Motorcycle Safety

I ride a motorcycle (when the weather is good). Among other things, this means that motorcycle riding is seasonal for me. It also means that I have to make decisions about safety equipment I wear when traveling.*

About a year ago, the government of my home State changed the requirements for wearing helmets on motorcycles. Some details are available here. I notice that most news stories on the subject seem to think that helmet laws are, in general, a good idea. They generally carry along the implication that relaxing laws about helmet use is a bad idea.

As I scanned that local news source, I found a few stories of motorcycle accidents. On a whim, I decided to search for as many as I could find, and see if there was any correlation between helmet use and fatalities. While the stories were common, they weren't common enough to generate more than 40 stories over a period of 4 years. Only half of the news stories in that time period mention whether the riders and/or passengers wore helmets.

At least once, a pair of riders on the same motorcycle suffered an accident. The helmet-wearing rider survived her session of highway-speed slip-and-slide on the pavement; her non-helmeted companion did not. Another time, the passenger who was wearing a helmet died when thrown off the cycle; the rider not wearing a helmet was also thrown off, and survived.  This second instance was in a round-about, and likely at surface-street speeds.

Was the deciding factor the helmet, the speed, or the kind of accident? Were any of these riders wearing leather jackets along with their helmets?

I couldn't find enough data to decide that, but I did arrive at these conclusions while trawling the news archive.
  • Late-night and early-morning riding is dangerous
  • Running red lights or stop signs is also dangerous
  • Weaving through heavy traffic at high speeds is dangerous
  • Cars that left-turn across the motorcycle's path are dangerous.
  • Riding across the center line into oncoming traffic usually produces at least one fatality
  • High-speed runs away from Police are dangerous, and often fatal
  • Combining more than one "dangerous" category above is often fatal
In the realm of safety, I arrived at these conclusions:
  • Helmets may help when something goes wrong. 
  • However, helmets do not guarantee safety for the rider. 
  • Many of the accidents appeared to be the fault of the rider.
  • Some accidents were the fault of other drivers.
All told, I'm not sure that these statistics contain enough data to produce a usable conclusion. One news story linked above says that the State's base rate of fatalities in motorcycle accidents is barely over 100 per year.

How hard is it to distinguish meaningful changes in that rate from statistical noise? None of the studies seem to answer that question.

That leads me to disbelieve that any of the studies has arrived at a usable conclusion. But I'll still wear a helmet when I ride. And a jacket designed to aid survival while sliding along the road surface.

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