Motorcycle / Scooter Safety

by John Nozum

    Thinking about getting that new motorcycle or 2-wheeled powered scooter?  Here are some things to know from legal and safety standpoints, so that you don't get creamed and/or end up the slammer--or even the grave!    Below are some things that motorcycle test prep guides either don't mention or don't empathize well enough.

    Ideally, beginners should practice on paved parking lots that are not in current use or on driver ed courses.  This is PARTICULARLY so if you have never ridden a bicycle.  You should be able to confidently ride a bicycle before you try to hop on a motorcycle or scooter.  The next step should be light city driving, where the speed limits are around 15-25 MPH.  You should stick to city driving in light traffic conditions for at least 2-3 weeks.

    On a more intermediate level, you may want to try semi-highway driving, where speed limits are 35-40 MPH.  Alternatively, you may wish to try a little country driving at short distances.  To learn more about country driving, click here.

    At any rate, USE YOUR REAR VIEW MIRRORS FREQUENTLY!!!  This is particularly so if you are not comfortable driving at the speed limit.  You don't want an impatient driver on your tail!  If such is the case, it is best to CAREFULLY pull over and let the impatient driver ahead of you.  That way, you're both happy, and you're much safer.

    Another word of caution, particularly for less experienced drivers:  Do not stare at your instrument panel or mirrors for very long.  It should take no more than 0.5 to 1 second to check a mirror or instrument on your dash board.  Back around 1978 or so, I FLIPPED OVER on my bicycle because I was looking at my speedometer and not where I was going!  At least 80% of your viewing time should be on the road ahead.

    The following documentation is REQUIRED before you can take that motorcycle or scooter out on the road:

    - License (can be the following)
        - Driver's license with motorcycle endorcement
        - Motorcycle license
        - Motorcycle permit

    - Proof of insurance

    - Vehicle registration

    - License plate (or at least a temporary plate)

As for scooters, this varies state by state.  Many states regulate scooters the same as bicycles IF the engine is smaller than 50 cc.  In this case, insurace, license,  registration, and helmet are not required.  Moreover, insurance is often very difficult to obtain for small scooters (engine under 50 cc).  Scooters 50 cc and over are regulated the same as motorcycles.  Also, scooters may be regulated at the CITY level!  Even if scooters are legal in your state (AND CITY), you are required to obey the traffic laws like everyone else.  In fact, because scooters are exempt from licensure laws in some states, local police may be quicker to pull over someone on a scooter than in a car, even for the same type of violation.

    Scooters have four major safety concerns that are unique to them.  First of all, many scooters are quite small and are not easily seen by other motorists.  This is particularly true of scooters smaller than 50 cc.  Many scooters do not have all the safety features that a street-legal motorcycle has, such as mirrors, signal lights, brake light, and headlight.  Even when these are present, the quality may be inferior in such a way that they may not be what they're cracked up to be.  For example, brake lights may not be noticeable in bright sunlight.  Signal lights may not be seen by other drivers.  Many scooters have wheels that are quite small, and these are much more prone to getting caught in road defects, such as potholes.  As a result, the front wheel may get caught in one of these defects, and the WHOLE BIKE may end up flipping over, causing serious injury or even death!  Finally, many scooters are built with lightweight materials, including plastics, and SO LONG if you get involved in an accident involving a car or even bigger vehicle!

    There is a very common accident scenario that is common to motorcycles and scooters.  Here is how it often happens:  Suppose you are on a motorcycle or scooter and are following a car that is ahead of you.  You approach an intersection, planning on going straight ahead.  A car is stopped at a road that is perpendicular to the road that you are on and sees the car that is ahead of you.  The car ahead of you gets past the intersection without any events.  However, because the person in this other car (on the road perpendicular to you) saw the car that was ahead of you and NOT YOU, YOU end up getting creamed!  Below is a slide-by-slide view:

Please note the motorcyclist following the yellow car closely.  Also
note the white car that is waiting to turn onto your road.

Now notice that the yellow car in which you are following
successfully made it almost through intersection.  He is fine.

Because the driver in the white car did NOT see you,
you get CREAMED!

Remember that when there is an accident involving a motorcycle and a car, the car ALWAYS "wins"!!!  A motorcycle plus its rider(s) rarely exceeds 1,000 pounds.  However, most cars are over 3,000 pounds.  Also, a motorcycle has only 2 wheels, and a car has 4 wheels, which means that a car has more stability, particularly in an accident.  Both broad side and head-on collisions are particularly gruesome.  In severe cases, a motorcylist can be BEHEADED!  Such was the case in Pennsylvania in 2004; The helmet was picked up, and the head was still in it!

    There are some unique hazards and such when it comes to motorcycles and scooters.  To learn more about these, click HERE.

    Many people do not know the difference between a scooter and a motorcycle.  Click HERE to see the differences.

    To learn more about helmets and why they are important even in states where they're "optional", click HERE.

    If you're in the mood to try some country drivin', click HERE.

    To read all about my accident on September 4, 2004, click HERE.

Think you're ready to take that
Harley out on the highway just yet?
CLICK HERE to see if you're ready!

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