Summer is one of the best times of the year to get out on a motorcycle and ride, especially in Western North Carolina. From the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap, it’s hard to top riding in the N.C. mountains.
But anywhere a motorcyclist rides in North Carolina, they have to be wary of heavy traffic and careless drivers. Motorcycle accidents happen by the thousands in our state every year, and according to the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, 87 percent of them led to a reportable personal injury in 2013.
Here are a few tips for driving safely and avoiding motorcycle accidents when you ride this summer:
- Wear safety gear. Driving safely on a bike really begins with protecting yourself. Always wear a DOT-approved helmet (aka a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard, or FMVSS, 218-compliant helmet). It’s the law in North Carolina, and it’s the most effective way to avoid a traumatic brain injury or death from a head injury in a motorcycle crash. You should also wear protective clothing, including gloves and boots that cover your ankles.
- “Pretend you are invisible.” This is a recommendation the Motorcycle Safety Foundation made last year. If you assume motorists can’t see you, you’ll become more aware of everything going on around you and take the initiative to ride responsibly.
- Drive defensively. Even when drivers do see you, chances are they’ve never been on a motorcycle and can’t properly judge your speed. Keep a distance between your bike and their vehicle. The MSF says to vary your speed and lane position to place yourself in the best position to avoid collisions. Plan escape paths in case a driver violates your right-of-way. Cover your brake controls to quicken your reactions, and use your horn to alert a driver who doesn’t notice you.
- Watch ahead. With more drivers distracted by cell phones and other electronic devices, it’s increasingly important for motorcyclists to be more vigilant and perceptive than ever. Keep an eye out ahead of you for changing conditions, whether they are movements in traffic or road conditions, such as debris, potholes, etc. The MSF recommends learning to practice the SEE strategy: Search ahead, Evaluate the situation and Execute a plan to avoid problems.
- Make yourself visible. Try to catch motorists’ eyes. Wear bright and/or reflective clothing. Always burn your headlight. Use hand signals along with your bike’s turn signal and brake lights, and signal well ahead of turns or stops. Say out of blind spots. When possible, ride in groups.
- Know yourself. It’s important that you ride within your capabilities. The National Safety Council suggest that new riders take a motorcycle safety course, and experienced riders take refresher courses after being off their bikes for a while. Keep in mind that riding with a passenger requires considerably more skill than riding alone. It’s also important to choose a bike that fits you; “supersport bikes” have driver death rates about four times that of cruisers or standard bikes, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
You’ll be safer this summer if you ride prepared and with the best safety practices in mind. Still you could wind up in an accident because of someone else’s negligence. If that happens, you should get legal assistance to ensure that you can obtain an insurance settlement that addresses your needs in a timely manner.
Jason E. Taylor is a motorcycle attorney and an avid motorcyclist working to protect the rights of riders who have been injured in motorcycle accidents in Western North Carolina. If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident that was someone else’s fault, contact the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor in Hickory or Charlotte for a free discussion of your legal options as soon as you can.