An open road with the wind streaming past you on a motorcycle can be one of life's great joys. However, as every motorcyclist knows, there are very real risks to this activity. Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in May is a great time to spread awareness about ways motorcyclists can stay safe on roads across Louisiana and the U.S.

At Huber Thomas & Marcelle, we're dedicated to making sure your time on the open road is as safe and enjoyable as possible. That's why we compiled this list of tips on motorcycle safety, for both motorcyclists and others on the road. Please share it with others to help make our roads safer for all.

Why is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month so important?

With relaxed schedules, long vacations, and beautiful days, summer is a great time to go out on a ride. Unfortunately, this means there's also an increase in motorcyclist deaths during this time of year.

Over 60% of all motorcyclist deaths in 2018 took place between May through September, with fatalities peaking in June. Due to a variety of factors, motorcyclists are 27 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than car passengers.

There is some good news: public awareness efforts are working.

In 2018, there was an almost 5% decrease in motorcyclist fatalities. This followed a dip in 2017 as well. For each of those nearly 5,000 riders, though, every single death was one too many. This is what you can do to help protect yourself and others on the road.

1. Follow Louisiana motorcycle laws

If you've ridden across different states, you know that motorcycle laws vary widely across the U.S. For example, most states have helmet laws in place but only cover underage riders. Other states, like Illinois and Iowa, have no helmet requirements at all.

We're thankful that Louisiana is a state that requires helmets for all motorcyclists and passengers. Even if you live in a state without this law, you should absolutely wear a DOT-compliant helmet as they're the best way to protect yourself from a traumatic head injury or death. In 2017, helmets saved an estimated 1,872 lives.

Other Louisiana motorcycle laws stipulate that you must:

  • Complete a road rules and skills test to receive a motorcycle endorsement
  • Wear appropriate eye protection while driving, such as goggles or safety glasses, unless you have a proper windshield or full helmet
  • Never overtake or pass other vehicles in the same lane (a practice known as lane-splitting)
  • Keep both hands on your handlebars while driving

Further, you can only carry passengers if your motorcycle was made for multiple people. Children must be five years or older, in an appropriate seat.

2. Be alert to the most common causes of crashes

Motorcycle crashes most commonly occur when:

  • Another vehicle turns left in front of you
  • You hit an unsafe or slippery patch of road
  • Another vehicle changes lanes into you
  • Someone opens a car door into your oncoming bike
  • You were traveling too fast
  • Another driver stops suddenly, or rear-ends you
  • Anyone is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

RideApart offers an excellent resource, along with videos, that explains how to avoid and respond to the most common causes of motorcycle crashes. We recommend reading and watching these videos in full, whether you're a new or experienced driver.

3. Never drive under the influence

We're noting this twice because it's that important.

At night, up to 46% of all motorcyclist fatalities occur when the motorcyclist had a BAC above the legal limit of 0.08%. Never drink and drive. Make it a rule to avoid driving if you've had even one drink.

Likewise, avoid driving after any use of prescription sedatives, pain medications, or other drugs. For example, while marijuana may be legal in some states, it can still lead to a change in your driving skills.

4. Know your risks

Before you ever step up to your bike, be aware of and proactive about your specific risks.

If you're an inexperienced driver, plan to ride in slower, safer conditions until you build your skills. If you're on a newer bike, get used to it off the road and, again, practice in safer conditions until you build confidence.

Age also plays a role in motorcycle accidents. Those 50 years and older made up 36% of all motorcycle fatalities in 2017, up from 14% in 1997. The reasons for this are many. Often, older drivers are "re-entry riders." They rode when they were younger and assume that they still know how to handle a bike. With more traffic, more powerful bikes, and diminished physical skills, this simply isn't the case.

If you're an older adult who hasn't ridden in a while, it pays to take a safety class to refresh your skills. Follow the other safety tips too, like getting used to your bike and practicing in safer areas before hitting the open road.

Finally, know that riding with a passenger takes much more skill. You can learn how to ride safely with a passenger here.

5. Wear appropriate safety gear

We already discussed how DOT-compliant helmets can save lives. These helmets provide appropriate shock-absorption and peripheral vision capabilities. Look for a DOT sticker on the inside or outside of your helmet to ensure it meets safety standards. You can learn more about choosing a helmet here.

To protect yourself in the case of an accident, you should also wear:

  • Clothing that fully covers your arms and legs in a thick material, like leather
  • Boots or shoes that cover up to your ankles or higher
  • Gloves for a better grip and to protect your hands
  • Eye protection, such as a full helmet or goggles
  • Reflective materials for better visibility

6. Do a safety check before each ride

You've received your motorcycle endorsement, practiced in a secure area, and found the right safety gear. Even so, you should still do a quick safety check before each ride. At the very least check:

  • The weather to ensure there won't be any slippery or unsafe conditions
  • Your tire pressure
  • Your bike's brakes, headlights, and signal indicators
  • For any signs of oil or gas leaks
  • That any cargo is properly secured and balanced
  • That your protective gear is in good shape and worn correctly

7. Practice active awareness during every ride

Finally, if you drive a motorcycle, always ride responsibly and as actively aware as possible. This means:

  • Watching ahead for any potholes, gravel, or puddles
  • Proceeding cautiously at intersections, where most accidents take place
  • Keeping your headlights on at all times to increase your visibility
  • Leaving plenty of braking distance between yourself and other vehicles
  • Using extra caution in heavy traffic or inclement weather

Not sure if you're aware of the best ways to protect yourself out there? We highly recommend taking a safety class. The Louisiana State Police offer a variety of motorcycle training programs, ranging from basic rider courses to more advanced lessons. There are a variety of other high-quality safety programs as well.

8. Practice motorcycle awareness on the road

Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month is about reducing accidents and raising awareness about motorcycles with all drivers. Even if you don't drive a motorcycle, you can do your part to help all people on the road arrive at their destination safely.

Here's how:

  • Practice caution when approaching a left turn, ensuring you use your turn signal and the road is clear of motorcyclists or allowing them to pass before turning
  • Become aware of motorcycle turning and braking patterns
  • Give motorcyclists the same (or more) space as you do other vehicles, allowing them a full lane width
  • Yield to motorcyclists and give them plenty of space—even the smallest nudge can lead to a crash
  • Check your mirrors and blind spots for motorcyclists before changing lanes or making turns
  • Avoiding any and all distractions while driving, such as texting, eating, or playing with your car radio

The Washington Motorcycle Safety Program released a video that shows how to be more aware of motorcyclists on the road. It gives good examples of what to look for and motorcycle movement patterns.

Get help after a motorcycle accident

Even if you practice all of these safety guidelines, you could still be in an accident. Unfortunately, an earlier report notes that in two-thirds of passenger car and motorcycle collisions, the car violated the motorcyclist's right-of-way.

If the worst happens, there is help.

At Huber Thomas & Marcelle, we're dedicated to helping victims recover after an accident. We’re tireless advocates for our clients, helping you secure the compensation you need to cover any long-term costs after an accident. We also help you make sense of the insurance claims process. You can learn more about our approach to motorcycle accidents here.

If you've recently been in a motorcycle accident, contact us today for a free consultation. We can walk you through your legal options.