Adrenaline junkies love motorcycles for their power, speed and maneuverability, but all that fun comes with quite a bit of risk. Even in the hands of an expert rider, a motorcycle is a dangerous vehicle for the driver and any passengers involved. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, motorcyclist fatality rates are an astonishing 26 times higher than car driver fatalities per mile travelled.
Two factors explain disparity in injuries and deaths between cars and bikes. First, motorcycles are simply harder to see than cars and trucks. Their small profile makes them hard to spot, especially in suboptimal driving conditions. Most drivers are also not used to sharing the road with cyclists and may not check their blind spots carefully enough to spot cyclists. Consequently, motorcycle crashes often occur on highways during lane changes and merges.
Second, motorcyclists tend to live on the edge. They tend to be younger than car and truck drivers and they drive more aggressively. Fully one third of motorcycle fatalities occur in speed-related accidents, compared to less than 20% for cars and trucks.
Because motorcycles lack seatbelts, airbags, and other safety features common in most cars, accidents are often extremely serious. Bikers can incur life-threatening injuries even at low speeds. The most dangerous injuries involve the brain and scull, so cyclists can reduce their risk by always wearing a helmet while on the road. A less threatening—but more common—injury associated with motorcycle crashes is “road rash.” When cyclists drive over loose gravel, lose traction on a wet road or have to swerve to avoid a car, they can find themselves skidding along the road. This can produce severe scrapes and bruises, though thick clothing like the classic leather motorcycle jacket offers a measure of protection.
For car and truck drivers sharing the road with motorcycles, constant vigilance is the best defense against tragedy. When bikes are on the highway, drivers should keep a close eye on them and avoid drifting within their lanes. Changing lanes with motorcycles nearby also requires more defensive tactics—prolonged turn signals and repeated “head checks” for open space are essential.