“We use science to understand and manage the danger of motorcycling. We do not promote motorcycling, we promote making informed choices.” NMI
II. Motorcycle Driver Behaviors We Encourage:
1. Understand the relative danger of driving a motorcycle.
2. Learn about Blindness While Paying Attention (Inattentional Blindness)
3. Only choose to drive when alert and able to maintain focus throughout the entire trip.
4. Match speed to conditions.
5. Wear appropriate riding gear.
6. Graduate through the stages of learning in a progressive manner.
7. For experienced riders, training and practice can help improve skills and knowledge, but cannot reduce the danger.
8. Be Detectable, and know that you may still Not Be Noticed!
III. Motorcycle Driver Behaviors We Discourage:
We have found that, absent extraordinary industry (and overzealous, but well meaning, motorcycle enthusiasts’) efforts to stimulate people to take up motorcycling, about two percent of the population in the USA will become avid motorcyclists. These people will become hardcore motorcyclists in spite of warnings. This limited population of serious motorcyclists ride their machines regularly and extensively. They develop a skill set and a cluster of tactics they use for managing the danger they face. This two percent of the population will have widely different motorcycling interest and find their own way to motorcycling, through formal training and/or other means.
This resolute two percent of the population (“Twopers”) accepts that motorcycling is dangerous, and they are willing to ride motorcycles in spite of that danger. Twopers, like most people, know that riding upon a motorcycle without a helmet is dangerous. (We recommend that you wear a helmet.) Twopers also know that riding upon a motorcycle, even while wearing a helmet, continues to be dangerous. Motorcycle drivers wearing helmets are killed 30 times as often as car drivers, mile for mile. This relative danger is hard to comprehend. When the relative danger is comprehended, reasonable people often reject riding motorcycles on public roadways. This is why most of the population does not, and should not, ride motorcycles on public roadways. Due to the nature of motorcycling, NMI accepts that among the “Twopers” there will be relatively very high crash and fatality rates that we must accept as “natural” or “normal.” Twoper driver fatality rates will be lower than the overall motorcycle driver fatality rates, however, even for Twopers, their fatality rates will be nearly 38 times that of car driver fatalities per person, mile for mile.
Internal kinetic energy transforming into heat and destructive tissue damage of internal organs is the prominent mechanism that causes loss of life in collisions. Kinetic energy increases rapidly with speed. Higher speeds are also the prominent contributing cause of drivers losing control of the vehicle that initiates and/or contributes to the crash.
We estimate that the current fatality rates are about double the “natural” rates. Contributors to this increase in current rates are the industry’s promotion of the “safe” motorcycling lifestyle, and the subsequent promotion of this lifestyle by some motorcycle safety programs. (Training programs that don’t offer an “Opt-Out” type system, and encourage everyone to opt-in and try motorcycling are promoting the “safe” motorcycling lifestyle.) In other words, this promotion of the “safe” motorcycling lifestyle is the cause of most people not knowing that motorcycle drivers wearing helmets are killed 30 times as often as car drivers, mile for mile. Also, people are not given enough information about the dangers of motorcycling to make an informed choice about riding, or not riding, motorcycles. For example, to make an informed choice one must know about Inattentional Blindness. Omitting this type of crucial information to people who have become curious and are considering motorcycling is a causal contributing factor to the doubling of the fatality counts.
National Motorcycle Institute takes the position that the hardcore, or resolute, two percent of the population (Twopers) are best left alone. To repeat, these particular motorcyclists have developed, and continue to refine, unique skill sets and cluster of tactics, and they will ride in spite of the danger. The individual’s skill set and cluster of tactics work for the particular individual, while that individual is participating in this activity, the way they choose to participate. They have their own “continuing education” through many different avenues such as formal training classes, books, magazines, peer sharing, trade shows, club schools (like the Goldwing Association), race schools, and the like. These twopers are experiencing the “natural” or “normal” fatality rate, a rate that would be unacceptable for most people who use public roadways.
