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“We use science to understand and manage the danger of motorcycling. We do not promote motorcycling, we promote making informed choices.” NMI

Most people call our subject “Motorcycle Safety.” We call it “Motorcycle Danger.”

A. Introduction

B. Motorcycle Driver Behaviors We Encourage:

1. Understand the relative danger of driving a motorcycle.

2. Understand the phenomenon of Blindness While Paying Attention (Inattentional Blindness, Change Blindness, etc.).

3. Choose to drive only when you are alert and able to maintain focus throughout the entire trip.

4. Match speed to conditions (aka ASSPLATT).

5. Wear appropriate riding gear.

6. Graduate through the stages of learning in a progressive manner.

7. Triple-L (Legal Lights Lighted)

C. Motorcycle Driver Behaviors We Discourage:

D. Summary


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A. Introduction

Street Motorcycles being ridden in snow by Hardcore MotorcyclistWe have found that, absent extraordinary industry efforts to stimulate people to take up motorcycling, about two percent of the population in the USA will become avid motorcyclists. 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 interests and find their own way to motorcycling, through formal training and/or other means. These motorcycle enthusiasts have gained enough information to make informed choices about their participation and use of motorcycles. [We are suggesting that there should be about 6.6 million motorcyclist enthusiasts in the USA. A way to estimate the number of motorcycle enthusiasts would normally have been achieved by counting the number of motorcycle endorsements on driver licenses. However, this count has been greatly increased beyond those who are hard core motorcycle enthusiasts (as described below as “Twopers”). This distorted increase is caused by motorcycle schools and state governments promoting motorcycling by providing unrestricted motorcycle endorsements to all beginner participants.]

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 know that riding upon a motorcycle, even while wearing protective gear, continues to be very dangerous. Motorcycle drivers wearing helmets are killed over 30 times as often as car drivers, mile for mile. This relative danger is hard to comprehend. When the relative danger is understood, reasonable people often reject riding motorcycles on public roadways. This is why most of the population does not ride motorcycles on public roadways. Although it is likely that twoper fatality rates will be lower than the overall motorcycle driver fatality rates, our organization accepts that there will be relatively high crash and fatality rates even among “Twopers.” We must accept these high “Twoper Fatality Rates” as “natural” or “normal” due to the high relative danger driving motorcycles poses compared to driving other vehicles. The difference is that twopers have enough information to make an informed choice. Non-Twopers must become better informed!

We know that motorcycle crash fatality counts can be dramatically reduced. Our goal is to provide scientifically accurate information, both with sound theories as well as accurate data and statistics, to the general population. We will hold government agencies accountable when they inappropriately promote motorcycling and provide non-scientifically accurate information to their citizens about the danger of motorcycling. When the population gains access to this information they will be able to make informed choices on managing the danger of motorcycling, and that will have a direct and measurable effect on reducing motorcycle crash fatality counts.

Warning Sign, Motorcycling is Dangerous

The prominent mechanism that causes loss of life in collisions is the kinetic energy of internal organs transforming into heat and destructive tissue damage. Kinetic energy increases rapidly with speed. Higher speeds are also a prominent contributing cause of drivers losing control of the vehicle. And when control of a motorcycle is lost, there is no practical way to protect the drivers’ or passengers’ internal organs.

We estimate that the current fatality rates are about double what should be expected if only Twopers participated in the sport. Contributors to the high fatality rates are the industry’s promotion of the “safe” motorcycling lifestyle, the subsequent promotion of this lifestyle by state motorcycle safety programs without appropriate warnings about the danger, and the well-meaning (but misinformed) encouragement by motorcycle enthusiasts. Also, once the student becomes aware of the danger, state motorcycle safety programs lack opportunities for students to “Opt-Out“, especially if the student is performing well on the small training motorcycle.

Currently, people are not given enough information about the dangers of motorcycling to make an informed choice about riding, or not riding, motorcycles. Students in most training courses are not being informed that motorcycle drivers wearing helmets are killed 30 times as often as car drivers, mile for mile. Nor are they being informed about the phenomenon of Blindness While Paying Attention, such as Inattentional Blindness, that occurs while operating any vehicle, especially motorcycles. Omitting these types of crucial information to people who have become curious and are considering motorcycling is a causal contributing factor to over-participation in motorcycling, and the doubling of the fatality counts.

