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Motorcycle safety

The Rules of the Road

There are more than 4 million motorcycles registered in the United States. Popular because of its low initial cost, its use as a pleasure vehicle and, for some models, the good fuel efficiency, nevertheless there is a danger factor to driving a motorcycle: motorcycle fatalities represent about 5% of all highway fatalities each year, yet motorcycles represent just 2% of all registered vehicles in the United States.

One of the main reasons motorcyclists are killed in crashes is because the motorcycle itself provides virtually no protection in a crash. For example, approximately 80% of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death, compared to about 20% for automobile crashes.

Here are some steps you can take to increase your likelihood of a safe ride:

First, last and always: Never ride without a certified motorcycle helmet and eye protection.

This is the most important piece of equipment you can own. Safety helmets save lives by reducing the extent of head injuries in the event of a crash. Make sure your helmet fits comfortably and snugly, and is fastened for the ride. Look for the DOT label on the helmet – this constitutes the manufacturer's certification that the helmet conforms to the federal standard. In many states, use of a helmet is required by law. Passengers should also wear a helmet. A consumer information brochure on how to choose and care for a motorcycle helmet is available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 400 Seventh Street SW, NTS-22, Washington, DC 20590.

Complete a motorcycle training course, then practice before going out on the street.
For the location of a Motorcycle Safety Foundation-approved rider-training course, call toll free (800) 446-9227. Afterward, find an off-highway area or vacant parking lot and practice until use of all controls becomes automatic and you become thoroughly accustomed to requirements for balance, making turns, stopping, and shifting.

Be aware that riding with a passenger requires even more skill than riding alone. Carrying a passenger should be delayed until you have considerable solo riding time and are ready to take on the responsibility of carrying a passenger.

Obtain your learner's permit or motorcycle endorsement on your driver's license before you venture onto the streets.

Never drink and ride. Alcohol slows reflexes and greatly limits your ability to operate a motorcycle. Even a very small amount of alcohol can reduce your ability to operate a motorcycle safely.

Read your owner's manual thoroughly. It tells you how to operate your motorcycle, maintain it, and diagnose problems. Keep to the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule. Before each day's riding, perform a visual and operational check of the motorcycle and its operating systems. Check lights, turn signals, tires, brakes, fuel and oil levels, mirrors, and control cables. Replace broken, worn or frayed cables at once. Lubricate and adjust your chain as prescribed in your owner's manual.

Wear protective clothing: Studies show that the head, arms and legs are most often injured in a crash. Protective clothing and equipment offer comfort and protection from the elements; some measure of injury protection; and through use of color or reflective material, a means for other motorists to see the motorcyclist.

Eye Protection: Choose good quality goggles, glasses with plastic or safety lenses, or a helmet equipped with a face shield. Goggles, glasses, and face shields should be scratch free, shatter proof, and well ventilated to prevent fog buildup. Only clear shields should be used at night since tinted shields reduce contrast and make it more difficult to see. Even if your motorcycle has a windshield, eye protection is recommended.

Jackets and Trousers: Clothing worn when riding a motorcycle should provide some measure of protection from abrasion in the event of a spill. These should be of durable material (e.g., special synthetic material or leather). Jackets should have long sleeves. Trousers (not shorts) should not be baggy or flared at the bottom to prevent entanglement with the chain, kick starter, foot-pegs, or other protrusions on the sides of a motorcycle.

Gloves: Durable gloves of the non-slip type, to permit a firm grip on the controls, are recommended. Leather gloves are excellent, as are special fabric gloves with leather palms and grip strips on the fingers. Gauntlet-type gloves keep air out of the rider's sleeves.

Footwear: Leather boots are best. Durable athletic shoes that cover the ankles are a good second choice. Sandals, sneakers, and similar footwear provide little protection from abrasion or a crushing impact. Avoid dangling laces.

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