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There are all kinds of great reasons to ride a motorcycle – feeling the freedom of being out in the open with the wind rushing past you, a scenic drive through the beautiful Central Texas highways, and the cost benefit of fuel, maintenance and purchase price versus a car. However, if you choose to ride a motorcycle, it’s important to understand the safety risks so you know how to best protect yourself. Without the added safeguard of a metal frame around you, it’s just the rider versus the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, nearly 80% of all motorcycle crashes result in an injury or death, versus 20% for automobiles. Riders who were not wearing a helmet were 10 times more likely to die than those who did wear one. The following tips may help to keep you safe while riding a motorcycle:

Know your bike and become a skilled rider

Approximately 25% of motorcycle riders who are killed were not trained or licensed to operate a motorcycle. Once you decide to buy a motorcycle, take a training course through the Texas Department of Public Safety. They offer training courses for all skill levels, followed by a test that will provide you with a Texas state motorcycle license. Those who ride must learn to ride defensively. Cars on the road may not see a motorcycle, so avoid riding in an automobile’s blind spot and always anticipate what a vehicle may do around you. Don’t tailgate and if another vehicle is following your bike too closely, attempt to change lanes and let them pass. Maintain a safe speed which is appropriate for the driving condition. Rainy weather can limit your visibility and make roads very slick, causing you to lose traction. If possible, pull over in the rain or ride in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you. Taking a safety course and learning the intricacies of your bike can help you maneuver out of potentially dangerous situations when they arise.

Wear the maximum amount of protective gear

Your entire body is at risk for injury, even in the most minor of crashes. Protective clothing should be a durable, thick material with long sleeves and long pants (tight around the ankles so it doesn’t get caught up in the bike). Wearing bright colored and reflective clothing will make you more visible to other drivers, especially at night. Non-slip, thick gloves help to provide a firm grip on the handlebars. Leather boots protect feet, ankles, and lower legs from abrasions. Avoid shoes with laces that could potentially become entangled in the bike.

A proper helmet is the MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF PROTECTIVE GEAR and could easily be the difference between life and death in a crash. Research has shown that helmets reduce the risk of death by 37%, and the risk of a head injury by 69%. As previously stated, those riders who do not wear helmets were 10 times more likely to die in a collision than those who did wear one. Helmets should have a thick outer shell and impact-absorbing lining. A good helmet should fit snug, fasten under the chin and should preferably be full-faced to provide the most protection. If a face shield is not present, eye protection is necessary to prevent debris from flying into the eyes and impairing vision. Look for the DOT sticker on helmets to ensure that it has met the minimum federal safety standards. The “German” style helmet (also known as a “beanie”) is growing in popularity, but is considered a novelty helmet and offers virtually NO protection against head injuries.

Texas has a “partial helmet law” in place requiring riders under the age of 21 to wear a helmet, in addition to those who have not completed a safety course or who do not have medical insurance. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration highly recommends that all riders wear a helmet, as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death within motorcycle deaths. Even when not fatal, TBI can severely alter the personality and function of an individual and can require a lifetime of costly treatment and therapy.

Stay sober

It is recommended that those who ride motorcycles have ZERO alcohol in their system, as riding a motorcycle requires much more skill, concentration and coordination than driving a vehicle. Consuming any amount of alcohol may significantly impair a rider’s balance and ability to control the motorcycle skillfully. Nearly half of all single-vehicle motorcycle crashes resulting in death involved a rider under the influence of alcohol.
Riding a motorcycle is an exhilarating experience, but riders should keep these safety precautions in mind to help minimize the risk of a crash. These safety tips are also important for vehicle drivers to understand. As the operator of a vehicle, remember to always be aware of motorcycles around you – they are not as visible as another car, so you must look for them. Never tailgate a motorcyclist, follow traffic laws and always use signals.

Share the road!

Kristen Hullum, MSN, RN
Trauma Injury Prevention Coordinator
St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center

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