National Motorcycle Institute (NMI) takes the position that the hardcore, or resolute, two percent of the population (Twopers) are best left alone. These hardcore motorcyclists have developed, and continue to refine, unique skill sets and a personal 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, for 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 a fatality rate we accept as “natural” or “normal”, even though that rate would be unacceptably high for most people who use public roadways.

Motorcycle Driver Crash ImageNational Motorcycle Institute (NMI) 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. We do not discourage, or promote, motorcycling. We promote making an informed choice. We believe that all people curious about motorcycling must be taught about the dangers of motorcycling, and importantly, the intense level of effort needed to become a serious motorcycle driver. We support the entire population being taught that driving a motorcycle while wearing a helmet is at least 30 times more dangerous than driving a car, mile for mile; and be informed that in fatal motorcycle crashes, the motorcycle is almost always the striking vehicle.

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, for anyone choosing to pursue the activity of motorcycling, learning about the following behaviors could help in developing skill sets and a cluster of tactics to manage, and possibly reduce, some of the dangers.


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B. Motorcycle Driver Behaviors We Encourage:

Specific motorcycle driver behaviors can be linked scientifically to fatality rates. While you cannot “Choose to be safe” while operating a motorcycle; you can “Choose to not be Careless!” Not being careless while driving on public roadways is an important behavior we can practice and improve. We suggest that operating your motorcycle legally and responsibly on public roadways is an appropriate way to not be careless.

There are over 150 Other Vehicles using the road for every single motorcycle!
When evaluating behaviors to reduce the danger, it is important to recognize that the number of motorcycles using public roads is dramatically less than the number of other vehicles. For example, averaged over a year, there are more than 150 other vehicles on the road for every single motorcycle!

We encourage behaviors that have proven 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.


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1. Understand the relative danger of driving a motorcycle.

Chart of Historical USA Motorcyclists Fatalities

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, 3,800% more often! (Note that cars carry more, and more often carry, passengers. The occupancy rate of cars is about 1.5 times the occupancy rate of motorcycles. If you don’t take into account the higher occupancy of cars over motorcycles, motorcyclists are still more than 27 times more often fatally injured than car occupants, per vehicle!) The 3800% increase in danger 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 ride 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 choose to stop or “opt out” of motorcycling at anytime.

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. This is because as motorcycle fatalities increased, passenger vehicle fatalities decreased. 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 unacceptably high and can be lowered.

If you believe that you understand the danger, but you are still motivated to ride motorcycles on public roads, we propose a test to see if you are potentially a serious Twoper. Test Yourself: Give the following article, “Nobody Told Me That Motorcycles Are So Dangerous” to someone who cares about your well being (your mother, doctor, or significant other) and encourage that person to read it. After discussing the material with them, if you still want to ride, you are on your way to becoming a twoper!

Please see this short slide show for more about the Dose of Danger.
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. From this section explaining that the “motorcycle is the striking vehicle,” you should have a better understanding of the intensity of the danger, and begin learning about managing both the intensity of the danger and the exposure to danger. The intensity of the danger of riding a motorcycle is high. So we can choose to lower the exposure to this high intensity. Motorcycle drivers have control over exposure to danger. We have limited control over the intensity of the danger. Learn what it means to reduce your exposure because this is within your control.

Motorcycle Driver Crash Image
In fatal motorcycle crashes, the motorcycle is almost always the striking vehicle.


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2. Understand the phenomenon of Blindness While Paying Attention (Inattentional Blindness, Change Blindness, etc.)

Pair of eyes, drawing for Inattentional Blindness

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.

Click Here to view a short (less than 9 min) entertaining video introducing the Attention-and-Blindness connection.

There are two Inattentional Blindness cases we want to consider 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 (and strike other objects that were clearly visible) instead of stopping. Case 2 is the more important of the 2 cases and helps explain why the motorcycle is the striking vehicle in almost all fatal motorcycle collisions involving other vehicles. Keep in mind that in both cases the driver can be “paying attention” prior to the collision, and both drivers can be experiencing “blindness” even though they are paying attention.

For Case 2, we hypothesize that, on average, motorcycle drivers have to use more cognitive resources to maintain control of the motorcycle compared to drivers of passenger vehicles. When these additional cognitive resources coincide with the cognitive resources needed for the motorcycle driver to avoid a crash, the crash is more likely to happen.

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, it is entirely possible 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 a situation where 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. We may not realize how inattentional blindness is increased by distraction or divided attention.”

