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How Dangerous Are Motorcycles? 7 Ways To Minimize Risk

I hear this excuse all the time. “I want a motorcycle so bad, but my mom/wife/girlfriend won’t let me because they’re unsafe.” Whether a grown-up should allow someone else to dictate what they can and can’t do isn’t for me to say. But what I will tell you is that motorcycles aren’t as dangerous as many people believe.

There are two reasons why so many people have been led to believe that motorcycles are unsafe: they see how vulnerable riders are on a bike compared to a car and the fact that the media is constantly reporting serious or fatal accidents on bikes.

I’m actually glad that so many accidents involving bikes make it on the news because it spreads awareness to other drivers that we’re out there. Too many motorcyclists are killed or injured because another driver “didn’t see them”.

The chances of being injured on a motorcycle vs a car

I’m not going to dispute the fact that you’re more likely to get injured in a crash on a motorcycle vs a car. Motorcycle riders have very little protection compared to car drivers. That’s just the truth. This is what makes people believe that all bikes are dangerous and it would be true if you were just as likely to be in a crash on a bike as you are in a car.

But my opinion is that you aren’t as likely. It’s easier to avoid accidents in the first place on a motorcycle than it is in a car. Once you take that into account, you’ll see that the chances of you dying the moment you swing your leg onto a bike are actually a lot slimmer than you think. Being a skilled, alert rider makes all the difference in the world.

Motorcycles are the lightweight boxers of the road

Motorcycles are much more nimble than most cars. They can slow down and stop in a fraction of the time. They can steer and swerve much quicker and easier. And one of the biggest things: they’re small and take up much less space on the road. That opens up tons of possible escape routes that just aren’t possible in a car.

Aside from exceptionally skinny lanes, you can fit a motorcycle beside a car in most cases. That alone can buy you a few extra seconds if a car turns into your lane and you need to escape. In that same situation, you might not have anywhere to swerve in a car, particularly if you’re beside a wall or guard rail.

When someone decides to turn left in front of you on the highway, a bike gives you the option to scrub a bunch of speed quickly and possibly even swerve around the car without hitting others (as long as you’re paying attention). In a car, you basically have 2 choices: hit the shoulder and hope for the best or a head-on collision.

All of those characteristics combined make for much better odds at avoiding an accident in the first place. That’s why I feel safe on a motorcycle. Think of them as a lightweight boxer – they might not have knock-out power, but they’re slippery and hard to touch.

I’m not concerned about whether I’m more likely to be injured in a crash when I know I have a much better chance of avoiding the crash entirely. Accident avoidance is what will keep you alive on a motorcycle. It’s not rocket science either – it just requires a little common sense.

Being a smart rider makes motorcycles less dangerous

Stats show that most motorcycle accidents are the fault of the car driver, not the rider. But when you take a closer look, is that really the case?

According to the rules of the road, you weren’t doing anything wrong when that driver turned into your lane. You might have been right, but you’re also still dead or injured. If there was any chance that you could have avoiding being in that situation in the first place and you didn’t take it, you’re responsible for that.

Riding in a car’s blind spot is always a bad idea. Yes, they’re supposed to check that no one is there before they change lanes. If they fail to do so, you’ll be right and they’ll be wrong. You’ll also be dead or injured, so is it really worth it?

Think of it this way – you wouldn’t walk through a bad neighborhood late at night with your brand new phone in one hand and a stack of cash in the other, would you? That’s just asking to get robbed. By putting yourself in a high-risk position, trouble can and will find you.

Just because the law is on your side doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt! I’d rather be alive than have someone say “at least it wasn’t his fault” at my funeral. Don’t give other drivers the option to hit you.

Bikes are only as fast and dangerous as you make them

Yes, some bikes are fast. Freakishly fast. But they only do that when you twist the throttle. If guns don’t kill people, motorcycles don’t either. It’s up to the rider to control themselves. If you think you’ll have a hard time resisting the urge to ride recklessly, don’t buy a fast bike. That’s why I ride a Harley that can barely get out of its own way.

I know people that jumped straight to a 600cc sportbike as soon as they started riding. It isn’t recommended, but guess what? Those people are all still alive. Just because a motorcycle can accelerate, corner, and brake at a high rate of speed doesn’t mean you’re forced to ride it that way. It’s up to you.

Tips to put the odds in your favor:

There are a few things that I simply don’t do on a motorcycle in an effort to stay safe. There’s nothing keeping me from doing them, I just choose not to. This keeps the odds of being in a crash in my favor.

