Tips to make the roads safer for cars and motorcycles

Consumer Reports News: May 07, 2012 11:08 AM

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As more drivers are turning to motorcycle and scooters to save fuel, more two- and four-wheelers are sharing the roads. Whether you're a car driver or cycle rider, reviewing a few tips can make travel safer for all.

Tips for drivers
Motorcycles are not cars.
Beyond being on two wheels, they are less visible, accelerate quicker, brake harder, can split lanes, and their riders are much more exposed. While motorcyclists must obey the same laws, the machines are quite different from cars.

Smart lane changes. Check all mirrors and windows before changing lanes, and maneuver only after signaling. A motorcycle can pass through a blind spot and be easily missed by a casual check.

Don't follow close to a motorcycle. Bikes can brake more rapidly than a car, likewise, they can also run into trouble braking or avoiding a road hazard.

Hang up and drive. Far too many drivers, young and old, are using a cell phone for calls or texting when behind the wheel. The message is simple: Don't. (Learn more about distracted driving.)

Don't pass a motorcycle if its directionals are on. It is easy for a rider to overlook leaving a turn signal on. Don't assume intentions. Drive cautiously and make sure the rider is aware of your intentions.

Harley-motorcycle-riders-city-2012.jpgTips for motorcyclists
Be as visible as possible.
Wear brightly colored, reflective clothing and helmet, always have your lights on, use your directional signals, and avoid cars' blind spots. When choosing a bike, consider a colorful one and think about adding lights and/or reflective tape.

Don't make assumptions. Make sure cars can see you at all times and be predictable with your riding. Signal intentions, be courteous, and exercise the appropriate caution for a mode of transportation that has 25 times greater risk of death than being in a car.

Watch for debris. In a turn, sand, wet leaves, or pebbles can cause the bike to slide quickly and unexpectedly. And many slides result in a crash.

Watch the road surface. Pavement irregularities that might be only an uncomfortable bump in a car can upset the balance of an unprepared bike rider. Try to maneuver around broken pavement and potholes, and approach railroad tracks at a right angle.

Avoid riding in bad weather. But if you can't do that, be especially gentle with the brakes, throttle, and steering to avoid losing control on a slippery surface.

Protective gear. Without the benefit of a car's steel cage around you, you'll have to rely on your riding gear as your only source of accident protection. Your comfort and even survival can depend on having the right gear, including a DOT-approved helmet, leather or other reinforced jacket, non-slip boots, and gloves.

Wear a helmet, even if your state doesn't mandate it. Wind in the hair may be refreshing, even exhilarating, but government studies show that riders without a helmet are three times more likely to suffer brain injuries in an accident than helmeted riders. For optimum protection, the helmet should be a full-face design that's approved by the Department of Transportation.

Don't dress for summer. T-shirts, shorts, and any footwear besides non-skid boots without laces are not appropriate for riding.

Protect your eyes. Flying insects and road debris kicked up by other vehicles can cause a lot of distraction and possible eye injury. Wear a full-face helmet with a visor.

May is annual Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, a reminder to all who share the roads to do so wisely.

See our motorcycle and scooter buying advice to learn more about rider safety, and see our special section for motorcycle buying advice and reliability.

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