Tips to avoid motorcycle accidents
Motorcycles can give Texas bikers an unstoppable feeling: traveling with the wind while unencumbered by the steel walls of a typical motor vehicle.
Though your safety can't be guaranteed while riding a motorcycle, there are steps you (and the motorists around you) can take to greatly reduce the chances that you'll suffer an injury.
Motorcycle safety tips: before you hit the road
Reducing the risk of a motorcycle accident starts before you even hop on the saddle.
1. Get the proper license
Driving a car and riding a motorcycle require different skills and knowledge. In addition to meeting the requirements necessary to obtain a regular driver's license, Texans must meet additional requirements in order to obtain a Class M driver's license to operate a motorcycle.
These requirements include, among other things, completing a DPS-approved motorcycle safety course and passing a written test and a road test.
While this may sound like a headache, the requirement ensures that you've at least taken the minimal safety courses and, just as important, that the motorcyclists sharing the road with you have taken those same courses.
2. Make sure you're properly insured
In Texas, you must carry the following minimum liability coverage for your motorcycle:
- $30,000 bodily injury coverage for each injured person in an accident
- $60,000 bodily injury coverage total per accident
- $25,000 property damage coverage per accident
While this required liability insurance helps others if you cause an accident, it doesn't help you if you're injured as a result of an accident. You should strongly consider acquiring “medical payments and personal injury protection coverage” to help cover your medical bills if you're injured in a motorcycle accident.
3. Buy (and wear) motorcycle safety gear
Having the proper safety attire can be the difference between life and death if you're involved in a motorcycle accident.
Most experts recommend wearing the following when operating or riding on a motorcycle:
- A jacket made of solid material like leather
- Long pants also made of a solid material
- Boots or other closed-toed shoes high enough to cover the ankle
- Protective gloves
- A helmet that protects your entire face
In Texas, all riders under the age of 21 are required to wear a helmet when operating a motorcycle or scooter. Motorcyclists who are 21 years of age or older don't have a legal obligation to wear a helmet if they've completed a motorcycle safety course or purchased an appropriate health insurance plan that covers motorcycle accidents.
Whether you're legally required to wear a helmet or not, it's strongly recommended that you do so. One study found that motorcycle helmets are 67% effective in preventing brain injuries and that unhelmeted motorcyclists involved in crashes were 3 times more likely to suffer brain injuries than those wearing helmets.
How do I know if I'm wearing the right helmet?
When buying a helmet, look for a Department of Transportation sticker. The presence of this sticker guarantees the helmet meets the safety standards required by law. Also, avoid buying a used helmet, as helmets are generally useless after they've been worn in a crash. Finally, make sure the helmet is a “full-coverage” or “full-face” helmet. These helmets offer the most protection for motorcyclists.
Still not convinced a motorcycle helmet will save your life? Take a look at these motorcycle-helmet facts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
4. Check your equipment
In Texas, all motorcycles are required to receive an annual inspection at an official motor vehicle inspection station. But you shouldn't just look over your motorcycle once per year; you should do a quick inspection before every ride.
Here are some of the most important things to check before you put your foot on the pedal:
- Your motorcycle's tire pressure and tread depth
- Your hand and foot brakes
- Your headlights and signal indicators
- Your fluid levels
- The ground underneath your motorcycle (for signs of oil or gas leaks)
- Your cargo (to make sure it's secure and balanced)
If you'll be riding with a passenger, don't let them mount the motorcycle until after the engine has started. Once they're on your motorcycle, make sure they're sitting as far forward as possible, directly behind you. It's imperative that they keep both feet on the footrests at all times, even when the motorcycle is stopped.
Motorcycle safety tips: on the road
Staying safe begins before you mount your motorcycle, but it continues once you're on the open road.
Obey all traffic laws
As a motorcyclist in Texas, you're required to obey the traffic laws just like other motor vehicles. Among other things, this means you're prohibited from lane splitting (driving between lanes to pass slow or stopped vehicles).
In addition, it's imperative you avoid riding your motorcycle while intoxicated.
General riding tips
In addition to following all traffic laws, here are some “best practices” you should follow while operating a motorcycle:
- Make sure that other drivers are aware of you. Motorcycles can easily go undetected by unsuspecting motorists. Make eye contact with motorists as much as possible, especially when pulling out at stop signs or red lights. In addition, check your mirrors frequently and always be aware of your surroundings.
- Avoid riding too close to motorists. Give vehicles the room to merge if they need to.
- Always drive defensively. This means being prepared to change lanes quickly or avoid a hazardous situation.
- Try not to ride your motorcycle in hazardous weather such as rain or snow. If you must, be sure to take it slow.
- Be aware that riding with a passenger requires considerably more skill than riding alone.
- Watch for hazards like potholes, manhole covers, oil slicks, puddles, debris, railroad tracks, and gravel.
- Use headlights during the day and at night.
Sharing the road with motorcyclists: tips for non-motorcyclists
Most motorcyclists operate cars or trucks when they're not on their motorcycles. Don't forget about motorcyclists just because you're not on your motorcycle.
The following tips will help you avoid causing motorcycle accidents:
- Always check your blind spots. Motorcycles are smaller than other vehicles on the road and can be particularly difficult to spot when merging or changing lanes. Take the time to make certain a motorcyclist is not in your blind spot before merging or turning. In addition, make sure your side-view mirrors are set properly.
- Be extra cautious when passing. In Texas, you're legally permitted to pass a motorcyclist the same way you would pass another car. However, the gust of wind that you create could cause a motorcyclist to lose control. Make sure you use your turn signal and allow several car lengths to pass before passing a motorcyclist.
- Keep your distance. Keep your distance if you find yourself behind a motorcycle. You want to maintain a cushion of at least 4 seconds. Rear-ending a motorcyclist can cause far more damage than rear-ending another motor vehicle.
- Use caution at intersections. Most motorcycle accidents occur at intersections. When approaching an intersection, be sure to come to a complete stop, locate and obey posted traffic signs, and look both ways before moving slowly through the intersection.
- Be kind. Nothing good comes from road rage. Even if you encounter a motorcyclist who is driving aggressively, nothing good will come from matching that aggression. If you find your blood pressure rising, pull over to the side of the road and take several deep breaths.
Motorcycle safety resources
There are a number of resources available to help you become a safer motorcyclist. Here are some of the best resources out there:
- Motorcycle Safety Foundation (offers safety booklets, downloadable Rider Course handbooks, videos, quick tips, and more)
- Texas Department of Public Safety (click on “training locations” to find a motorcycle safety course near you)
- Total Rider (find a BasicRider course near you)
- RideApart (10 most common causes for motorcycle accidents and how to avoid them–including helmet crash cams showing what can go wrong)
Unfortunately, sometimes motorcycle accidents happen even if you take all the appropriate safety measures. If you or a loved one has been involved in a motorcycle accident, reach out to an experienced Texas attorney to discuss your legal options.