National Motorcycle Institute takes the position that the other 98 percent of the population may include people who will become curious about motorcycling but not necessarily become resolute motorcyclists. NMI does not discourage, or, promote, motorcycling for the Twopers. However, for the other 98% we do promote informed choices as to whether or not to pursue riding motorcycles on public roadways. The curious coming from this non-twoper 98% of the population must be taught about the dangers of motorcycling, and importantly, the intense level of effort needed to become a serious motorcycle driver. The entire population must be taught that driving a motorcycle is at least 30 times more dangerous than driving a car, mile for mile. They must be taught about Inattentional Blindness. We recommend that people be skeptical of organizations that promote the “safe” motorcycling lifestyle (an oxymoron). Most importantly, once the comparative danger and effort is recognized, most people should decide to not continue into the motorcycling lifestyle. However, if they do choose to pursue the activity of motorcycling, learning about the following behaviors could help in developing skill sets and cluster of tactics to manage, and possibly reduce, some of the dangers.
A. Motorcycle Driver Behaviors We Encourage:
Specific motorcycle driver behaviors can be linked scientifically to fatality rates. We encourage behaviors that are known to decrease fatality rates, and discourage behaviors that increase fatality rates. We are not insisting that you must follow our advice; we are suggesting that motorcycle drivers choosing and practicing these behaviors would have a decreased potential for fatality or morbidity. The choice is up to you.
You cannot “Choose to be safe” while operating a motorcycle; you can “Choose not to be Careless!” Not being careless while driving on public roadways is an important behavior we can practice and improve. Also, operating your motorcycle legally and responsibly on public roadways will lower the danger.
Based on the most current fatality rates, riding on a motorcycle is over 38 times more dangerous than riding in a car, mile for mile. That is, 3800% more often! Cars carry more, and more often carry, passengers. The occupancy rate of cars is about 1.5 times the occupancy rate of motorcycles. This occupancy rate can be used to calculate the per vehicle relative danger of 27 times as published by NHTSA. The 3800% increase in dangerous is difficult to comprehend. The motorcycle industry prefers to hide this danger from you, because knowing the danger tends to reduce sales. However, once you understand the relative danger, you can make a proactive decision about motorcycling. If you choose to drive a motorcycle on public roadways, it is important to become very serious about managing the danger, and to maintain that seriousness for the duration of your motorcycling experience. Keep in mind that once you understand the danger, you can can choose to stop or “opt out” of continuing at anytime.
When evaluating behaviors to reduce the danger, it is important to recognize that the number of motorcycles using public roads is dramatically less than that of other vehicles. For example annually, there are more than 150 other vehicles on the road for every single motorcycle!
The participation in motorcycling has increased dramatically in the last 20 years. The fatality rate in crashes involving at least one motorcycle is currently about 15 per million population. This is well above the low of 7.7 per million that occurred in the mid-1990s. When comparing the fatality rate to passenger vehicles, the data for motorcycle crashes is much bleaker. The ratio of motorcycle fatalities to passenger vehicle fatalities was 0.06 in the mid-1990s. It is now at an astounding 0.18, a 200% increase. We believe these rates are too high and can be lowered.
Now that you know the danger, and you still want to ride motorcycles on public roads, see how you do on this next danger test for Twopers . Test: Give the following article, “Nobody Told Me Motorcycles Are So Dangerous” to your mother or significant other (please include anyone who cares about your well-being) and be sure they read it so they are aware of the danger. Once you have done this and discussed the material with them, and you still want to ride, you are on your way to becoming a twoper!
The motorcycle is the striking vehicle! An important data set to help you understand the danger: In Fatal Motorcycle Crashes, the motorcycle is almost always the striking vehicle. For example, here is the data from Oregon for Fatal Motorcycle Crashes 2012-2014 (Oregon Data supplied by ODOT):
Total Motorcyclists Fatally Injured = 124
Total = 124
Single Vehicle Crash = 69 (motorcycle alone, striking fixed object or roadway)
Vehicle to Vehicle = 55
Total Vehicle to Vehicle Strike = 55
MC was Striking Vehicle = 46
MC was Not the Striking Vehicle= 9
Other vehicle was a MC = 5
Other Vehicle was not a MC = 4
So, 4 out of 124 motorcyclists fatalities involved a non-motorcycle striking the motorcycle.
