With clear skies and warm weather encouraging motorcycle enthusiasts to hit the road, experts advise drivers and motorcyclists to practice safety when these motorcycles are on the roads.
With a number of fatal motorcycle accidents occurring in Beaver County in recent weeks, motorcyclists in the area are encouraged to remember safe driving tips and follow traffic laws.
By making sure motorcyclists can avoid serious injury to themselves and others, these drivers can avoid potentially fatal crashes and ensure they stay out of harm’s way when biking, experts say.
When operating motorcycles, experts emphasize safety as a priority due to the exposed nature of riders and passengers on these motorcycles and the increased danger of collision.
Accident numbers show that these expert concerns are justified: According to PennDOT, the total number of motorcycle incidents has continued to rise each year since 2018. The total number of motorcycle incidents increased 14.1% in 2020, with a total of 3398 motorcycle accidents. . Throughout the year, fatal accidents also increased by 22.9%, claiming 215 lives.
Many of these accidents are the result of reckless driving or speeding, causing motorcyclists to lose control of their vehicles or hit other drivers. PennDOT says that 96% of fatal motorcycle accidents in the United States are the result of the motorcycle striking another vehicle, and 77% of multi-vehicle accidents occur at the 10, 11, 12, 1 and 2 o’clock on the motorcycle.
In Beaver County, multiple accidents have occurred over the past month, claiming the lives of area residents. On July 21, Hopewell residents Christian Tyler McKenzie, 23, and Josiah Hufnagel, 24, suffered fatal injuries in separate motorcycle crashes in the township. That same day, Shawn Grimm, 62, of Beaver Falls, was killed in a crash with a car along Ohio River Boulevard in Glen Osborne, Allegheny County.
To prevent similar accidents from occurring, motorcyclists should follow the safety tips before sitting on the motorcycle. Before getting on their bikes, riders need to make sure everything on their bike is working properly and everything is ready to hit the road.
“If you’re a motorcyclist, there are things you want to do to make sure your bike is working properly,” said Lynda Lambert, safety advisor for AAA East Central. “Before driving, always check your tire pressure and tread depth. Make sure your brakes, headlights, and signal indicators are working properly.”
Similar to driving cars on the highway, motorcycles require a license to operate and this Class M license is a separate certification from a standard driver’s license. In Pennsylvania, drivers must take a vision test and a motorcycle knowledge test to obtain a learner’s permit. This permit only allows drivers to operate motorcycles from sunrise to sunset and must be under the supervision of another person with a valid Class M license.
After training on this permit, drivers must either pass a bike test at a PennDOT Driver License Center or pass the final test at the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program. While there is a lot of work to get certified to ride a motorcycle, it is also important to receive this training and be properly prepared for this unique experience on the road.
“There’s an interesting stat from the NHTSA: 36% of motorcycle operators who were involved in fatal crashes in 2020 were riding without a valid motorcycle license,” Lambert said. “This would lead you to believe that they had not had the proper training.”
While not required for all drivers, wearing helmets for extra head safety protection is always a good idea and can prevent potentially fatal head injuries. In Pennsylvania, all passengers under the age of 21 and drivers with less than 2 years of driving experience are legally required to wear helmets that meet DOT safety standards.
“Always ride with a helmet that meets the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard,” Lambert said. “You can make sure you’re doing it by looking for the DOT symbol on the back of the helmet.”
In addition to head protection, motorcyclists should consider wearing gear to protect other surfaces of their bodies while riding outdoors. Drivers and passengers alike should consider wearing gloves, pants, and jackets to cover exposed skin that could be injured in a potential crash or to avoid being struck by airborne debris.
While on the road, drivers should try to make themselves highly visible to alert other drivers of their presence at all times and ensure their intentions are clear.
“You want to be as visible as possible,” Lambert said. “Keep your lights on, wear bright colors, even during the day, and always get in a lane where drivers can see you. Follow all traffic laws and always use your turn signals. It’s a good idea to combine hand signals with the turn signals. Signal when you can to make sure other drivers are clear about your intentions.”
Like all motorized vehicles, motorcycle operators should never drive while intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 27% of motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes in the United States were under the influence of alcohol. These accidents claimed the lives of 1,436 motorcyclists across the country.
While personal safety should always be a priority for those who ride motorcycles, other drivers must also take care of those who travel by bicycle.
While a motorcycle must follow the same traffic laws as other drivers on the road, having less protection and a smaller size means that other drivers pose a greater risk to motorcyclists when distracted while driving on the road. To protect these vulnerable drivers, all motorists need to know where these motorcycles are on the road and watch for smaller vehicles at all times.
“As a driver, you want to check your mirrors and blind spots for motorcyclists before entering or exiting lanes of traffic and always at intersections,” Lambert said. “Most multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes occur when the driver of a car simply did not see the motorcyclist.”
Another way to protect these motorcyclists is for drivers to add space to their following distance by adding a larger gap between the car and the bike. Under no circumstances should a car be next to a motorcycle in a lane or intentionally add pressure to motorcyclists driving on the road.
“Always increase your following distance behind motorcycles and allow time to maneuver or stop in an emergency,” Lambert said. “That rule applies when you’re driving a car or a motorcycle. You never want to share a lane with motorcyclists, they have the same right to the lanes as cars.”
While motorcyclists should focus on visibility, it is always good practice for vehicles to do the same when traveling down the road. By clearly signaling and giving motorcyclists additional time to react to those in front of them, drivers can protect these people and potentially save lives on the road.
“You must signal before changing lanes or merging into traffic,” Lambert said. “And even when signaling, allow plenty of time to determine a motorcyclist’s intent before proceeding.”
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