It’s National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month: Here’s How to Stay Safe

May is National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. With the warm weather beginning to hit and bikers ― like everyone else ― eager to get out of their homes and experience the joy that comes with an open-air ride, now is an excellent time to review the risks and address how motorcyclists and other motorists can share the road safely.

How Safe Is Riding a Motorcycle?

Motorcycles, by their nature, are not as crashworthy as closed vehicles, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Per the Institute, they are less visible to other drivers and pedestrians and also less stable than four-wheel vehicles. The physical and mental skills required to operate a motorcycle are different than those used in driving four-wheel vehicles. In addition, motorcyclists and their passengers are more vulnerable to the hazards of weather and road conditions than drivers in closed vehicles.

In 2018, 4,985 motorcyclists in the U.S. were killed in crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an almost 5 percent decrease from 2017, when 5,172 motorcyclists died. In 2017, motorcyclists were 27 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash per vehicle mile traveled. There were 8,715,204 registered motorcycles throughout the U.S. in 2017 and 89,000 motorcycle injuries.

Here in Pennsylvania, there were 2,714 motorcycle crashes in 2018, according to PennDOT in its “2018 Pennsylvania Crash Facts & Statistics Report.” Some 159 of the crashes were fatal, 2,394 involved injuries, and 161 involved property damage only.

All told, there were 164 motorcycle crash fatalities in Pennsylvania in 2018. Of those fatalities, 153 were drivers, while 11 were passengers.

Does Using a Motorcycle Helmet Improve Safety?

NHTSA estimates that helmets saved 1,872 motorcyclists’ lives in2017 and that 749 more lives could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets. In states without universal helmet laws, 57 percent of motorcyclists killed in 2017 were not wearing helmets, as compared with 8 percent in states with universal helmet laws.

In 2018 in Pennsylvania, of 1,676 motorcyclists who were wearing helmets when involved in crashes, 66 died, 1,455 sustained injuries, and 155 were not injured. Of 1,197 motorcyclists who were not wearing helmets when involved in crashes, 92 died, 1,009 sustained injuries, and 96 were not injured.

Does Pennsylvania Require Motorcyclists to Wear Helmets?

Pennsylvania law mandates the use of a helmet unless the motorcyclist is at least 21 years of age and has been licensed to operate a motorcycle for not less than two full calendar years or has successfully completed a motorcycle safety course approved by PennDOT or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. In addition, Pennsylvania law mandates the use of eye-protective devices for all motorcyclists and their passengers.

If an individual has a motorcycle learner’s permit, a helmet must be worn regardless of age.

The passenger of a person exempt from wearing a helmet can also go without a helmet if he or she is 21 years of age or older.

What Can Motorcyclists Do to Improve Their Safety?

PennDOT offers the following tips to help motorcyclists stay safe:

  • Wear a U.S. DOT-approved helmet, face or eye protection and protective clothing.
  • Know your motorcycle and conduct a pre-ride check.
  • Be seen. Wear reflective clothing and put reflective tape on your protective riding gear and motorcycle.
  • Use common sense by riding sober, obeying all speed limits and allowing enough time to react to dangerous situations.
  • Practice safe-riding techniques and know how to handle your motorcycle in adverse road and weather conditions. Road conditions such as potholes, gravel, wet or slippery surfaces that usually pose minor annoyances to motorists are major hazards for motorcyclists.
  • During spring riding, be cautious of gravel buildup from winter road maintenance on the edges of roadways and near intersections. Riders can report hazardous conditions due to gravel along the road to 1-800-FIX-ROAD.

What Can Motorists Do to Share the Road Safely with Motorcyclists?

PennDOT offers the following tips to help motorists share the road safely with motorcycles:

  • Look out for motorcyclists — be aware that motorcycles are small and may be difficult to see. Check mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes and at intersections. Large vehicles can also block a motorcycle from a motorist’s view and a motorcycle can suddenly appear out of nowhere.
  • Allow more following distance — leave at least four seconds when following a motorcycle.
  • Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
  • Respect a motorcycle as a full-size vehicle with the same rights and privileges as any vehicle on the roadway. Allow a motorcyclist a full lane width as the motorcyclist needs the room to maneuver safely in all types of road conditions.


According to statistics from the Motorcycle Industry Council, there were 12,231,000 motorcycles in use in the U.S. in 2018, representing an increase of more than 2 million over 2014, which was the last year that the council did an ownership survey. Clearly, motorcycles are here to stay.

With proper measures by both motorcyclists and other vehicle operators, bikers can enjoy the fun and thrill of their chosen mode of transportation while minimizing the risks.