Don’t ride in bad weather

Call me a fair-weather rider if you want, I don’t care. The chances of being in an accident skyrocket in the rain. The road is slippery and other drivers can’t see you as well if it’s dark. To me, the risk isn’t worth the reward. I don’t enjoy riding in the rain and I have other vehicles with roofs on them that I can use instead.

Avoid highways known for animals and critters at night

I enjoy riding at night, especially after upgrading the headlight on my Harley. Cruising around town during a full moon is a lot of fun. I try not to head out on any country roads in the middle of the night though.

Roadkill is an annoyance when you’re driving a car. Hitting an animal on a bike however, can be a totally different experience. Hitting a deer will almost certainly mess you up badly. Even an animal as small as a raccoon can cause you to lose control. A quick run down the highway isn’t that big of a deal, but I’m not going to head out of town on a longer ride at midnight.

Skip the busy highways and interstates

Here in Ontario, we have Highway 401. It’s famously known for being the busiest highway in North America. It’s constantly busy with a minimum of 3 lanes of trucks and commuters heading to Toronto. I try not to ride on it unless I have to.

It’s much harder to keep a blocking position and stay visible with that many lanes, and the drivers on that highway (particularly coming to or from Toronto) are complete nut jobs. Speeding, passing on the right and jumping multiple lanes without even looking are common driving habits on the 401. I don’t like my odds. Besides, the scenic route is always more enjoyable on a motorcycle.

Don’t ride near beaches or cottage country on long weekends

Drunk drivers are a big problem for motorcyclists. Many people like to celebrate their long weekends with heavy drinking. Areas with beaches and cottages tend to attract more people on long weekends making it even more common.

On the Friday night of a long weekend, you have drivers that are in a hurry to get to their mini-vacation and people that have already started drinking before they even left the house.

On Monday, you have hungover drivers (or ones that are still drunk as a skunk) stumbling to find their way home after spending days in the sun or on the water. The middle of a long weekend when everyone is at their destination seems to be the safest time to ride if you’re near these areas.

I’ll stick to less popular areas if I want to head out of town on the bike on a long weekend. If I do decide to head towards the busier areas, I make sure I’m extra aware of the drivers around me.

Stay out of drivers’ blind spots

Again, I’d rather be alive than “not at fault”. So many accidents can be avoided by giving the cars around you extra room and making sure you’re visible. Never count on a driver to do the right thing. It’s better to assume that they’re about to make a dangerous move at any time.

Loud pipes save lives

I’m not sure how much evidence there is to prove that this saying is accurate. But I have been in many situations where a driver is either daydreaming or simply not keeping an eye out for motorcycles.

This is a situation where a loud bike will force them to know you’re there whether they’re willing to look or not. I have no problem with doing my best to shatter someone’s window with my Harley’s exhaust if they’re distracted and putting my safety in jeopardy. I will be heard.

Pay attention

I can’t stress this last one enough. On a motorcycle, we don’t get the luxury of spacing out and daydreaming the way car drivers do. We have to be awake, alert, and focused at all times if we want to stay safe.

Keep your head on a swivel. Watch how the tires of the vehicles around you are tracking, especially the ones coming head-on. Make note of someone swerving in their lane and get away from them ASAP. Scan every intersection for potential threats, even if you have the green light. Watch your mirrors like a hawk whenever you’re stopped.

Many motorcycle accidents could have been avoided if the rider was paying closer attention and was able to react quicker. Expect the worst out of everyone on the road and always have an escape plan for when something actually does start to go bad.

Be a smart rider

Being a smart rider means taking control of your own safety and not giving drivers the chance to hurt you. Sure, there’s always the chance of something happening that you can’t avoid. That risk is still real. Driving a car or even stepping outside your home opens you up to that risk too though.

Motorcycles aren’t as dangerous as you may have been told. If you’re just getting started with riding, I’d highly recommend taking a motorcycle safety course.

They’ll teach you a ton of tips and strategies to stay safe on a bike and help you to practice what to do if something goes wrong. Then if something does happen in real life, you’re trained and ready to act. It’s worth every penny (and sometimes makes getting your license much easier).

Fear-mongering seems to be everywhere these days. You can live your life in fear and avoid anything that has the potential to hurt you if you wish. Just remember that bad things can happen to you without a bike too. We only get one shot at life so minimize your risk as much as you can, then get out there and live. The benefits of riding a motorcycle far outweigh the risk.

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