The month of National Motorcycle Safety Awareness got underway last Friday, and according to a quick internet search, we’re off to an abjectly horrible start to the riding season. After typing “motorcycle crash May 2015” into Google, my browser looked like this:

050515-tomfoolery-crash_searchJust like any other month of the year, the results are a mixture of single- and multiple-vehicle accidents, drivers not seeing motorcyclists as well as motorcyclists not being in control of their machines, deer strikes, alcohol, while most of the fatal ones did not involve wearing a helmet. The last one is my favorite because of the irony it shines on the situation.

Let’s take an entire month out of the year and ask our fellow four-wheel motorists to pay special attention to the vulnerable few who ride motorcycles. And, while doing so, please refrain from noticing that a large majority of said motorcyclists refuse to wear proper riding gear. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) around 33% of motorcyclists do not wear DOT certified helmets, while a huge percentage more forego attiring themselves in anything more than blue jeans, Red Wings and a T-shirt.

A train of thought from the motorist’s point of view might flow something like this: “You’re asking me, the motorist, to be dutifully careful in regards to the safety of motorcyclists, but you’re unwilling to practice some of the most elemental safety precautions such as wearing proper riding gear and a DOT helmet? Sure, no problem. Excuse me while I answer this text message.”

It does seem to be a double standard, doesn’t it? How can we ask others to be aware of us when we’re unaware of our own shortcomings? There’s no deficit of motorcyclists conveying a certain self-image, such as being a badass biker. But just as you can’t force others to like your favorite song by playing it louder, it’s difficult to see yourself through the eyes of others and how ridiculous your muscle shirt and flip flops ensemble is to them while at the same time being so cool to you.

Most of the motorcycle crash compilations I’ve seen on Youtube are of the self-inflicted variety. Even in the ones where a car turns left in front of the motorcyclist, it can often be argued that if the guy was traveling only 10 mph over the posted speed limit instead of 30 mph, he might’ve been able to avoid the collision. This would be an example of dual failures: the failure of the motorist to be aware of the motorcyclist, and a failure of the motorcyclist to be aware of the situation and slow down accordingly.

As motorcyclists we should put forth our best efforts in setting good examples so that motorists might be more inclined to pay us the attention we deserve. You know, leading by example: Wearing reflective protective gear, not riding drunk, keeping aggression levels reasonable on public roads, and take a motorcycle refresher course once in a while.

I’m not saying I don’t appreciate and invite any and all recognition Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month provides. I’m sure it was no easy task getting an entire month dedicated to the safety of such a minority. However, I don’t feel any safer riding my motorcycle during the month of May than I do any other month of the year.

What I’d like to see happen is the building of awareness that large portions of our driving population in the United States aren’t qualified to hold drivers licenses. We lack proper training, road etiquette, and approach responsible driving with a general sense of malaise. If we, as a society, put just a little effort into driving/road awareness in the general sense, everyone stands to benefit.

But enough with my pipedream, enjoy the month of May and the Motorcycle Safety Awareness it brings … just don’t let your guard down.

  • Steve C

    A local TV station here in CT did a story on the three motorcycle fatalities we had in the last week and posted a bumper on Facebook. I was amazed at all the negative comments people made,along the lines of why should I watch out for them while they cut in and out of traffic, pass me in the breakdown lane doing 100mph, not wearing helmets, riding loud bikes etc.. we do have a image problem

  • Brent Randolph

    The entry-fee, so to speak, for obtaining a license to drive (or ride) is ridiculously low. Personally, I believe that the hoops required to jump through for the privilege of using any kind of motor vehicle should be much higher. Unfortunately, this kind of change in a system is painstakingly slow. In the interim, the burden of responsibility – right, wrong, or otherwise – falls to the motorcyclist. There are bad drivers and the myriad of ways to be distracted whilst driving is ever increasing. If we want to stop dying in accidents, we have to stop getting into accidents. “But it wasn’t my fault!” some of you may cry while sitting in a hospital bed with a leg cast as a result of a fool-hardy cager. It doesn’t matter. In the war of car vs motorcycle, car wins everytime, fault be damned. Educate yourselves, take advanced riding courses, and use every ride as an opportunity to learn.

    As for gear, I’ll openly admit that I’m not an ATGATT guy. My typical riding accoutrements consists of a leather jacket, jeans (or slacks if I’m going to work), high-ankle boots, riding gloves, and an open-faced helmet (with stylish riding goggles of course). I don’t believe that motorcyclists should subject themselves to riding with gear that they don’t want to use. Agree or not, the fact is that image is a huge part of riding a motorcycle. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either naive or lying. So I get the resistance for some people to wear neon hi-viz gear (myself included). But fully geared out or not, I’d rather avoid an accident all together than hope that a thin layer of kevlar in my riding pants saves me from losing a leg. Smart riding trumps safety gear every time (the caveat being that you should always, always wear a DOT approved helmet. There’s wanting to portray an image and then there’s just stupidity).

    • Michael Howard

      “…the fact is that image is a huge part of riding a motorcycle. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either naive or lying.” Wow. I was with you until this. Who are you to declare MY reason(s) for riding? I don’t give a &@%$ about image and think people who do are insecure idiots.

      • Brent Randolph

        I never declared anyone’s reason for riding, I stated that image is an intrinsic part of motorcycling and your offense at the comment only cements your placement in one of the the aforementioned categories. You are either naive or lying, though given your tone and intransigence, I’d suspect it’s the latter.

  • wow its, dengerous…

  • It is INCREDIBLY to easy to get a driver’s license in the US and ABSURD how easy it is to keep it. Consider the fact that someone can fail their driving test multiple times (which is easy to begin with) as a teenager, finally pass, and then hold a license for the majority of their life with no further training or skill testing.

    To get my class C CDL, which lets me drive a 26,000 lb 26′ box truck, I just had to show that I knew where my orange triangles were in the cab, drive around the block, and park. Then I had to take a multiple choice test on a computer. The test had around 10 questions, with possible answers ABCD. After you entered your choice, it told you if you were correct and if not what the correct answer was. You had to get 6 out of 10 correct to pass. If you failed, you had TWO MORE CHANCES to take the test, with the SAME QUESTIONS IN THE SAME ORDER.

    Sorry for shouting so much, but I really find this inexcusable and indefensible.

  • 40mmtrsmith

    This article and most of the comments sound like people whom should not ride a motorcycle. You people make it sound like wearing gear will enable you to live forever. Don’t ride motorcycles it is unsafe. So, if a rider is not wearing a helmet that justifys killing him? “Most fatal motorcycle accidents did not involve wearing a helmet.” That’s either made up or a flat out lie. CDC study says “of all fatal motorcycle accidents 48% were not wearing a helmet.” For the mathematically challenged that means 52% died wearing their gear. I’m not saying don’t wear your heavy uncomfortable hot as hell gear. Just saying don’t tell me what to wear. You are not my Mother. Wouldn’t matter anyway she would prefer I didn’t ride. But that hasn’t stopped me for forty years. I have learned the best protection is skill, maturity and DON’T CRASH!! If you do crash oh well that’s the risk you were willing to take when you threw your leg over the saddle. Suck it up or rest in peace whichever applies.

  • Backroad Bob

    Well said and gutsy. Good comments. We have found the enemy and he is us.