When you’re on your bike, enjoying the freedom of riding out in the open, you’re also completely unprotected in case of a crash. What might be a minor, injury-free fender-bender between two cars can cause serious damage when one of the vehicles involved is a motorcycle. Whether your body collides with the other vehicle or the ground, the impact can be devastating.

It’s Motorcycle Safety Month, and that means a fresh chance for everyone on the road – whether they’re riding on two wheels or four – to review the best ways to avoid crashes. Photo Credit: Traffic Safety Marketing (public information).

Check out our top six safety tips for motorcyclists.

1. Watch your speed.

When you speed, you cut down the amount of time you have to recognize and react to a threat on the road. Excessive speed contributed to two-thirds of single-motorcycle accidents, probably because driving at unsafe speeds means that you will take longer to stop or slow down for changing road conditions (like curves in the roadway or flooding on the road’s surface), traffic signals, and unexpected obstacles. When you ride at the legal speed, you have more control over your bike – which translates to more control over your accident risk.

2. Don’t drink and ride.

Flesh being torn from your limbs? Bones snapping like twigs? The risks of riding impaired are definitely not worth it. Photo Credit: TSM (public information).

We’ve all heard of biker bars, but hold off on that drink – statistics show that alcohol and motorcycles really shouldn’t mix. Overindulgence in alcohol can dramatically decrease your balance and coordination, two of the most necessary skills for motorcyclists to ride safely, according to the federal Traffic Safety Marketing site. Alcohol contributes to more than one-quarter of all fatal motorcycle collisions and 43 percent of those involving a single vehicle. On weekends, alcohol is a factor in 64 percent of single motorcycle crashes that kill the riders.

3. Use extra care at curves and intersections.

Not every section of the roadway is equally dangerous for bikers. Don’t take curves to sharply or too fast – there’s a reason 40% of single motorcycle wrecks happen on turns and corners. Be sure to watch out for other vehicles especially at intersections, where more than half of the crashes involving both motorcycles and cars take place.

4. Know what you’re doing.

One of the best ways to stay safe on your motorcycle is to know your bike – and how to ride it – well. About 22% of motorcyclists killed in accidents don’t have a motorcycle endorsement on their licenses, and 90% of all riders involved in collisions have no formal training whatsoever. Whether it’s your first time or your thousandth time on a bike, learn how to safely operate a bike with a course from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

5. Assume you’re invisible.

In a perfect world, motorcyclists could expect drivers of cars, trucks, and buses to actually share the road with them, like the law requires. In the real world, though, there are countless dangerously distracted drivers on the road – drivers who, unfortunately, won’t bother to “look twice and save a life.” Even though you have just as much legal right to use the roadway as anyone else, never assume that drivers will see you – if they don’t, as happens in two-thirds of motorcycle-car crashes, you could wind up permanently hurt. Practice defensive driving techniques and keep your attention on the road at all times. You can’t control the actions of the drivers around you, but at least you can put yourself in the best position to attempt to avoid someone else’s reckless behavior.

6. Wear a helmet.

Sometimes nothing you personally do – avoiding alcohol, slowing down, driving defensively – is enough to prevent a collision. Another driver on the roadway might make a careless maneuver that leaves you no time to get out of the way. No matter how safe a rider you are, it’s essential that you prepare for the worst-case scenario by wearing protective gear, particularly a helmet. Modern helmets result in little, if any, significant interference with riders’ ability to see and hear, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Motorcyclists can easily make up for the small amount of vision obstructed by wearing a helmet simply by turning their heads a little farther to the side before changing lanes, so don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re better off without a helmet – you’re not.

Staying safe on a motorcycle means doing everything you possibly can to prevent accidents from happening in the first place – and, of course, wearing the right protective gear just in case one does. It’s everyone’s responsibility to share the road safely. When motorcyclists and drivers make smart choices, everyone’s trip gets a little bit safer – sometimes a lot safer.