Did you know May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month? It’s also Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. What do the two have in common? Obviously, safety. But many teen drivers share the road with motorcyclists as well as ride motorcycles. Additionally, while novice drivers get their first dose of driver education in their teenage years, many motorcyclists recognize the importance of getting trained, too.
Three years ago, I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s basic rider course. No I don’t own a motorcycle or even ride on one as a passenger, nor do I have dreams of cruising the open road on a Harley (my dream bike has seat belts, a steel reinforced safety cage, crumple zones, airbags... I think you get the picture!). As a car driver who shares the road with motorcycles, I simply wanted to expand my knowledge. The two and a half day course certainly tested my endurance (who knew handling a motorcycle was such hard work) and patience (I had never ridden before), but it also reinforced how important it is to be 100 percent focused on what you’re doing. Take your eyes off the road or let your mind wander for just one second and the results can be catastrophic.
If you’re thinking about learning to ride a motorcycle, have been riding for sometime but never secured any formal training, or simply want to expand your driving skills, I encourage you to enroll in a basic rider program. If your teen is hankering to ride, successful completion of the basic rider course is mandatory for anyone under 18 seeking a motorcycle endorsement in New Jersey. I can assure you it’s time and money well spent. What I learned about scanning the road is worth its weight in gold. Plus when I’m driving, I’m now more aware of motorcycles and give them additional space.
If the thought of climbing on a motorcycle doesn’t get your engines revving, I can appreciate that -- it took me several years of talking with rider education coaches to get up the nerve to take the course. But if you haven’t made time in the past decade (or two or three) to brush up your driving skills, perhaps it’s time to do so. Many local organizations including AAA, the National Safety Council (NSC) and AARP offer defensive driving courses that not only cover tips and techniques for safe vehicle operation, but recent changes to New Jersey’s motor vehicle laws. These courses also entitle you to a discount on your insurance as well as point reduction.
Participation in a driver education program demonstrates to teens and younger children the importance of ongoing training. As I’ve written repeatedly in past posts, if we want our kids to do the right thing, we have to model that behavior. When it comes to reinforcing the importance of being a lifelong learner, it’s up to us to lead the way.
To commemorate Global Youth Traffic Safety (car crashes are the leading killer of children and teens worldwide) and Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month (despite motor vehicle fatalities declining in 2010, the latest year for which complete statistics are available, fatalities involving motorcyclists increased and represented 13.6 percent all deaths on our nation’s roadways), I encourage you to get schooled. At the very least, spend time talking with the novice drivers in your family about sharing the road with motorcycles (you’ll be learning, too). If your teen rides, discuss and continue to reinforce the importance of being safe on the road. Here are a few driver and rider tips courtesy of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and NSC:
- Don’t be distracted by texting or talking on a mobile device. Remember, passengers, food, pets, grooming (the list is endless) can also prompt you to take your hands off the wheel and your eyes and mind off the road.
- Look for motorcycles, they’re smaller than other vehicles and often harder to see. Be extra alert when you’re driving in a mix of traffic.
- Keep a safe following distance and don’t change lanes too close in front of a motorcyclist.
- Always use your turn signal (it’s the law), so motorcycles can react accordingly.
- Keep trash, including cigarette butts, in the car. Road debris can killer a rider. Be sure that heavier items are well secured or stowed inside your vehicle.
- Get properly trained and licensed. Studies show that trained and licensed riders are safer. Regardless of how long you’ve been riding, take refresher courses to improve your skills.
- Use turn signals and position yourself outside a motorist’s blind spot.
- Always wear an approved motorcycle helmet (it’s the law in New Jersey) and other protective gear (i.e., long pants and sleeves, sturdy shoes, gloves).
- Never ride after drinking or taking any drugs. Nearly half of all riders killed in motorcycle crashes had been drinking.
- Respect your limits and the law; don’t ride faster or farther than your abilities can handle.