The Motorcycle was the Striking Vehicle for an incredible 97% of the motorcyclists fatalities, and the majority of these crashes did not involve another vehicle.
What about rear end collisions? This requires another vehicle to be involved. Again, looking at Oregon for 2015, there were (Oregon Data supplied by ODOT) :
61 Motorcyclists fatalities.
4 of the motorcyclists fatalities were from rear end strikes.
4 of the 4 motorcyclists fatalities were the Motorcycle Striking (rear ending) the Vehicle in front of the motorcycle.
ZERO of the fatalities were the motorcycle being struck from behind.
As you now know, from this section explaining the “motorcycle is the striking vehicle” data, it is dangerous to drive motorcycles due to control issues.
Once you understand that there is danger, be sure to learn how to manage the intensity of the danger and the exposure to danger, separately.
The dose-of-danger is the product of both the intensity of the danger and the amount of time you are exposed to the danger. Motorcycle drivers have control over exposure to danger. Learn how to reduce your exposure. We have limited control over the intensity of the danger. We encourage learning how to reduce the intensity of the danger.
2. Learn about Blindness While Paying Attention (Inattentional Blindness):
The Short Definition for Inattentional Blindness – The failure to notice something unexpected that is clearly visible and in one’s field of view, when attention is focused on something else in that same field of view.
Inattentional Blindness expert Professor Daniel Simons explains: “Inattentional blindness is a consequence of our much-needed ability to focus attention. In order to focus attention selectively on just what we want to, we need to filter out other distractions. Most of the time, that filtering is essential. On occasion, though, it means we miss something we would want to notice (i.e., an unexpected object such as a motorcycle turning when we’re paying attention to cars). Even when we are not distracted, we can’t take in ALL the information. The reality is that we always are aware of only a limited subset of our world — we have limits on how many things we can pay attention to at once, and only those we do pay attention to enter awareness. If you are constantly looking for motorcycles, that means you won’t notice other aspects of your environment. Due to limits on attention, we have to prioritize some information over other information (whatever we focus attention on), and a consequence of that is that we often fail to notice unexpected (and, hence, unattended) things. Inattentional blindness often isn’t a problem for us. It becomes one in situations when we lack the time to adjust (i.e., driving). And, the problem is amplified because most people don’t realize that they can so easily miss fully visible things and they don’t realize inattentional blindness is increased by distraction or divided attention.”
To gain a better understanding, try this Selective Attention Test: The following short video involves two teams passing basketballs to one another. Your attention test is to count the passes of balls of just one of the teams. To pass, you must count the number of passes accurately.
There are two Inattentional Blindness cases we want to look into in this section: 1. Car drivers who may turn in front of a motorcycle because “they didn’t see the motorcycle,” and 2. Motorcycle drivers who strike cars that turn in front of them instead of stopping. Keep in mind that both drivers are “paying attention” prior to the collision, and both drivers can be experiencing “blindness” even though they are paying attention.
For example, in case 1., car drivers not perceiving a motorcycle and then pulling out in front, or across the path, of the motorcycle happens in some of the collisions when motorcycles strike other vehicles. Sometimes the motorcycle is partially hidden from the view of the other driver. Sometimes the other driver is impaired or distracted. But even if the motorcycle is in full view and the other driver is not distracted, the other driver may be mentally blind to the presence of the motorcycle. The driver is expecting to see other cars being driven at familiar accelerations and speeds. The image of the motorcycle may enter the driver’s eyes, but if the driver is mentally attending to other tasks of driving, the image of the unexpected motorcycle may be ignored. We repeat, even though the driver may be actively searching for traffic, and the image of the unexpected motorcycle enters the driver’s eyes, the driver’s brain may not comprehend, or ignores, the motorcycle. This is an example of Inattentional Blindness.
