Did you know May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month? Launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this month raises awareness about the dangers associated with using two wheels rather than four. It also serves to remind motorists to share the road with motorcyclists.

“Motorcyclists will be out in force as the weather gets warmer, which is why May is the perfect month for Motorcycle Safety Awareness,” said Anthony Foxx, DOT secretary. “Fatal crashes with motorcycles are on the rise. We all need to be more aware of motorcyclists in order to save lives and make sure we all ‘Share the Road.’”

Why is motorcycle safety important?

Unfortunately, the need for motorcycle safety reminders is all too clear from the data. In 2018 alone, approximately 82,000 motorcyclists were injured on U.S. roads, according to the National Safety Council. This doesn’t include the nearly 5,000 motorcyclists whose injuries cost them their lives; a 5% increase compared to 2017. In 2018, motorcycle-related fatalities outnumbered those from other vehicles by 27 times, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This is why Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month is so important. However, at Elephant we know that motorcycle safety is important year ‘round. That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide. The following motorcycle safety tips – both for riders and motorists – can help reduce the chances of being involved in an accident. Keep reading to learn the rules of the road.

Before you hit the road

You need a motorcycle license in order to ride, and the best way to ensure you know the rules of the road is by getting properly trained. Even if you’re well-versed in riding proficiency, a refresher course can help ensure that you remain a defensive motorcyclist. Once you’re ready to ride, you’ll need the right equipment to keep yourself, and your fellow motorists, safe.

The gear

It’s not uncommon to see riders wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt, especially when it’s hot outside. But this combo runs the risk of severe injury if a vehicle stops short or someone runs a red light. Make sure to always cover bare skin when riding your bike by wearing:

  • Gloves
  • Over-the-ankle boots
  • Eye protection
  • Padded outerwear, like jacket and pants
  • A properly fitted helmet that’s Department of Transportation-approved


Wear the right helmet

That last one is the most important. Wearing a DOT-approved helmet is actually required by law in most states. But it’s also the piece of gear that’s most likely to save your life. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 1,908 motorcyclists who died in 2017 were not wearing a helmet. A proper helmet is estimated to be 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries. In fact, the NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,859 motorcyclists in 2016.


When purchasing a helmet for your motorcycle, these are the most important aspects to consider:

  1. Make sure you’re buying a full coverage helmet, meaning all sides of your head are covered, as well as your face. Full coverage helmets offer the most protection possible in an accident.
  2. Look for the DOT sticker. That sticker certifies your helmet meets legal safety standards.
  3. Never buy a used helmet. The effectiveness and safety of a helmet are always compromised after being used and can’t be guaranteed.

Motorcycle safety on the road

If you’re a motorcycle rider, what better way to practice smart motorcycle safety than hitting the road for a ride? Wherever you wind up going, here’s what you should be sure to do every time you jump in the saddle:

Wear protective gear

More than 80 percent of motorcycle accidents result in injury or death, according to NHTSA statistics. That risk drops dramatically by wearing a helmet – by almost one-third at 29 percent.  Also, be sure that the rest of your body is covered up by wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a pair of gloves.

Avoid distractions

When you’re out in the open air, distractions are everywhere. When you’re at a lower height without doors and a roof, the same sights you never noticed in the car are often hard to miss on a bike. Keep your eyes on the road ahead of you and resist the temptation of looking around you.

Use hand signals

You should always keep your hands on the handlebars except when you’re coming to a stop or plan on turning. Use the hand turn signals you learned in your motorcycle driving education course. In addition to the directionals on your bike, this serves as just one more way to inform drivers around you of your intention to turn left or right.

Increase following distance

The general rule when behind the wheel is to allow two seconds of room between yourself and the nearest car in front of you. On a motorcycle, though, the NHTSA recommends that you increase your distance to four seconds. Motorists are advised to do the same thing when they’re behind motorcycles.

Avoid dark clothing

On two wheels, it’s not as easy for motorists to see you as when you’re driving a full-sized vehicle. To increase your visibility, wear colors that are easily distinguishable like white, orange, and yellow. There are also reflective vests you can wear that are ideal for driving at night.

Try to drive only when the weather is good

Everyone hopes for a warm and sunny summer, as rain puts a real damper on outdoor fun activities. If rain is in the forecast, try to hold off on riding your bike until conditions clear. Besides the fact that you’ll avoid getting wet, you’ll also reduce the risk of being involved in an accident, as the roads won’t be slick.

Wherever your motorcycle driving takes you this year, make sure you get there safely by adhering to these safety rules. Doing so will help continue the encouraging trend of fewer highway fatalities each year.

Motorcycle safety for motorists

Like we mentioned, motorcycle safety isn’t just down to motorcycle riders. Crashes involving motorcycles and other vehicles are responsible for 56% of motorcycle accident deaths. These motorist-on-motorcycle accidents:

  • Usually involve a car striking the front of a motorcycle. Striking the motorcycle from behind is rarely the cause of these kinds of accidents.
  • Most frequently happen as a result of motorists trying to make a left-hand turn (42% of all accidents involving a motorcycle and car). Since motorcycles are smaller, motorists often don’t see them approaching.
  • Are often fatal to the motorcyclist

As motorists (and as the literal “bigger person”), we need to be aware of motorcycles on the road and how we can do our part to reduce the amount of motorcycle accidents and fatalities. Next time you’re on the road, be sure to:

Look, then look again

Motorcycles vary in size, but regardless of how big they are, they’re easily overlooked – especially on roads that are highly congested. And, like we mentioned, if you’re at a stop sign or are taking a turn into a parking lot or driveway, take an extra moment to look before pulling out or in.

Allow plenty of space

Motorcycle riders are supposed to stay well behind motorists, but the same rule applies to drivers. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation suggests trailing a rider by at least four or five seconds.

Be skeptical of turn signals

Motorcycles have flashing directional indicators, but unlike automobiles, they don’t always have an auto-off function (triggered when the handlebars move). That’s why sometimes when riders’ turn signals are flashing, they simply forgot to turn it off. There’s no action for you to take here, other than to be aware of this possibility when you’re on the roads and drive defensively.

Don’t anticipate brake lights

Similarly, riders will often downshift to slow down, instead of applying the brakes before coming to a complete stop. As a result, try to increase your following distance, making sure to apply the brakes slightly earlier than you would if trailing a passenger vehicle.

The MSF has a few other pointers to be mindful of as a driver on roads frequented by motorcyclists.

The right insurance

Elephant Insurance partners with Dairyland, providing riders with truly specialized motorcycle insurance coverage. By pairing a motorcycle policy with auto insurance or homeowners insurance, you can save on premiums. You may be able to save even more after successfully completing a safety course. Get started on a quote today!

Article last updated on June 25th, 2023 at 6:58 pm