most of these types of accidents happen in intersections. This is likely due to the fact that since motorcycles are smaller, vehicle drivers don’t see them as clearly as they can for other cars. That’s why it’s important for the motorcyclist to be especially aware when approaching a cross roads like this.
Danger Risk: 2 Wheels Instead Of 4
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the difference in physics between a car that has four wheels and a motorcycle that has two wheels. One possible big reasons a lot of people end up getting a motorcycle in the first place is because it only has two wheels. Those two wheels sometimes enable motorcyclists to special rules such as lane splitting (though it’s not legal everywhere).
A car with four wheels will have more traction on the road and therefore have more control. Only having two wheels on the road means less traction which also means you could possibly lose control a little easier.
Motorcycles are also susceptible to hydroplaning, fishtailing, and sliding on ice, sand, or gravel. But then again so are most other vehicles. A skilled motorcyclist will be able to maneuver through these obstacles with enough practice.
Danger Risk: Age
Age has a large impact on the statistics of vehicle crashes altogether. And that isn’t necessarily pointed just directly towards the young people though they are a contributing factor as to why motorcycles can be dangerous.
In 2008, there were about 96,000 motorcycle accidents in the United States. Of those 96,000 accidents, about 8,000 of them were done by teenagers (ages 15-20). Studies have shown that teenagers believe that they are a lot better driver than they actually are and therefore get into a state of complacency. You mix a young teenager with complacency on a motorcycle and your chances of an accident increase.
On the flip side, older generations are also accounted for in motorcycle accidents. They also become victims of complacency because they have “ridden for 20 years without an accident” and they sometimes get into a mindset of invincibility. That relaxed state of mind is what can make a motorcycle dangerous. So in this sense, the danger comes from the rider.
Danger Risk: Driving Skills
Not just anyone can get on a motorcycle and take it for a spin around the neighborhood. It takes training and skill to operate such a vehicle which is why individuals are required to get a separate license in order to ride a motorcycle.
Staying alert and being a defensive driver is especially important while riding a motorcycle because the consequences are worse. These extra skills acquired need to be implemented every second you’re on that bike. A lot of motorcycle accidents that happen could have been prevented by the rider.
Let’s take a specific example. According to the NHTSA, “In 2013, there were 4,399 motorcycle riders killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Of those, 1,232 (28%) were alcohol-impaired (BAC of .08 or higher). In addition, there were 305 (7%) fatally injured motorcycle riders who had lower alcohol levels (BACs of .01 to .07 g/dL).”
The NHTSA also goes on to say that of all fatal crashes that happened in 2013 due to alcohol impairment, motorcyclists made up 27% of those fatalities which was the highest percentage out of all other types of vehicles (cars being 23%). This indicates that a large chunk of motorcycle fatalities could have been prevented had these motorcyclists not driven drunk or impaired.
In addition, the NHTSA also goes on to describe some further interesting statistics. Of all types of vehicles involved in fatal crashes, motorcyclists had the highest percentage of speeding convictions as well as previous license suspensions or revocations. In other words, motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents were more likely to have some sort negative previous driving record compared to other vehicle drivers.
Danger Risk: Lack Of Maintenance
Like any other motorized vehicle, motorcycles require their fair share of maintenance and check-ups. Motorcycles can break down off the side of the road leaving the rider frustrated, but there are a few basic components of motorcycle maintenance that can lead to catastrophic consequences if they’re left unattended to.
Running out of gas or having some exhaust backfire doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get bucked off the motorcycle during the middle of a ride. But if your chain breaks or your engine seizes during a ride, you could find yourself in a dangerous situation (because you can get thrown of the motorcycle if it’s bad enough). See my article here for more information about what happens when a motorcycle chain breaks.
That’s why motorcycle maintenance is so important and it is completely up to the rider to keep up with it. Any accident or injury that happens because the motorcycle malfunctions due to lack of maintenance is pretty much all on the owner and could have been completely preventable.
How To Make Riding Safer: Wearing The Right Gear
Now that we’ve covered that biggest reasons a motorcycle can be considered dangerous, let’s cover grounds as to how riders can decrease their chances and risks of harm while out for a ride.
The biggest and most obvious way to make a ride on a motorcycle safe is by wearing the right gear. Motorcyclists should always wear protective gloves, boots, pants, jacket, and most importantly wear a helmet. While wearing the right jacket doesn’t necessarily prevent spinal injury, protective gear can greatly decrease your chances of major skin burns and lacerations.
Wearing a helmet while riding could certainly mean a matter of life or death. As it was mentioned before, motorcycles provide much less protection compared to other vehicles, so wearing a helmet is vital. The NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,630 people in 2013 in the U.S. Had all those who were involved in fatal motorcycle accidents been wearing a helmet, an estimated 715 more lives could have been saved.