To see how you score on attention, try this Selective Attention Test: The following short video involves two teams passing basketballs to one another. Your test is to count the number of times the basketball is passed between white-shirted team members. You will be scored on a correct count of the number of passes.

VIDEO for Selective Attention Test, Click Here

Inattentional Blindness case 1: car drivers not perceiving a motorcycle and then pulling out in front, or across the path of the motorcycle. This is a common scenario in a collision where a motorcycle strikes another vehicle. 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. Even though the driver may be actively searching for traffic, and the image of the motorcycle enters the driver’s eyes, the driver’s brain may not comprehend, or ignores, the motorcycle. Such Inattentional Blindness can be a result of the driver mentally attending to other tasks of driving, so the image of the unexpected motorcycle is ignored.

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, such cases of Inattentional Blindness are NOT simply distracted driving. If a driver is distracted by texting, the driver’s eyes and attention are focused on the phone and thoughts about the text message. In such a situation, the image of the motorcycle is not able to strike or enter the driver’s eyes. In this case, the other driver did not experience inattentional blindness.

A non-motorcycle example of Inattentional Blindness: While approaching or waiting at a red traffic light, a driver notices pedestrians in the walkway. When the light is green, a pedestrian, even in full view, may not be noticed in the walkway because pedestrians in the walkway are not expected when vehicles have a green light.

To learn about the dominant way to improve your conspicuity of your motorcycle by others, please review 8. Triple-L (Legal Lights Lighted)

Another of the prevalent myths in motorcycling is that other drivers will be more likely to see you if you are wearing brightly-colored clothing. If a driver doesn’t see you due to inattentional blindness, he or she will not see what you are wearing. It also makes no difference what you are wearing if your motorcycle is hidden from view. Again, please review 8. Triple-L (Legal Lights Lighted), and remember that it is your lights that are easily detected by other drivers. In other words, even when other drivers clearly see your lights, they often cannot identify the color of your clothes.

Here is a possible example of the motorcycle driver claiming to not have seen a trailer clearly in his view. The motorcycle driver later stated, “I did not see the trailer,” yet the large trailer is in plane view. Also, you may notice that the motorcycle collided with the trailer, and the motorcyclist did not, but went flying, then sliding. This is why this particular crash was survivable. This is an example of a high momentum high energy crash (a slide), as opposed to a low momentum high energy crash (a collision). Please see the “Riding Gear” sections for more about low system momentum (high likelihood of fatality) and high momentum (low likelihood of fatality).

Here is another possible example of motorcycle drivers experiencing blindness while paying attention. They are blind to their location, and a large bright red object entering their location. Please brace yourself and turn sound down before starting video. Also, this is also an example of why we do not recommend riding with large groups of motorcycles, at any experience level.

Prior to many crashes in which a motorcycle strikes another vehicle, the other driver reports not seeing the motorcycle, which is not the same as they can’t see the motorcycle. There are two countermeasures to reduce the chance of being a victim of inattentional blindness: 1. Control your motorcycle in a way that matches the speed and accelerations of traffic around you. It is then less likely you will be the “unexpected” object in the other driver’s field of view. 2. Be aware that you may experience Inattentional Blindness yourself and fail to perceive the turning car, or other hazards in or approaching your path.

With this understanding of Inattentional Blindness we can better understand why motorcycles strike cars and cars don’t strike motorcycles. That motorcycles are EASILY SEEN, helps explain why cars are rarely the striking vehicle in fatal motorcycle crashes. Just go outside and look at your motorcycle. Can you 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 motorcycles are capable of exceptional acceleration. We often drive faster than cars, and accelerate much more rapidly than cars. This leads to higher speeds and unusual accelerations compared to other traffic, and thus motorcycles “appearing” unexpectedly to other drivers. The motorcycle becomes the “unexpected object” that other drivers my fail to perceive. Additionally, and more importantly, we motorcycle drivers are paying attention to many things, such as balancing and shifting, and that may cause us to be blind to hazards entering our path, such as a turning car. Thus, importantly, we must accept that both types of drivers, motorcycle and the other vehicles, are experiencing Inattentional Blindness.

Conclusion: To reduce danger, accept that motorcycles are easy to see. Then, understand that Inattentional Blindness by other drivers is not simply the lack of conspicuity (“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. Next, we must accept that motorcycle drivers experience Inattentional 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.

