The Dork Factor

My coworker, Tony Jones, is an avid motorcyclist. As the weather warms up, Tony felt it was important to start thinking about rider safety.


Last fall when Tony rode up in front of his motorcycle buddies in a new, full-faced helmet, they said, “Dude, you look like a dork.” As a MEMIC safety professional and passionate motorcyclist, the notion of merging motorcycling and safety was just too irresistible for him to ignore. 


We require and think nothing of outfitting road crews, traffic cops and all types of workers exposed to roadway hazards in conspicuous high-visibility gear. Yet motorcycle riders tend towards dark clothing and black helmets—if they even wear a helmet. Let’s face it, motorcyclists need all the edge they can get on roadways populated with cell phone talkers and the head-down types driving by GPS.  Who hasn’t heard the “I didn’t see the bike, officer” excuse?


What if one were to apply some loss prevention techniques, like hazard analysis, to motorcycle rider safety?  Then it seems light-colored apparel and even a white helmet makes sense. It’s a personal choice what color helmet you wear. However, isn’t being seen easily by others worth thinking about? Is it not true that a helmet is the highest, most visible point on a motorcycle rider? Using common sense might dictate that a bright, light color would be seen further than the traditional black.


In New Zealand, a motorcycle accident study was conducted in 1993-1996. The study looked at the correlation between the conspicuity of motorcycle riders and accidents that involved other vehicles. The results of the study showed motorcyclists wearing brightly colored fluorescent clothing had a 37% lower risk of being involved in a crash. Riders wearing a white helmet had a 24% lower risk of crashing than a rider wearing a black or dark colored helmet. Hence, Tony’s purchase of the white, full-faced helmet and a change from black riding gear to red.


Unfortunately, for riders, not a lot of studies have been conducted since the above-referenced and aptly named Hurt Report from over a decade ago. More motorcycle accident research is needed particularly in light of increased motorcycle licensing and an alarming increase in fatality rate.  Organizations such as the American Motorcyclist Association have been calling for such studies for years.  But in light of the current economic situation, don’t hold your breath.  


In the meantime, considering the results of the New Zealand study, Tony proudly wears the white helmet and welcomes the good-natured teasing from riding friends. He needs all the help he can get. Keep the rubber side down!