All motorcycle helmets that are sold in the United States require to meet safety standards that are monitored by laws and organizations. Though a helmet may not save a life 100% of the time, it greatly increases the chances of survival.
How To Make Riding Safer: Take A Riding Safety Class
In order to get a motorcycle license in most places, you’ll need to obtain your learner’s permit, practice riding, take a written and riding test, and voila. You have a motorcycle license.
While this is a good way to ensure that people have the appropriate skills to ride a motorcycle on city roads, most places do not require riders to take a riding safety class. This is usually an optional thing to help riders feel more comfortable on the road and not everyone takes a course like this.
The California Motorcyclist Safety Program reported that taking a safety riding course while you’re learning how to ride a motorcycle can decrease your chances of a fatal accident by almost 61%. That is statistically significant and it should be considered by every rider to take a safety course whether they’re learning how to ride or have already been riding for years.
How To Make Riding Safer: Regular Maintenance
As it was mentioned earlier, routine maintenance on a motorcycle is not only vital to the health of the motorcycle itself, but it’s also vital for your safety. Bigger mechanical problems can potentially be dangerous.
Issues with the chain, tires, and engine can put a rider at the biggest risk of injury. So while they can be annoying, getting regular oil changes are also important for your safety. Lack of oil or old oil inside the engine risks the pistons to seize into place. If an engine seizes during a ride, you could potential be abruptly stopped and/or thrown off the bike. The oil on a motorcycle should be changed every 4,000-5,000 miles or every six months, whichever comes first.
Chain maintenance is also vital. In most cases when a chain breaks, it usually just means your motorcycle doesn’t have power any more. But if it gets jammed, that also means your motorcycle could come to an abrupt stop and throw you off the bike. You should lube the motorcycle chain and check the tension of it every 4,000 miles or every six months, which ever comes first.
Tires are one of the most important parts of a motorcycle yet they seem to be the most neglected. It can be extremely dangerous if a motorcycle tire blows while you’re riding it and usually blows are completely preventable. See my other article here to learn more about how often you should get your motorcycle serviced.
These are all dangers that can happen on a motorcycle, but they’re also completely preventable with a little scheduling and paying attention on the owner’s part.
How To Make Riding Safer: Being A Defensive Rider
Being a defensive rider while owning a motorcycle is one of those obvious points that goes without saying. But people say they try to do it but don’t actually abide by it.
The risk of injury on a motorcycle is higher, so that’s why you need to be completely aware of your surroundings. As it was mentioned earlier, a large part of motorcycle accidents are caused by other vehicles and their lack of paying attention. You have to assume you’re making up for the attention they’re not giving.
First and foremost, assume that every driver around you on the road has no idea you are there. Don’t assume that because you have loud exhaust or that you flashed your lights at them they know you’re in their blind spot. Assuming no one knows you’re there will help you become a much better defensive driver and therefore keep you a little safer while riding.
Also make sure that you keep a safe distance between cars. Motorcyclists assume they can brake faster than cars can, but that’s not necessarily true. A lot of that depends on your motorcycle and the car that’s slamming on their brakes in front of you.
Other Activities That Are More Dangerous Than Riding A Motorcycle
According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2007 there were 5,174 motorcycle related fatalities in the U.S. In comparison with the same year, there were 22,856 fatal crashes that involved passenger cars. So while riding a motorcycle does hold it dangers, so do other activities. Let’s look at some other statistics:
- According to the CDC, 480,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are caused by smoking. On that same note, 41,000 deaths result from second-hand smoke.
- There’s an estimated 1,700 injuries per year in the U.S. because of vending machines.
- There are about 13,000 people per year in the U.S. who die because of falls.
- Just under 13,000 people die per year in the U.S. from accidental poisoning.
- About 598,000 people die per year from obesity related heart disease in the U.S.
So while riding a motorcycle does hold it’s risks and dangers, so do plenty of other common activities performed throughout the U.S. each day (and a lot of them are significantly more likely to happen than being involved in a fatal motorcycle accident).
Motorcycles do have the potential of being dangerous while being used. Any life lost while riding a motorcycle is one life too many. But as you can see throughout this article, a lot of motorcycle injuries are preventable by the rider.
Riding a motorcycle is much different than riding in a car, so anyone who desires to ride a motorcycle needs to understand their responsibilities; if they do so, they can dramatically decrease their chances of harm. Click here to see my pros and cons list of riding a motorcycle.
However, not every motorcycle injury or death is the rider’s fault. There are plenty of circumstances where the motorcycle rider had zero part in the accident, but they still happen. At the same time, accidents happen no matter where you go or where you’re at. The choice is up to you whether riding that motorcycle is really that dangerous or not.