Today marks the 21st Annual Ride to Work Day—when tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts across the U.S. ride their motorcycles to work in a show of mutual support and solidarity. Originally created by Motorcycle Consumer News columnist Bob Carpenter in 1992, the event has served as a way to promote motorcycles and rider safety; combining the ride with numerous activities around the country, including charitable events.
Ride to Work Day is not just something I enjoy talking about, but something I enjoy participating in, too. I count myself as one of the millions of motorcycle riders and enthusiasts found in every city and community in the United States. This is a great opportunity to not just raise awareness about motorcycles, but to also focus on improving safety.
Though motorcycle riders only make up a fraction of a percent of all vehicle miles traveled each year, motorcycle crashes account for a staggering 14 percent of all crash-related fatalities according to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2011, 4,612 motorcycle riders or passengers were lost on America’s roads and highways—with another 81,000 suffering injuries. It's clear that riders are much more at risk for suffering a severe or fatal injury than those in automobiles and other fully-enclosed motor vehicles.
Motorcycles offer a variety of benefits, but they are inherently more vulnerable. So a combination of situational awareness by motorcycle riders, those in other vehicles on the road, and safety practices (like always wearing a helmet) can go a long way toward reducing fatalities.
Moreover, the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, its modal partners and industry are advancing new technology which offers some very promising safety benefits and capabilities for motorcycle riders.
For example, the Connected Vehicle research program is exploring how specialized wireless communications technology incorporated into vehicles—including motorcycles—and roadway infrastructure can improve safety. This technology allows vehicles to securely and anonymously broadcast their position and speed to each other on the road, helping eliminate the gap between drivers and riders when it comes to visibility, presence and situational awareness.
This will add up to fewer crashes, which means fewer lives lost and fewer life-changing injuries.
Motorcycle riders have much to gain with widespread adoption of connected vehicle systems, and in fact, motorcycles are a part of a Connected Vehicle Model Deployment happening now in Ann Arbor. NHTSA’s data shows that motorcycle crash rates have been increasing in recent years; one in every seven fatalities on our nation’s roads is a motorcycle rider.
A truly effective network of connected vehicles must include every kind of vehicle that can feasibly use the technology involved. That’s why it’s so crucial for riders to be included as we advance connected vehicles to substantially improve road safety.
However, our responsibility to ensure that the research is as broad in scope and comprehensive as possible isn’t just reserved for motor-vehicles and motorcycles. This technology promises to bring similar benefits to bicyclists, pedestrians and other road users who may also be at higher risk.
For those of you who are taking part in this year’s Ride to Work Day—or just like to ride—be safe, be careful, be responsible, and have fun doing it. At the U.S. Department of Transportation, we recognize that riders face unique challenges on the road when it comes to safety and are doing our part to advance technology that offers the real potential to make every ride safer.