Tag Archives: Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

Alive Another Day, Thanks to a Helmet

By Amy Ingram Terrone

“Amy, I need you to sit down,” said the voice over the telephone. It was my sister calling.

When a conversation begins that way, it’s never good news. My brother had been in a motorcycle crash, and was being flown to a local Shock Trauma unit. Nobody was sure that he would survive his injuries on the way. I jumped in the car, picked up my sister who lived nearby, and headed to the hospital.

We drove by the crash scene on the way to the hospital. I saw my brother’s overturned bike in the woods off the side of the road. Police officers, who were still documenting the scene, had cordoned off the area.

A young man that witnessed the crash was still there. He told me that my brother struck a curb at about 45 mph, lost control of the bike, and flew 30-40 feet before landing in the woods.

I asked two questions: “How is he?” and “Was he wearing a helmet?”

“Not good but alive and barely conscious,” was his reply. And, yes, the young man told me, he was wearing a helmet.

I thought there might be hope. After all, I work at the NTSB as a safety advocate and I know that most motorcycle crash deaths are caused by head trauma – and helmets are a vital protection from that risk. Motorcycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent and reduce the risk of death by 42 percent. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,630 motorcyclists in 2013 and that 715 more lives in all states could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets.

Back in the car en route to the hospital, I felt an odd sense of deja vu. These feelings of extreme worry, sadness, and anger – anger at that stupid motorcycle – seemed eerily familiar. And then I remembered: my mom had also been in a motorcycle crash 12 years prior.

When my mom’s motorcycle skidded on gravel while going around a corner at 25 mph, the bike went out from underneath her and she hit the ground hard. Her head slammed onto the gravel road, bumping along the way as her momentum propelled her forward. But her head was protected by the helmet, so she was merely stunned. However, the weight of the falling motorcycle broke her leg, and she also broke her hand. Her injuries required a long recovery. But I remember her later saying, “Thank God for the helmet.”

To put it mildly, my family has a mixed relationship with motorcycles. Some of us love to ride. But like the families of riders everywhere, we also know we might get that next call – and if we do, we know by now to ask, “Were they wearing a helmet?”

When I entered my brother’s hospital room, his dented helmet was on the floor, and I touched it with reverence. If what I had heard from the witness and police were true, this helmet had, no doubt, saved his life. 

My brother has a long road to recovery. He suffered multiple fractures, of his ribs, wrist, and ankles; six broken bones in his back; a punctured lung and lacerated liver; and a long list of less severe injuries. But he is alive.

Yes, I work for the NTSB. But I am also a big sister and a daughter. I’ve seen the kinship that riders feel with one another; now, after helping family members through the aftermath of a bad crash, I wanted to share our story with that extended family.

Thankfully, my brother’s and mother’s accidents occurred in Maryland, a state with a universal law requiring helmet use.

Currently only 19 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Laws requiring only some motorcyclists to wear a helmet are in place in 28 states, and three states still have no law whatsoever.

I have heard riders who resist helmets saying that helmets take away their freedom – and that they’re only taking a personal risk. But I know that most also have sisters or daughters or other family members. I know that they’re not taking that risk just for themselves.

If you are thinking about riding without a helmet, think again. My brother and mother might have lost the feeling of the air upon their faces as they cruised down the road, but they gained something immeasurably more valuable: the feeling of air entering and leaving their lungs – ultimately, another day on this earth.

And I gained having them both in my life.

Amy Terrone is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Safety Recommendations and Communications.

Gear up, Clear up, Heads up

By Chris O’Neil

Chris O’Neil checks his directions on his smart phone after safely pulling over during a pick up ride near Bluemont, Virginia.
Chris O’Neil checks directions on his phone after safely pulling over during a pick up ride near Bluemont, Virginia.

As a motorcyclist I’m keenly aware of the risk I accept every time I saddle up – whether it’s to run an errand around town, join the herd for an organized ride like Rolling Thunder, or to head out for a multi-state, multi-day solo ride – every time I take to the road on two wheels I’m thinking about how I can limit or mitigate the risks associated with my passion for riding. As an employee of the world’s premier accident investigation agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, I’m equally aware of the need to share the word about safety during Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.

Distracted or impaired drivers, drivers who change lanes without signaling and drivers who simply don’t “see” motorcyclists, are among the many risks, over which motorcyclists have little control, which we face each time we mount up. It’s therefore critical that motorcyclists focus on eliminating or mitigating the risks we can control, the things we can do to avoid or better survive an accident while riding a motorcycle. In broad terms it means gearing up, clearing up and staying heads up.

You have to gear up, every time, every ride. That means over the ankle boots, riding pants or chaps over jeans, a leather or textile jacket, full finger gloves, a DOT approved helmet and eye protection. There really is something to the saying, “dress for the slide, not the ride.” Top siders, shorts and a T-shirt might be comfy and well suited for your post ride activities, but that kind of attire in no way protects you – not even from a sunburn, much less road rash – while on your motorcycle. Yes, I get hot in that gear during the sweltering Virginia summers, but I’d rather be sweaty for a while, than suffer a long recovery from road rash if I’m involved in a crash. Plus, I’ve found, those big beetles, cigarette butts, and stones sting a bit less when you’ve got the right gear on.

Distracted driving is creeping into the world of the motorcyclist and it’s not always the fault of the other drivers. The ability to incorporate the same technology found in automobiles, such as GPS navigation, CB radio, Bluetooth for cell phones, and other multi-media entertainment, continues to increase and with the added bells and whistles comes the potential for distracted driving. Consistent with the NTSB’s call to Disconnect from Deadly Distractions — a 2016 NTSB Most Wanted List issue – I make sure I clear up from all distractions when I ride, and I advocate for others to do so. When we ride, we need our senses – sight, smell and hearing – to work together to warn us of danger. Those senses don’t work as well if our mind is focused on a GPS display, the music thumping through earbuds or speakers, or a phone call. Riding a motorcycle offers you a unique state of mind that is free of the distractions of day-to-day life. Why then would you want to clutter up that moment with potentially deadly distractions? Don’t add to the distracted driving problem – before you saddle up, gear up and then clear up.

With our body properly protected, and our mind properly focused, we’re ready to ride our properly equipped and inspected bike. Once we are kickstands up, we have to be heads up. What I mean here is all throughout our ride, regardless of setting, we have to plan for the unexpected. “Where will I go if that car pulls into the intersection? Where is my escape route if this car comes into my lane? What’s on the other side of this blind curve? What’s on the other side of that hill crest? Do I have enough distance between me and the car ahead of me? What if the car coming up on me from behind doesn’t realize I’m stopped for a red light?” Being in the moment of your ride includes thinking about and planning for the unexpected. Riding defensively requires you to think 12 seconds ahead, anticipate what could go wrong, and to formulate a plan to deal with the threat. When you’re free from deadly distractions, it’s easy to be heads up and still enjoy your ride and be in the moment.

Whatever you ride, wherever you ride, whenever you ride, embracing the principles of Gear Up, Clear Up and Heads Up can help keep you safe while enjoying the greatest form of transportation. Want more tips on motorcycle safety? Check out the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s site at http://www.msf-usa.org.

For information about the NTSB’s recommendations to improve motorcycle safety visit http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Pages/150.aspx.

Chris O’Neil is Chief of the NTSB Public Affairs Division.