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Motorcycles are not all fun and games

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POSTED: October 18, 2007 5:05 a.m.
Once thought of as a warm weather enjoyment, motorcycles are becoming more prevalent as regular transportation. The popularity of this mode of transportation is attributed to a number of factors; the low initial cost of a motorcycle, its use as a recreational vehicle and fuel efficiency.
But there is more to riding a bike than the sheer joy of the open road, the wind in your hair or the bonding experience with your buddies. Riding motorcycles comes with a much higher risk than other forms of transportation. Motorcycle fatalities have more than doubled in 10 years, reaching 4,108 in 2006. This accounts for 11 percent of total highway fatalities, according to recent analysis by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, even though motorcyclists make up only two percent of drivers. In addition, 88,000 riders were injured last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Many motorcycle deaths could be prevented if motorcyclists would take the recommended safety steps, including wearing a federal motor vehicle safety standard compliant helmet, attending a rider training course and obtaining the license endorsement needed to legally ride. Other drivers must also do their part to heighten their awareness of cyclists and share the road.
A helmet is the best protective gear motorcyclists can wear. Approved helmets are estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries and 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries, according to NHTSA. But only 19 states require helmets for all drivers, including Georgia, and even in these states 15 percent of motorcyclists neglect to wear them.
Motorcycle courses provide an opportunity for novice riders to learn the basic skills necessary to operate a cycle safely and for experienced riders to refresh and refine their techniques. After successfully completing a state administered driving course, individuals should obtain a license that demonstrates their ability to meet the minimum requirements needed to ride. Motorcycle operator licensing is a major component in comprehensive safety. According to NHTSA, nearly one out of four operators involved in fatal crashes in 2005 were operating their vehicles with invalid licenses at the time of the collision.
Another major concern in maintaining and enforcing motorcycle safety is rider impairment. There is no doubt that alcohol and other drugs are a major risk factor in all types of motor vehicle crashes, but these factors appear more frequently in motorcycle crashes.  In 2005, 27 percent of all fatally injured motorcycle operators had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher, according to NHTSA.  Additionally, driving under the influence is correlated with other risk-taking behaviors, such as riding without a helmet, speeding and more.
However, the problem does not rest only with motorcyclists.  Motorists must also learn to share the road. A common complaint from motorcyclists is that other motorists fail to observe them. One of the easiest and most effective ways for a motorcyclist to be seen by other motorists is by wearing bright colored clothing and/or reflective material. It is also important to use the high beam of the motorcycle’s headlights to prevent right-of-way violations.
 Riding motorcycles is more than fun and games - driving a motorcycle also comes with the responsibility to take all necessary precautions to ensure your safety, as well as those around you.  For more information on motorcycle safety, visit the Motorcycle Safety Foundation at www.msf-usa.org

Houry is an assistant professor with the  Department of Emergency Management at  Emory University
 

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