Let’s get even more familiar with Inattentional Blindness. This term is used in driver attention and other cognitive research when trying to explain what happens when a driver is apparently not distracted from the act of driving, but fails to notice a fully-visible, but unexpected object because attention was engaged on another event or object. Be aware, you may not be familiar with Inattentional Blindness. It is NOT simply distracted driving. For example, if a driver is texting, then the driver’s eyes and attention are distracted from the road, looking down at their phone and thinking about the text message. Since the image of the motorcycle is not able to strike or enter their eyes, in this case, although distracted, the other driver did not experience inattentional blindness when they didn’t see the motorcycle and turned.
A non-motorcycle example of Inattentional Blindness: While approaching or waiting at a traffic light, drivers notice pedestrians in the walkway when the light is red. When the light is green, some pedestrians at times, even in full view, may not be noticed in the walkway because pedestrians in the walkway are unexpected when the light is green.
Inattentional blindness of other drivers is not be affected by what you wear. Do not rely on high visibility motorcycle clothing to address inattentional blindness of other drivers. Prior to many crashes in which motorcycles strike other vehicles, the other drivers didn’t see the motorcycle, which is not the same as they can’t see the motorcycle. There are 2 countermeasure to reduce the chance of this happening: 1. Be sure to control your motorcycle in a way that matches the speed and accelerations of traffic around you. Then you will not be the “unexpected” object in the other drivers field of view. 2. Be aware that you may experience Inattentional Blindness and fail to perceive the turning car.
With this understanding of Inattentional Blindness we can understand why motorcycles strike cars and cars don’t strike motorcycles. It is a fact that motorcycles are EASILY SEEN, which helps explain why cars don’t strike motorcycles in fatal motorcycle crashes. Just go outside and look at your motorcycle, you can easily see it. As in the parable about the Emperor’s new clothes, “Seeing that the Emperor is naked is easy,” and seeing motorcycles that are driven legally and responsibly is easy as well.This remains true no matter how many people claim that motorcycles (or the Emperor’s beautiful new clothes) may be difficult to see. Experienced motorcycle drivers (riders) know that they generally drive faster than cars, and accelerate much more intensely than cars. Motorcycles are capable of exceptional acceleration. This leads to higher speeds and unusual accelerations, and thus motorcycles “appearing” in unexpected locations by other drivers. The motorcycle becomes the “unexpected object” that other drivers my fail to perceive. Additionally, we motorcycle drivers are paying attention to many things, such as balancing our motorcycle, and we may not perceive the turning car. Thus, importantly, we must accept both types of drivers, motorcycle and the other vehicles, are experiencing Inattentional Blindness.
Conclusion: To reduce danger, learn that Inattentional Blindness by other drivers is not the lack of motorcycle/motorcycle driver conspicuity or the “visibility” of the motorcycle/motorcycle driver. When driven legally and responsibly, motorcycles are as easy to see as other vehicles. It is when the motorcycle is driven with intense accelerations and/or not matching speeds to surrounding traffic that it becomes the “unexpected object,” and thus its presence surprises other vehicle drivers. Also, motorcycle drivers experience Intentional Blindness more often than car drivers due to having to pay attention to more items than car drivers. This can partially explain the fact that motorcycles are almost always the striking vehicle in fatal motorcycle crashes. Becoming aware of your own potential for experiencing Inattentional Blindness can lower your danger with motorcycling.
Driving a motorcycle is much more demanding than driving a car. Any impairment, whether caused by alcohol, marijuana, anger, fatigue, dehydration, etc. (please add items you can think of to this list as well!), reduces your ability to control the situation. Impairment increases the danger.
Impairment affects everyone. So, it is important to understand the symptoms of impairment, and have a plan for what to do. When you recognize that you are becoming impaired, it is essential to get off the motorcycle and take steps to remedy the situation. For instance, if you are dehydrated, drink some water. If your prescription medications are affecting your coordination, cancel the ride. If you consume alcohol, avoid driving any motor vehicle until the alcohol has cleared your system.
Many single vehicle motorcycle crashes are a result of failure to lower speed quickly enough to match the changing conditions. We understand that today’s motorcycles are seductively fast, and the image of a “good” rider is often portrayed in magazines as being aggressive rather than clever.
