Riding defensively and exercising caution is the key to preventing motorcycle accidents. Unfortunately, motorcyclists can only control their own actions. Many crashes are caused by the carelessness of drivers, a factor that motorcyclists cannot control. Protection against injuries caused by an unavoidable accident begins with wearing the proper gear.
Personal injury lawyers help riders who are the victims of motorcycle accidents. We see the impact that motorcycle accident injuries have on riders. The most common injuries in motorcycle crashes are to the rider's arms, hands, legs, and feet. Head and neck injuries are the second most common outcome of motorcycle accidents. Those are also the injuries most likely to result in death. Riders should keep those facts in mind as they consider the gear they might wear to protect themselves from negligent drivers.
Safe riding starts with a helmet. California law mandates that all riders, including passengers, wear an approved helmet. An approved helmet is one that:
- fits the head securely, “without excessive lateral or vertical movement”;
- is fastened with helmet straps; and
- meets California safety standards.
California safety standards adopt federal performance standards for motorcycle helmets. Federal law requires complaint helmets to be labeled with:
- the DOT symbol;
- the term “FMVSS No. 218” below the DOT symbol;
- the word CERTIFIED below “FMVSS No. 218”; and
- the manufacturer's name and the helmet's model designation.
California law prohibits the sale of any helmet for the purpose of motorcycle riding that does not have a certification label. That doesn't mean that “novelty helmets” can't be sold for other purposes, but it is illegal to wear a helmet that isn't certified while riding a motorcycle.
Wearing a certified helmet is a matter of common sense. No helmet can prevent all head injuries in high-speed crashes, but studies show that helmets reduce the risk of injury and death. Facial injuries, head injuries, neck injuries, and traumatic brain injuries are all less likely to occur when a rider is wearing a certified helmet that is strapped on and that fits properly.
Helmets also contribute to safety in other ways. They reduce wind noise and protect the rider's eyes from bugs and airborne particles. They also improve comfort in poor weather conditions and reduce fatigue.
Choosing a helmet is partly a question of style and preference, but there are some simple rules to keep in mind:
- Try on different helmets for fit and comfort. Make sure you get a sense of what a helmet feels like when it fits properly. The fit should be snug but, once the helmet is in place, it should not feel uncomfortably tight. Cheek pads should touch the cheeks without pressing into them. Temples should touch the brow pads. With the chin strap fastened, you should not be able to remove the helmet by rolling it forward. A knowledgeable salesperson can help you select a helmet that fits properly.
- Consider a full-face helmet. They offer more protection from facial injuries than three-quarter, open-face helmets. Half-shell “shorty” helmets should be avoided because they are more likely to come off in a crash.
- Look for reflective materials. The easier it is for a car to see you, the less likely it is that the car will hit you.
Once you have a helmet, be sure to maintain it. A dirty face shield impairs vision and makes it more difficult to ride safely.
Riders often overlook their feet when they dress for a ride, but foot and ankle injuries are among the most common outcomes of a crash. Sturdy over-the-ankle leather boots can help riders avoid a broken ankle and provide protection against foot injuries. They also protect against burns from exhaust pipes.
Rubber-based composite soles help riders maintain a grip on foot pegs. Oil-resistant soles prevent the foot from slipping when placing it on the road.
A well-designed motorcycle boot incorporates safety features that keep the boot from coming apart in a crash. Good boots cost more, but the investment can save your feet and ankles.
Jackets and Riding Suits
A strong fabric provides essential protection against road rash and might provide enough cushion to avoid broken bones. Leather is often the fabric of choice for riders, but newer abrasion-resistant fabrics, including Kevlar, Cordura and ballistic nylon also provide substantial protection against injury.
In addition to protecting the body in a crash, jackets and riding suits protect the rider from windburn and keep the rider warm and dry in poor weather conditions. Bright colors and reflective materials improve a rider's visibility. Since most drivers who cause motorcycle accidents say they didn't see the motorcyclist, wearing gear that will catch a driver's attention is just as important as wearing gear that will provide protection in a crash.
A riding suit should provide freedom of movement to accommodate riding posture. Longer sleeves and legs and a loose fit through the shoulders keep clothes from binding when the rider leans forward or bends knees to place feet on the bike's pegs. At the same time, extra fabric (such as flared pants legs) might get caught in the motorcycle and should be avoided.
Some riding suits come with spine protectors and kidney belts. Those accessories can also be purchased separately. Riders who plan to take a long trip or who commute to work at highway speeds should consider making that extra investment.
Rain suits are also a good choice for riders who take long trips or commute to work regardless of the weather. Rain suits keep riders dry and help avoid hypothermia. A brightly colored suit also increases the rider's visibility on a gloomy day.
Good gloves complete the rider's safety ensemble. Gloves keep hands warm, provide protection from blisters, and help prevent cuts and abrasions in a crash.
Gloves should fit snugly without being so tight that they cut off circulation. Gloves that are too loose make it difficult to maintain a good grip on handlebars and to operate controls. Seamless gloves (or gloves with seams on the outside) help avoid blisters.