Safe riding involves not only avoiding errors of your own but also anticipating and responding to other drivers’ errors. This is crucial, because human error contributes to 98 percent of auto accidents each year. While you can’t control how others drive, you can take it upon yourself to practice defensive riding.
Defensive riding for motorcycle riders means preparing and operating your motorcycle in a way that emphasizes awareness and safety. A key element of this is anticipating what other motorists will do, even if they’re wrong.
Review these five safety tips and use them as a foundation as you become a more defensive rider:
Leather jackets, heavy boots, and rugged gloves are just some of the items of clothing many people associate with biker culture. But biker apparel isn’t just about fashion—it serves a double purpose to help keep motorcycle riders safe.
The CDC estimates that about 750 lives each year could be saved if all riders wore motorcycle helmets. A helmet is by far the most important piece of equipment for helping you stay safe on your bike, but other pieces of gear—like body armor, gloves, and knee and elbow braces—are crucial as well.
Shoes that cover the ankle, full-finger gloves, leather vests, and eye protection don’t just look cool, they can also help protect you from the dangers of the road. While these clothing items won’t necessarily stop you from being involved in an accident, they can help limit your injuries.
While human error is the top reason for accidents, even the best riders are only as good as their machines.
To promote safe, defensive driving, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) created the T-CLOCS Inspection Checklist. Make sure to perform this six-point check before riding:
Remember: Defensive riding isn’t just an action, it’s an attitude toward safety that extends to how you care for your machine.
Many of the human errors that cause accidents are simple misjudgments: stopping too abruptly, sitting for a split second too long at a green light, or practicing poor posture that slows down response time.
However, some errors represent failure to follow the rules of the road. Here are some actions you can take to help ride safely and legally.
While speed limits apply to every vehicle sharing the road, motorcycles typically accelerate much faster than passenger vehicles due to their unusually high power-to-weight ratio. Because it’s relatively quick and easy to accelerate on a motorcycle, many motorcycle riders find themselves speeding without realizing how fast they’re truly going.
In addition to the universal rules of the road, motorcycle riders have to be aware of some unique traffic laws. For example, the regulation of lane sharing and splitting. Lane sharing is the legal practice of riding side-by-side with another motorcyclist in the same lane. Since motorcycles have a much smaller footprint than other vehicles, lane sharing helps riders share the road more efficiently by using the space of the entire line.
Lane splitting, on the other hand, is the practice of using the space between lanes to pass other vehicles. It’s illegal in most states because of the risks involved, so be sure to check your state’s laws before lane splitting.
Over the years, bikers have established an informal set of widely understood motorcycle hand signals that allow you to communicate with other riders. While these kinds of acknowledgments are informal, they also serve a defensive riding purpose.
For example, the two-fingers-down acknowledgement gesture shows other riders that you see them, are aware of their position, and will ride with their safety in mind.
Here are a few other hand signals bikers use to communicate with their road-mates:
Each state has its own laws regarding things like helmets, handlebar height, and passengers. Always be familiar with your state’s motorcycle requirements and the laws of each state you pass through during long road trips.
Whether you’re riding at night or during the day, other motorists must be able to clearly see you. Here are several ways to make yourself more visible to others:
Situational awareness is a key element of defensive riding because it enables you to respond rapidly and actively to new developments on the road.
Even as car manufacturers race toward self-driving cars, your mind should never be on autopilot. Zoning out while riding is so dangerous, it has its own name: highway hypnosis.
Some practical ways you can practice situational awareness include:
While safety starts with you, it doesn’t end there. Being aware of other drivers is just as important as being aware of your own riding. Keep a close eye on other drivers and anticipate their next move. Give yourself enough room to stop in case the driver ahead of you slams on their brakes, makes a sudden move, or gets into an accident of their own.
Being aware of other drivers helps improve your reaction time—after all, you can’t control other drivers, but you can control how you respond to them.
Good strategies always include a contingency plan. Always have a way to avoid getting boxed in by other drivers. Some ways you can maintain a good exit strategy include:
Roughly 80 percent of American drivers say they experience significant anger while driving at least once per month. This road rage contributes to a significant number of accidents—in fact, road rage has contributed to about 300 deaths over the past 10 years, according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration.
While the prevalence of road rage might make it appear as a universal human practice, there are things you can do to help reduce road rage, both in yourself and in others.
Experts suggest staying comfortable and giving other drivers the benefit of the doubt—even when they’re initiating conflict. By refusing to escalate conflict, you can help minimize the potentially dangerous accidents that happen when emotions get the better of people.
Defensive riding is important because it can help keep you and everybody you share the road with safe. As millions of people drive daily, it’s easy to become desensitized to the dangers of the road, but this proactive approach can help you avoid complacency.
Over the years, cars have gotten safer through innovations like seatbelts and airbags. But motorcycles haven’t always followed this trend. In fact, over the last 10 years, motorcycle injuries and deaths have increased drastically, with the fatality rate increasing by more than 20 percent from 2011 to 2020.
Defensive riding on your motorcycle can help you avoid accidents—and costly medical bills—while also helping protect you from the financial liability of an expensive loss. Plus, motorcycle insurance rates tend to increase following accidents.
Some providers offer motorcycle insurance discounts to defensive riders. By avoiding accidents and claims, and taking proactive steps like enrolling in a safety course, you could qualify for discounts and decrease your monthly premiums.
You can find motorcycle safety courses that can help you learn safe defensive riding practices in your area. You may be able to find courses through riding groups, at local colleges, schools, or community centers, or even online.
Defensive riding can help you avoid accidents, but they can still happen. That’s why motorcycle insurance is essential.
Planning your next riding adventure? Make sure you have the right coverage before you go. Review your motorcycle insurance policy today.The general information in this blog is for informational or entertainment purposes only. View our blog disclaimer.