Please learn more about Inattentional Blindness. And learn the difference between detect, discern, distinguish, conspicuous, and attention capture!

Inattentional Blindness – “The failure to notice something unexpected when attention is focused on something else.” Please see this article by Inattentional Blindness Expert Daniel J. Simons


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3. Choose to drive only when you are alert and able to maintain focus throughout the entire trip.

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, and 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.

Impairment also greatly increases the chance of 3. Understand the phenomenon of Blindness While Paying Attention (Inattentional Blindness, Change Blindness, etc.). Plan ahead and prepare to not need to ride your motorcycle home if you will be participating in activities that lead to impairment.

Note that in 96% of all motorcyclist fatal crashes, the motorcycle was the striking vehicle. This strongly supports to discontinue the ride once you are impaired.


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4. Match speed to conditions. (aka ASSPLATT)

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” street rider is often inappropriately 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, requires much longer distances to slow or stop, and provides greater internal kinetic energy for serious damage and injury. Also, traveling quickly on your motorcycle can surprise other drivers, i.e. “the motorcycle appeared out of nowhere” (see Blindness While Paying Attention above).

We suggest following the motto, “ASSPLATT.” (At the Suggested SPeed Limit All The Time)

Jellyfish not following the principle of ASSPLATT
ASSPLATT – At Suggested SPeed Limit All The Time
There are maximum speed limits (black numerals on a rectangular white sign), and there are suggested speeds (black numerals on a yellow sign, often displayed under a yellow diamond-shaped caution sign). If you comply with both maximum and suggested speed limits (i.e., adhere to the principle of ASSPLATT), you will lower your chance of crashing. And should a crash occur, being At Suggested SPeed Limit All The Time lowers the internal energies available to injure your organs.

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. In general in the USA, all traffic is traveling above the suggested speed limit leading to unnecessary crashes in all types of vehicles. We recommend developing better measures of speed enforcement to increase the “feeling of fairness” for those who are prudent and traveling at suggested speeds. Please see our Engineering Page for more about improving ASSPLATT compliance.

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.


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5. Wear appropriate riding gear.

When a crash occurs, appropriate riding gear will reduce injuries, whether or not a motorcyclist survives. 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.

We have found the general terms “Protective Gear” or “Personal Protective Equipment” can be used in a misleading manner. There is no particular combination or set of riding gear that can protect the whole body from injuries during a crash. Most importantly, protecting internal body organs 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 realizing that the crash protection 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. Helmets protect the scalp and skull and offer little protection to the organs in the chest such as the spleen, heart, aorta, etc.

Even though some riding gear may protect the skin, this can 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. (For example, helmets should not be used as an analogy to seatbelts in modern cars. Seatbelts keep you in a “zone of protection,” whereas helmets offer only protection to the scalp and skull.)

Other primary purposes for using riding gear are 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! We emphasize that proper fitting riding gear can make your ride better, but it is unwise to consider it as making you safe.

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.” The following anecdotal story helps explain this: 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.

HELMETS REDUCE FATALITIES. It is a fact that Helmets that meet the DOT standard (FMVSS 218) are designed, made with great care, and tested extensively. If you ride a motorcycle on public roads, wearing a well-made helmet will reduce external injuries to the head. Wearing a helmet also protects the head from potentially distracting environmental hazards such as rain or hot air that could contribute to causing a crash.

Helmets offer excellent skull (bone) and scalp protection from impacts and abrasions during a crash, especially to ears, nose, and jaw. HELMETS REDUCE FATALITIES, especially by reducing access and participation. However, helmets are not as effective (based on exposure such as Person-Miles-Traveled) at protecting the brain from impacts, due the physics of how the internal kinetic energies of the brain are dissipated, and the fragility of brain tissue. And, of course, helmets offer no protection to the rest of the body.

Helmets that meet the DOT standard (FMVSS 218) have a reasonable 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 such as making the danger similar to driving cars, but this is not the case. Even so, 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. Also, universal helmet laws significantly reduce access and participation. Rather than car seat belts, a better analogy for motorcycle helmets are airline seat belts. You should always use them while riding in the plane/on the motorcycle, however, don’t rely on the device saving your life if you experience a collision (with no post collision sliding) at typical speeds. Motorcycle helmets reduce certain injuries in certain types of mishaps, however, in fatal type collisions, there are many injuries to the body. If the co-morbidities add up to be greater than what the body can take, life will expire.

