Open Your Eyes as Temperatures Rise

At least two motorcyclists were killed in Connecticut during a week of unseasonably warm weather in late March, underscoring the inherent dangers for motorcyclists in sharing the road with other vehicles, especially in the summer.

In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a record 5,290 motorcycle fatalities, with more than 7 million motorcycles on the road. This includes a spike in deaths among motorcyclists older than 40. Motorcycle fatalities have steadily increased for more than 10 years.

"Motorcycles are, by their nature, far less crash-worthy than closed vehicles," according to a 2010 Insurance Information Institute report. "They are also less visible to other drivers and pedestrians and less stable than four-wheel vehicles."

Motorcyclists face some scary statistics. Compared with drivers of passenger vehicles, motorcyclists are 37 times more likely to die in a crash per mile traveled, and nine times more likely to be hurt. The institute also reports 33 percent of motorcycle accidents involve a drunk motorist; drunk motorcyclists are less likely to wear helmets.

Approximately 42 percent of crashes occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. This is the time when traffic is heaviest, but motorists also need to take particular care around dusk, when low light impedes visibility.

In studying fatal crash statistics, the NHTSA found more motorcyclists than other drivers have been found riding without a valid license. Motorcyclists need proper training and should always ride within their skill limits.

Anti-lock brakes can help reduce crashes, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, motorcycle braking is also more complex and takes additional training and practice. Helmets also significantly reduce crash fatalities. In 2008, the NHTSA suggests, helmet use could have saved nearly 2,000 lives. On motorcycles, helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries for riders and 41 percent effective for passengers.

Insurance coverage is also important for motorcyclists. The largest insurance companies offer specialized motorcycle insurance, as well as discounts for safety-training courses and money-saving winter insurance suspensions for riders in snowy states.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation reminds drivers that motorcycles can hide in a driver's blind spot, may look farther away than they are, and may seem to be moving faster than they actually are. The group also says drivers should know a motorcyclist may slow down by downshifting and may not activate his or her brake lights.

Whether you drive a car or a motorcycle, if you are in an accident involving a motorcycle, do not admit fault. Instead, document the accident, exchange insurance information and contact a local attorney.