Americans love motorcycles: the wide-open road, the sense of freedom, the “Born to Be Wild” spirit of rebellion. Perhaps you are thinking about a biking adventure as well this summer? You wouldn’t be alone. According to numerous government and industry sources, motorcycle ridership in the United States is at an all-time high, especially among older riders.
Fatalities Continue to Rise Among Older Riders
Common sense tells us that motorcycling is simply more dangerous than driving a car. Aside from four wheels over two, cars are equipped with numerous safety features, including seat belts, air bags and a surrounding structure that protects occupants in a crash. Motorcycles are also less visible to other drivers, and require more mental and physical skill to operate safely. Finally, motorcyclists are more vulnerable to bad weather and hazardous road conditions.
While the overall number of motorcycle injuries and deaths declined slightly in 2013 and 2014, fatal accidents among older riders continue to rise. Riders 50 and older accounted for 3 percent of motorcycle fatalities in 1982, 13 percent in 1997 and 36 percent in 2014, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Aside from the inherent dangers of motorcycling, riding without a helmet, while intoxicated or speeding are often cited as contributing factors as well.
Insurance May Not Cover Personal Injury
After strapping on your helmet, the next best protection you can have in case of a motorcycle accident is insurance. While all 50 states require minimum insurance coverage to operate a motorcycle, be aware that the minimums may not adequately protect you in a serious accident. Like any type of insurance, how much you'll need will depend on many different factors, including the type of bike you own, how often you ride, your marital status, your personal assets and your budget.
Liability covers bodily injury and property damage that you may cause to others involved in an accident. Other coverages include uninsured or underinsured motorist, which covers personal injury and damages caused by the driver of another vehicle who either does not have insurance or does not have sufficient coverage; collision, which covers physical damage to the motorcycle involved in a crash with an object, tree or another vehicle; comprehensive, which covers a loss from non-collision sources, such as theft, vandalism, fire or hail; and in states where applicable, medical payments or personal injury protection (PIP), which covers physical injuries to the rider and passenger.
Beyond liability, your first priority should be the coverages that pay you – and your passenger – for medical treatment, lost wages and other damages. These include uninsured/underinsured and PIP. Note, however, that the risks associated with motorcycling often make it very expensive to increase these coverages. In some cases, for example, PIP may not even be available, or may be so expensive that it is out of reach for most individuals. As when purchasing any type of insurance, seek the advice of a qualified advisor and carefully review policies from several different insurers.
Preventing Motorcycle Accidents – Tips for Riders and Drivers
To help combat the growing safety issues with motorcycles, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation has set out to improve safety through education, training and licensing. Since 1974, over 7.5 million motorcyclists have taken MSF training courses.
The Foundation offers the following tips for riders and drivers (download) to help prevent motorcycle accidents.
- Be Properly Trained and Licensed – Half of all riders have never taken a proper safety class. If you take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic Rider Course, some states will waive the written portion of the motorcycle endorsement test.
- Wear a Helmet – The facts are irrefutable: Helmets prevent fatalities an estimated 37 percent of the time for motorcycle drivers, and 41 percent of the time for passengers in motorcycle accidents, according to the NHTSA. And aside from being smart, wearing a helmet the law in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
- Fool's Gear, Cool Gear – What you wear can make it easier for drivers to see you and better protect you in a crash.
- Never Drink and Drive – In 2013, 28 percent of cycling fatalities involved riders who were legally intoxicated.
- Ride Within Your Skill Limits and Obey Traffic Laws – Don’t ride faster or farther than your abilities will allow.
- Be a Lifelong Learner – Take advanced courses to brush up on the basics and keep improving your skills.
- Watch for Motorcyclists – Motorcycles are smaller than other vehicles and often harder to see. In 42 percent of the fatal motorcycle accidents reported in 2013, a vehicle made a left turn in front of an oncoming motorcycle.
- Focus on Driving – Motorcyclists are easy to miss even when you are paying attention. Studies show that distracted drivers simply don't see certain objects like signs, motorcyclists and pedestrians. Hang up the cell phone or mobile device.
- Give Motorcyclists Enough Room – Maintain a safe distance between your car and a motorcycle and don’t change lanes too close. What would be a minor fender bender between two cars could easily be fatal to a motorcyclist.
- Use Your Turn Signals – For everyone’s safety, use your turn signals. It is also the law.
- Keep Trash in the Car – Road debris can kill a rider. And don't throw cigarette butts out of your car, either.
This article appeared in our July 2016 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.