(BPT) - Freedom. The open road. There's nothing quite like the big sky ahead of you and feeling the rumble of your motorcycle. It's motorcycle season across the United States and Canada. Warm weather accompanied by clear roads means it's time to seek adventure, even if that means ditching your car for your daily commute to and from work.
But before heading out, motorcyclists should take heed, because in our automobile and truck-dominated society the odds are not on the side of motorcyclists, according to FindLaw.com, the nation's leading website for free legal information. Motorcycle operators account for about 2 percent of the vehicles on the road, but account for 14 percent of all road traffic deaths, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety.
'For freedom of the road, motorcyclists take on greater risks,' says Timothy D. McMahon, a personal injury attorney who specializes in motorcycle cases for the San Jose law firm, Corsiglia McMahon & Allard.
'But you can reduce your risks by doing four simple things,' says McMahon. 'Make sure you're properly insured, wear a helmet, make sure your bike is in good working condition and keep learning, so you are always improving your riding skills.'
Here are some additional tips for motorcycle operators and their passengers from FindLaw.com:
Drive defensively: Regardless of how long you've been riding, always ride defensively, especially when approaching intersections, where, according to Allstate Insurance, 46 percent of all motorcycle crashes occur. On the highway or in the city, avoid an automobile or truck's blind spot. Ride with your lights on. Use hand signals in addition to your lights. Avoid swerving in and out of traffic, and put some space between you and other riders on group rides.
Wear your helmet: If you want to enjoy riding for a very long time, wear a U.S. Department of Transportation-certified helmet. Next to your bike, your helmet is a rider's most important piece of equipment. Know the helmet laws in your state and the states to which you're traveling. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 19 states and the District of Columbia require helmets to be worn by the motorcycle operator and his or her passengers at all times. The laws in other states vary, such as requiring helmets to be worn by minors.
Check your insurance: All but three states, Washington, Montana and Florida, require motorcycle insurance (typically liability). Don't assume your auto insurance covers your use of a motorcycle, scooter or moped. McMahon says to review your auto insurance carefully. And always have proof of insurance on you in the event that you're involved in a crash.
Check your bike: Conduct a quick inspection before you head out. Check tire conditions, lights, controls, the oil level and the kickstand. If your bike has been stored for the winter, make sure it's tuned up and in good working condition.
Upgrade to anti-lock brakes: Consider upgrading your next motorcycle purchase with a bike equipped with anti-lock brakes. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 'motorcycles with anti-lock brakes have a 37 percent lower rate of fatal crashes than the same models not equipped with anti-lock brakes.'
Strap on some leather: Leather jackets and leather pants or chaps offer excellent protection for riders and their passengers. Pair your leather with tough, leather boots that go over your ankles and have a thick rubber, grooved sole for better traction. And don't forget to wear proper eyewear and gloves.
Watch the road: Look down the road to anticipate changes in the road surface. For motorcyclists who live in the northern half of the continent, take extra care in the spring when roads may have patches of sand and gravel, and potholes are common.
Be seen: Black may be cool, but bright colored outer clothing increases your chance of being seen by other drivers. In addition, position your bike on the road to make sure you're seen. Make eye contact with car and truck drivers, especially at intersections, to make sure they see you. Motorcyclists in the northern part of the country should take extra care in the spring - after a long winter, other drivers are not used to seeing motorcycles on the road.
Know your bike: Every bike is different. Take the time to get to know your bike before you head out on the road. If you've just purchased a new bike, practice with it so you understand how it reacts, such as in an emergency stop situation. Study your owner's manual and don't be afraid to improve your skills with a refresher course.
Ride straight: Don't mix riding with alcoholic beverages or other substances that could impair your ability to operate your motorcycle, put your passenger at risk and put you at risk for a DUI.
To learn more about your legal rights and responsibilities of operating a motorcycle, visit FindLaw.com.