Rarely are there single vehicle crashes when the driver is following the posted (white background) or suggested (yellow background) speed limits. Of course not matching speed to conditions is a large contributor to multiple vehicle crashes as well. When you ride faster than the posted limits, you are increasing your danger, because faster speed means less time to deal with whatever happens, as well as requiring much longer distances to slow or stop. Also, traveling quickly on your motorcycle can surprise other drivers, i.e. “the motorcycle appeared out of nowhere” (see Inattentional Blindness above).
Higher speeds provide more energy for greater, and deadlier, injury should a crash occur. We suggest to keep in mind “ASSPLATT.”
There are the posted speed limits, and there are the yellow diamond shaped suggested speed signs often posted for curves. If you comply with these suggested speed limits (i.e. adhere to the principle of ASSPLATT), you will lower your chance of crashing because of loss of control and/or not being seen. And being At Suggested SPeed Limit All The Time lowers the damaging energies available should a crash occur.
Not matching speed to conditions can happen even if you are traveling at the posted speed limit. If you have been traveling on dry pavement and then it begins to rain or snow, conditions may be such that you should lower your speed below the speed limit to match your speed to conditions. The suggested speed in this case is lower than the posted speed limit.
Public roadways are engineered and built in a particular and careful way. The suggested speed limit signs give drivers critical information. Hazardous situations unfold very quickly, so it is essential to maintain your awareness of what is happening, far enough ahead of the vehicle you are driving to be able to take action without drama. Better riders know this and drive on public roadways using ASSPLATT.
If one is in a crash, appropriate riding gear will reduce injuries for those who survive, and riding gear, unequivocally, reduces morbidity for those who are killed. This is obvious to most people who have seen motorcycle crash victims, or have read reports on the morbidity and injury of fatal and non-fatal motorcycle crash victims. When crashes are separated into “Slides (which are long-collisions)” and “Collisions (which are short slides)” it becomes difficult to challenge that riding gear reduces abrasion injuries.
It is a fact that HELMETS REDUCE SKULL INJURIES. Helmets that meet the DOT standard (FMVSS 218) are designed and tested extensively, and made with great care. If you ride a motorcycle on public roads, wearing a well made helmet will reduce injuries to the head.
We have found the general terms “Protective Gear” or “Personal Protective Equipment” can be used in a misleading manner. There is no particular matched set of riding gear that can protect the whole body. Also, importantly, protecting the internal body has been difficult to achieve. (Take a closer look at FMVSS 218, p.4 and FMVSS 218, p.1.) The take away is that riding on a motorcycle is dangerous, even while wearing “protective gear.” We suggest using the term “Riding Gear” and remember that the protective quality of any piece of gear is limited.
In the event of a crash, abrasion resistant riding gear can help protect you from external injuries while you are sliding and bouncing down the pavement. When discussing the protective attributes of a particular piece of riding gear we recommend using a descriptor of what it may protect. For example, riding pants may provide protection of the “skin” but little or no protection of joints or internal organs. Therefore, please remember that some riding gear may not diminish life threatening injuries to internal organs even though it will protect the skin and diminish pain signals that would otherwise have been sent to the brain. In other words, riding gear reduces PAIN, and can reduce some injuries, but using it will not make you “safe” by protecting you from serious internal injuries and death.
Other primary purposes for using riding gear is comfort, and for some people, image. Driving a motorcycle involves potential discomfort from environmental hazards. Well-designed and proper fitting gear can help you avoid discomforts that can distract you from the task of operating the machine. For example, a riding jacket can protect you from the cold, sunburn, and thrown debris. A faceshield can help keep large insects from hitting you in the face or eyes. Distracted driving is an important causal factor in crashes that can be reduced with proper fitting riding gear!