*We separate the discussions regarding helmet efficacy (based on exposure such as VMT, or Person-Miles-Traveled) from discussions on helmet laws (based on access and participation by population). 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: We recommend study the high danger of motorcycling in states with universal helmet laws in order to urgently come up with solutions that work for reducing the danger. We suggest that if there was a national universal helmet law, it would be easier to focus attention and resources on understanding the current high level of danger of motorcycling. Scientifically speaking,currently motorcycling is extremely dangerous compared to riding in cars, with or without helmets. 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.) This means that if you go to the morgue, you can easily tell which dead motorcyclists were wearing riding gear, and which were not.


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6. Graduate through the stages of learning in a progressive manner. (The NMI GDL System Flowchart)

NMI Graduated Driver License (GDL) SystemDo not rush your motorcycling experience. 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. Don’t think of yourself as being a skilled motorcycle driver simply because you have taken a beginning training course, or obtained a motorcycle endorsement. And remember that almost everyone who is killed driving a motorcycle on public roadways had a motorcycle endorsement! 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.

We suggest that you look for nonlinear pedagogy systems such as the NMI-System and avoid the common unsuccessful linear pedagogy systems that have been used for the last 40 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.Be warned that this system will take longer and be harder than you think it will be. The NMI System is:

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, at any step, 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. In other words, using the throttle smoothly, stopping with confidence, controlling lean and direction, and shifting while moving should all be second nature before you even start your study for riding on a public roadway! Our motto for the Beginner-time, “Be informed before you decide to ride.” You cannot make an informed choice before you know how to confidently control the speed and direction of a motorcycle. 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 and practice 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 how ever many miles you need and for how ever 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 basic curriculum “A Crash Course for the Motorcyclist” offered by Accident Scene Management.

WARNING: You cannot complete the Beginner-Time and the Learner-Time in one weekend, or at the same time. State programs that use motorcycle endorsement as the major incentive (all state programs known to NMI do this) attempt to combine the Beginner-Time and Learner-Time. This has lead to catastrophic post training results in morbidity for many participants who did not gain accurate information and knowledge to make informed choices about their street riding.

LEARNER-LEVEL INDEPENDENT SKILL EVALUATION: After increasing your riding skills to a learner level, decide whether or not to continue. If yes, take a test to independently evaluate your Learner-Level skill and knowledge. To lower danger, you must demonstrate an adequate level of proficiency at some intermediate level motorcycling skills before deciding to continue.

LEARNER-TIME PRACTICE: After learning how to confidently operate a street motorcycle, take an appropriate motorcycle out onto public streets, gradually increasing your exposure and intensity, up to perhaps 500 miles and 6 months of riding. During this time, stick to these “No’s:” No passengers, No roads with posted speeds of greater than 55 MPH, No riding between the hours of 11 PM and 5 AM.

ONGOING-LEVEL INDEPENDENT SKILL EVALUATION: After increasing your riding skills to an intermediate and experienced level, decide whether or not to continue. If yes, take a test to independently evaluate your intermediate and experienced skill and knowledge. To reduce the danger, you must demonstrate a high level of proficiency at many intermediate level motorcycling skills.

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.

For experienced riders, training and practice can help improve skills and knowledge, but does not reduce the danger. One becomes better at the sport, not safer. There are also many riders who are formally trained but act carelessly. While maintaining that training makes you better, not safer, we are making the point that there is a difference between unskillful and careless operation. Ask yourself, “Are skilled drivers more careful than unskilled drivers?” Of course being careless in a dangerous situation increases the danger, independent of the amount of skill training one may have completed. We strongly suggest, while operating motorcycles on public roadways, to operate them legally and responsibly to lower the danger.

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.

Be aware of the HUGE difference between being a trained operator, and being an expert 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. Importantly, the kind of training matters as well. Much of the current motorcycle training is “lifestyle training” and training designed to mask the danger from true novices. We find this problem of great concern.

Please see this short slide show for the results of the matched pair study that showed the evidence that supports this section.


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7. Triple-L (Legal Lights Lighted!)

