Riding a motorcycle is fun and freeing, but it can also be risky. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorcyclists are about 28 times more likely to suffer an accident-related fatality than drivers of other vehicles. And riding at night introduces additional risks.
If you need or want to ride your motorcycle at night, take extra precautions to help protect yourself and others. Here are 10 safety tips you can implement each time you go for a night ride on your motorcycle.
In most states, you can legally ride a motorcycle at night as long as you’re properly licensed. In some states, you must be 18 years old to legally ride at night. Check your state’s specific laws regarding night motorcycle riding before you head out. No matter your age, if you’re riding at night, it’s important to understand the risks and be extra cautious.
Many road dangers that exist during the day for motorcyclists are amplified at night. For example, it may be harder for other drivers to see you, and you face an increased risk of encountering drunk drivers. Except for the rush hour times of 3-6 p.m., more motorcyclists die in nighttime accidents than during the daylight hours.
Even during the day, other motorists often fail to notice motorcyclists. With little to no light at night, their visibility is more limited, putting you at a higher risk of not being seen until a collision is unavoidable.
As you'd expect, your own ability to see is dramatically reduced at night. Your visibility is often limited to whatever appears in your headlight beams and the lights of other vehicles around you.
The risk of being involved in an alcohol-related accident is much higher at night than during the day. This includes being hit by drunk or drug-impaired drivers in addition to operating a motorcycle after drinking.
Here are some sobering statistics surrounding motorcycles and alcohol-related deaths:
32 percent of the 5,579 motorcyclist deaths in 2020 involved alcohol
In 2020, between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., 48 percent of motorcyclists killed had a blood alcohol concentration at or above the 0.08 percent legal limit
Motorcyclists are more likely to drive drunk than other types of motorists
Many animals are most active in the early morning and from 6-9 p.m. As the sun sets, it may be harder to see these animals. If you hit an animal while riding a motorcycle, especially a large animal like a deer, it could be catastrophic.
Another consideration for animals on the road is the time of year. Summer months between July and September yield the highest rate of crash deaths involving animals. Not far behind are the autumn months from October through December. If you're riding your motorcycle during a high-risk time for animals on the road, take the following precautions:
Slow down when driving through areas with frequent animal sightings
Be on the lookout for animals
If you see an animal, brake quickly instead of swerving
Assume there are multiple animals even if you only see one
Because of the low-light conditions, driving at night can quickly become monotonous and tiring. That fatigue can impair your ability to react while on the road.
Night riding takes more concentration than riding during other times of the day. If you're feeling drowsy, take frequent breaks to help you stay alert, and scan the horizon and your mirrors instead of staring straight ahead.
If any of the lights on your motorcycle aren't working or aren't angled properly, it could severely reduce your ability to see—and other drivers' ability to see you.
Before you do any night riding, make sure every light on every part of your motorcycle is working. You may need someone to help you check all the lights.
As long as you're not blinding other drivers, use your high beams as much as possible to reduce eye strain and increase your range of vision.
To avoid shining your high beams at other drivers, switch them off as you approach vehicles going the opposite direction, and turn them off if you're closely following another vehicle.
As noted above, oncoming headlights can be blinding. Instead of looking directly into them, try looking at the right-edge line on the side of the road ahead. This will keep you within your lane and headed in the right direction. Don't look down and away—it could cause you to inadvertently steer out of your lane.
While dark-tinted visors or sunglasses work great for bright sunny days, these items can impede your vision at night. Instead, consider wearing the following glasses:
Yellow-tinted visors or glasses for low-light conditions like dusk
Photochromic visors that automatically adjust to light levels day and night
Clear glasses to protect your eyes while you drive at night with an open visor
Try various eyewear options to see what gives you the best nighttime visibility.
While it's easy to ignore some dirt, dead bugs, and smudges on your helmet's visor during the day, these things can impair your vision at night.
Regularly clean your visor using a microfiber cloth and a safe cleaning solution. Avoid abrasive materials and cleaners, which can scratch or cloud your visor and distort your vision.