In addition to the wished-for fatality reduction aspect of the helmet, wearing a helmet is wise because it protects the head from potentially distracting environmental hazards such as rain or hot air. Helmets offer excellent skull (bone) and scalp protection from impacts and abrasions. Helmets can also reduce some head injuries during a crash, especially to ears, nose, and jaw. However, helmets are not as effective at protecting the brain from impacts as the other parts of the head, due the physics of how the internal kinetic energies of the brain are dissipated, and due to the fragility of brain tissue. And, of course, helmets offer no protection to the rest of the body.
Truthy statements have been offered to explain the importance of buying and using “protective gear,” including “You don’t dress for the ride, you dress for the crash.” We would suggest a more logical statement: “If you are dressing for the crash rather than the ride, consider taking the car instead of the motorcycle.” I will add this anecdotal story: Joe rides his motorcycle over to see Cathy. As he dismounts, she asks, “Where is your helmet?” Joe responds, “I left my riding gear at home, parked in the driveway.” The moral of this story is that if Cathy were really concerned about Joe’s exposure to danger, she wouldn’t be focused on his motorcycling gear, she would be concerned about him driving a motorcycle at all—with or without protective equipment. On public roadways, Joe’s best protective equipment is his car.
Driving a motorcycle is a dangerous activity, and the danger of being killed cannot be lessened as much as we wish. For example, consider one of the best promoted counter-measures for fatality reduction, wearing a helmet. To repeat, it is a fact that HELMETS REDUCE FATALITIES. Helmets that meet the DOT standard (FMVSS 218) are designed and tested extensively, and made with great care. These helmets have a tremendous effect on reducing skull fractures and reducing PAIN. We wished and hoped that these helmets would have the same huge reduction effect on the danger of driving motorcycles compared to driving cars, but this is not the case. Even though this is not the case, wearing a well made helmet when riding on a motorcycle will reduce some chance of fatality and other injuries to your head!
National Motorcycle Institute can* support universal helmet laws for all persons riding motorcycles on public roadways since helmets reduce some injuries and fatalities should a crash occur.
*We separate the discussions regarding helmet efficacy from discussions on helmet laws. We recommend the scientific method and scientific solutions for determining the efficacy of, and improvement to, the helmet. We recommend political method and a political solution for evaluation of, and improvement to, helmet laws.
For further discussion: When comparing motorcycle occupant fatality counts from states with universal mandated helmets laws and states without universal mandated helmet laws, relative fatality counts within all the states remain high, however, the states without mandated universal helmet laws have fatality injuries with increased head morbidity (i.e. the dead un-helmeted motorcycle rider has skull injuries more frequently than the dead helmeted motorcycle rider.)
Do not rush your motorcycling experience. Don’t think of yourself as being a skilled motorcycle driver simply because you have taken a beginning training course, or obtained a state license. It takes time and hard work to learn how to manage the dangers. And, there should be no guilt or shame if you decide to not continue riding, whatever level of skill you have reached. Although difficult due to lack of access, we suggest that you, for motorcycle training, look for nonlinear pedagogy systems such as the NMI-System and to avoid the common unsuccessful linear pedagogy systems that have been used for the last 35 years in the USA. (Please do an internet search for “Nonlinear Pedagogy” and learn about this important idea before you start your motorcycle training!)
For new motorcycle drivers, we call this the National Motorcycle Institute System, The NMI System National Motorcycle Institute System, The NMI System:
GATHERING INFORMATION: Learn about the dangers, and the time, effort, and expense of becoming a knowledgeable and skillful motorcycle driver, so that you can decide whether or not to continue.
BEGINNER-TIME: From deciding to become a motorcycle driver to just before your first street ride. Learn basic motorcycle operation before you decide to have a first street ride. Know how to confidently control speed and direction of a motorcycle before you interact with traffic. Our motto for the Beginner-time, “Be informed before you decide to ride.” Note that we do not concern ourselves in the Beginner-time with street riding specifics since we will be learning those at the appropriate moment of our Learner-time.