Be detectable, but know that you may still not be noticed! Triple-L (Legal Lights Lighted) means always using lights appropriately while operating your motorcycle, day and night. 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. We suggest using your electric turn signals. Hand signals can be confusing to motorists who are only familiar with electric turn indicators. Using your hand to signal also requires you to remove a hand from the handlebar while interacting with traffic. Hi-Viz clothing may not work at night, and is not as effective as the motorcycle lights in the daytime. Lights, and operating within legal and responsible accelerations, speed, and positioning will increase the chance of other drivers “seeing you.”

To lessen the chance that other drivers won’t see you, it is important to 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 unexpected and incredible accelerations and higher relative speeds compared to cars, coupled with possible unexpected lane placement, that increase the “blindness” of other drivers to motorcycles’ presence. Adjust your motorcycle speed, accelerations, and lane placement to be similar to how the other traffic would be using the roadway to increase the capture of the attention of other drivers. These actions will also make it easier for the motorcycle to be detected by driverless vehicles in the future.

Motorcycle Driver Crash ImageNote that in 96% of all motorcyclist fatal crashes, the “brightness” of the garments the motorcyclists were wearing did not affect the outcome. In these crashes, motorcycle was the striking vehicle. This means that once you are detectible, increasing your conspicuity does not reduce the danger.

A note about the conflicting statements, “Motorcycles are hard to see,” yet, “Lighted Headlights are easy to see.” Since about 1978 (40 years of data), motorcycles have had the headlight lighted when the engine is running. All current motorcycles have bright headlights that light with the engine running. These headlights are not difficult to see. When motorcycle drivers keep these headlights in lane proper positions, and travel at legal and responsible speeds and accelerations, these lighted headlights are easy to see.


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C. Motorcycle Driver Behaviors We Discourage:


You cannot “Choose to be safe” while operating a motorcycle; you can “Choose to not be Careless!” Not being careless while driving on public roadways is an important behavior we can practice and improve.

1. Avoid accelerating or riding at speeds much faster or slower than traffic. Excessive speed increases the chance of you losing control and striking the roadway or some other fixed or moving object. Accelerating and moving at speeds different from other traffic will contribute to being a surprise to other drivers.

2. Avoid moving up to a high performance motorcycle until at least a year of practice on an appropriate “learner” bike. It is ok to enjoy “low performance” motorcycles indefinitely.

3. Avoid group rides, even with one or two friends, for your first year of riding. After you have experience, never ride in group of more than 4 motorcycles. We recommend you choose not to ride in groups and to meet your riding buddies at the destination to share stories.

4. 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 alcoholic beverage, cancel the ride. In addition to judgment, motorcycles demand accurate control skills, and muscle control is degraded by alcohol.

5. Avoid driving any vehicle while taking recreational drugs or medications. Chemicals in your system can cause both physical and mental impairment, including degradation of judgment.

6. Avoid using public roads for your entertainment. Using a public road as your personal racetrack distracts you from maintaining your awareness of traffic and surface hazards. Using the public roadways to socialize with your large group of motorcycling friends is dangerous, and is not why the transportation system was created.

7. Do not depend upon riding gear to reduce your chance of serious injury or death. While gear can materially reduce external injury during the slide portion of the crash, there is no riding gear currently available that materially reduces the chance of fatal injuries during a severe impact.

As the crash investigator said, “It was not the 600 foot slide that killed him, it was the sudden stop at the end of the slide.” Brace yourself for this graphic video. Here is a video example of a long slide with an abrupt stop at the end. Very little body damage occurred during the long slide, it was the abrupt end to the slide that resulted in this fatality.

Optional Reading Section for more on Riding Gear: Personal protective equipment turns out to be much less effective than we wish. The issue is that in a crash, the internal kinetic energy transforms to heat and tissue tearing damage and causes serious injury to the body organs or even death. Impact changing helmet liners and gear armor are designed to change the impulse of the blow, but unfortunately the change is not great enough to prevent severe internal damage to the internal organs. 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 deceleration of the head causes enough internal kinetic energy to transform into heat and damage to the brain, causing serious and 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 formula 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. Compare this to a collision with identical kinetic energy, but both objects are traveling in the same direction, with one traveling slightly faster and overtaking the other in the collision. This system would have a large momentum.

Please see this short slide show for more about why helmets might not reduce fatalities as much as we wish.


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D. Summary:

We cannot be “safe” while driving a motorcycle, but we can choose to be “not careless.” The behaviors we encourage 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, no one is able to drive a motorcycle free of danger. 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 over 30 times more frequently than car drivers, mile for mile.

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