As we noted earlier, poor visibility is one of the leading contributors to motorcycle fatalities at night. There are many ways you can make you and your motorcycle more visible.
High-visibility clothing is designed with reflective surfaces and bright fluorescent colors that help make you more visible at night. One study found that motorcyclists who wear high-visibility clothing are 37 percent less likely to be involved in a crash.
An alternative to high-visibility clothing is a simple industrial safety vest, like what construction workers wear while working on roadways.
To make you more visible, consider adding retro-reflective strips of tape to your motorcycle and your riding gear. This tape is available in virtually any color, so you can choose the color and style that works for you.
Adding specialty lights to your motorcycle is a good way to increase your visibility—both your ability to see and other motorists' ability to see you. There are numerous types of lighting available:
Brake light flashers: Brake light flashers modify your brake lights to flash rapidly when you apply the brakes. This may grab the attention of other drivers better than a steady brake light.
LED lights: LED lights are brighter and use less energy than incandescent bulbs. This can help you see farther and make you more visible to other drivers at night. Make sure your motorcycle is properly equipped to handle a switch to LED lights.
Headlight modulator: A headlight modulator switches your low beams from a steady light to a pulsing beam. This can help your lights stand out and get noticed, especially since many vehicles drive with daytime running lights.
Auxiliary lights: Instead of replacing your current lights, you can add extra lights to your motorcycle. Numerous options available, including light strips and fog lights, can help you see farther while driving at night and make you more visible to others.
If you're planning on adding or changing the lights on your motorcycle, make sure you comply with all local and state laws regarding vehicle lighting. Some lights are restricted because they're too bright and can be blinding to other drivers.
Your motorcycle's headlights are limited in how much of the road they can show you. Use the lights from other vehicles to your advantage. If you're behind another vehicle, scan the road ahead to see if their headlights expose any road hazards, like a pothole or road debris.
Remember that four-wheeled vehicles can straddle debris in the middle of the road, but you can't. Be on the lookout for those hazards and be prepared to maneuver around them.
When driving at night, give yourself more time and space between vehicles than you might during the day. With limited visibility, it's harder to see potential obstacles in front of you. While your motorcycle may have excellent stopping power, things can happen quickly at night, like an animal darting onto the road or a drunk driver acting erratically. The more space you give yourself to stop, the greater your chances will be of stopping safely and avoiding an accident.
Riding a motorcycle at night can be particularly tiring because of the limited visibility and intense concentration needed. Signs of sleepiness include:
Not remembering the last few miles you've ridden
Difficulty keeping your head up
Frequent blinking or yawning
Missing a turn or an exit
Drifting into other lanes or rumble strips
If you notice you're feeling sleepy, pull over in a safe spot and take a break. To help yourself feel more alert, consider drinking a caffeinated beverage or eating a high-energy snack. If your sleepiness is too severe, you may need to call a friend or family member to pick you up.
Another warning sign to look out for is something called highway hypnosis. This is a trance-like state where someone drives normally yet doesn't remember driving. If you've ever arrived at your destination without remembering driving there or suddenly realized you were miles past your exit, you likely experienced highway hypnosis.
To avoid highway hypnosis, consider these tips:
Fuel your body with food
Maintain proper posture
Keep your body cool
Listen to upbeat music
Listen to talk radio or other engaging audio, such as a podcast or audiobook
Take a stretch break
Highway hypnosis isn't the same thing as drowsy driving, since highway hypnosis usually doesn't interfere with driving safety. However, it's quite possible to shift from a state of highway hypnosis into drowsy driving, so be aware of other signs.
We hope these motorcycle safety tips can help you be a better and safer rider at night. Remember, understanding motorcycle safety and proper riding techniques is critical to helping you stay safe on the road.
Understanding the risks involved with night riding and learning more about motorcycle safety can make you a better rider. However, accidents still happen. With the right motorcycle insurance coverage, you can be better protected.
Want to know how to keep your passengers safe, too? Read our blog focused on motorcycle passenger safety.
The general information in this blog is for informational or entertainment purposes only. View our blog disclaimer.
*Data accuracy is subject to this article's publication date.