LEARNER-TIME: After completing the Beginner-time and then making an informed choice to continue pursuing street riding. In preparation for your first street ride, study street riding techniques, such as using turn signals and mirrors. Complete this before taking the motorcycle out onto public streets. If you gave yourself a proper Beginner-time, you should already know how to operate a motorcycle before your first street ride to start your Learner-time. Use an appropriately sized motorcycle during your learner-time, for however many miles you need and for however long it takes to develop your motorcycling knowledge and skill to an intermediate level.
Since riding motorcycles on public streets and highways is so dangerous, we recommend taking additional training in CPR and First Aid. Also, if you plan to ride in groups, then we recommend taking motorcycle specific first aid training such as the the Basic Curriculum “A Crash Course for the Motorcyclist” offered by Accident Scene Management.
LEARNER-TIME PRACTICE: Take an appropriate motorcycle out onto public streets, gradually increasing your exposure and intensity, up to perhaps 500 miles and 6 months of riding.
INDEPENDENT SKILL EVALUATION: After increasing your riding skills to an intermediate level, decide whether or not to continue. If yes, take a test to independently evaluate your skill and knowledge, such that you can demonstrate high level proficiency of intermediate level of motorcycling skills. Note that the skills tested should be more difficult than what novices typically obtain.
ONGOING-TIME: Continue to master additional skills and knowledge as you gain experience. Note: if you have a period of more than 6 months of not riding, manage your first rides returning to motorcycling as if you are in another learner-time.
For a chart and explanation of the NMI System, see the NMI System Flow Chart.
One becomes better at the sport, not safer. Attempting to operate a motorcycle on the public roadway without any prior knowledge or training is CARELESS. Training will not fix carelessness if one chooses to be careless, whether formally-trained or self-trained. There are many that are formally-trained that may also act carelessly. We are making the point that there is a difference between unskillful and careless operation while maintaining that training makes you better, not safer. Of course being careless in a dangerous situation increases the danger, independent of the amount of skill training one may have completed.
An important caution about training, practice, and courses: Adopt the point of view that training and practice will make you a “better” motorcycle driver, not a “safer” motorcycle driver. We encourage you to look for courses and materials that will help you become a “better” rider and shun courses that claim to make you a “safer” rider. Ask yourself, “Are skilled drivers more careful than unskilled drivers?”
Also, become familiar with the difference between an expert operator and a trained operator. Training can make novices appear “expert” when they are not. This can increase the novice’s danger. For example, a person trained in CPR can appear to be an expert physician when resuscitating a drowning victim. Yet they would not have any skill sets or cluster of tactics to resuscitate a victim within a slight variation of the particular scenario. The expert physician would have a large skill set and cluster of tactics to handle many variations of life threatening conditions.
To lessen the chance that other drivers won’t see you, maintain your lane placement in the common position that other vehicles would use.
In other words, position your motorcycle in the traffic lanes similar to how you would position your car.
It is the motorcycle’s unusual accelerations and higher relative speeds, coupled with possible unusual lane placement, that increase the difficulty
for other drivers to detect the motorcycle. Adjust your motorcycle speed, accelerations, and lane placement to be the similar to the traffic that is around you.
Always use lights while operating your motorcycle, day and night. This includes using your electric turn signals appropriately, and not using hand-signals since this can confuse other motorists. Check that your lights meet the current vehicle code in your state. Also, carefully adding appropriate reflectors and retro-reflective materials can make you more detectable at night. Hi-Viz clothing does not work at night, and is not as effective as the motorcycle lights in the daytime. Surprisingly, you should NOT rely on Hi-Viz clothing to increase your being seen by other drivers. Lights, and proper speed/positioning should be used to increase the chance of other drivers detecting your presence!
Caution: Once you are detectible, do not rely on increasing your conspicuity as a way of reducing the danger. Become aware of “Inattentional Blindness.”
Learn the difference between detect, discern, distinguish, conspicuous, and attention capture!
B. Motorcycle Driver Behaviors We Discourage:
You cannot “Choose to be safe” while operating a motorcycle; you can “Choose not to be Careless!” Not being careless while driving on public roadways is an important behavior we can practice and improve.
1. While operating on public roadways, drive your motorcycle in a legally and responsible manner. Accelerate and have speeds that are similar to the traffic flow. This will reduce the chance of you losing control and striking the roadway or some other fixed object. Also, by accelerating and moving at speeds similar to other traffic will make you easily seen by other drivers.
2. We urge you to avoid moving up to a high performance motorcycle for at least a year of practice on an appropriate “learner” bike.
3. We discourage you from joining in a group ride, even with one or two friends, until you have at least 500 miles or 6 months of regular riding experience. Then, always limit the number in your group ride to 4 motorcycles or less. If there are more than 4 motorcycles, break up into smaller groups. At the beginning of the ride, tell everyone the destination, and then announce that everyone will regroup at the destination so it is ok to break from the group during the ride.
4. We strongly urge you to avoid driving after consuming alcohol. Maintaining control of any vehicle requires good judgment, and judgment is impaired with the first drink. If you stop during a ride and drink an alcohol beverage, cancel the ride. In addition to judgment, motorcycles demand accurate control skills, and muscle control is degraded by alcohol.
5. Driving any vehicle while using recreational drugs or medications increases danger. Chemicals in your system can cause both physical and mental impairment, including degradation of judgment. Be proactive about not going for a ride with drugs in your system.
6. Governments should not promote using public streets and highways for recreation. Public roads should be used to get from one point to another. While using public roadways, the operators of vehicles should have their attention on the task at hand, operating the vehicle in an appropriate manner.
7. We suggest you do not rely on riding gear to reduce your chance of very serious injury or death. However, during the crash if there is a subsequent slide, then gear can materially reduce injury during the slide portion of the crash. There is no current riding gear available that materially reduces the chance of fatality during a severe impact.
Personal protective equipment turns out to be much less effective than we wish. The issue is that in a crash, the energy transmitted can be powerful enough to cause serious injury or even death. Impact changing helmet liners and gear armor are designed to change the impulse of the blow, but unfortunately this cannot absorb much of the energy in a crash. Energies in a crash can often overwhelm the protective devices. The head is particularly vulnerable, because the human brain is relatively fragile, and even modest blows to the head can have enough energy transmitted to the brain to cause serious and sometimes permanent brain injury. (Impulse = Force X Time = Change in Momentum, Work = Force X Distance = Change in Energy, Momentum and Energy are not the same thing.)
To understand how the internal parts of the body are damaged we have to use the equations for energy and for momentum, simultaneously. Unfortunately, the classical mechanics formula F=ma is not the correct form to use for understanding internal injuries (this is what is known as the “friction” problem with Newtonian physics). A “Lagrangian” or “Hamiltonian” approach to this classical mechanics problem is a way to understand the mechanisms for damage to the internal body from impacts. For example, if the two bodies are approaching each other at a similar speed, the momentum of the system is zero even though the kinetic energy of the system can be relatively high. The resultant damage in the collision for this low to zero momentum system would be high. Low momentum and high kinetic energy collisions are the most lethal.
We cannot be safe while driving a motorcycle, but we can choose to be “not careless.” The behaviors listed above are linked scientifically to a reduction in the fatality rate. These behaviors, combined with improving your knowledge and skill, can help you become a more proficient driver, leading to more satisfaction and enjoyment. However, once a motorcycle driver has attained a basic understanding of how to operate a motorcycle, learning higher level control skills has little effect on motorcycle driver fatality rates. This is because increased skills may cause a motorcycle driver to accept an increase in exposure to danger. It is a fact that licensed, trained, and helmeted motorcycle drivers get killed every day.
What this means: Scientifically speaking, we are not able to drive a motorcycle and be safe (absence of danger). Being safe while driving a motorcycle is analogous to proving a scientific theory, which is also not possible. Scientific theories can only be supported by evidence, not proved by evidence. However, a scientific theory can be disproved by evidence. The analogy would be that we can definitely decrease our danger by (but will not be safe while) using tactics and countermeasures while driving a motorcycle! The following behaviors should be applied within this framework of thinking – “Driving a motorcycle is not a safe activity. My behavior is that of being careful within a dangerous activity. I am actively reducing the unnecessary dangers.”