Many people see riding motorcycles as a young person’s game. There’s a certain romance to the idea of being youthful and carefree, crossing the country by motorcycle on the open road. But young riders tend not to appreciate the dangers of motorcycles and therefore ignore safety protocols, making them tragically vulnerable to accidents and untimely deaths.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, death rates from motorcycle accidents fall dramatically among older riders, largely because of their regard for safety standards. Older riders no longer believe themselves invincible, and they often ride cruisers instead of speed rockets, invest in protective gear, and are more cautious drivers. They also take practical steps such as wearing proper footwear, unlike many of their younger counterparts. It’s shocking to drive around Dallas and Fort Worth and see young motorcyclists sporting flip-flops or sandals. By the time you’ve reached middle-age, you’ve learned that accidents happen and you put on sensible shoes.

Motorcycles are inherently dangerous. They’re less stable than automobiles and less visible to other drivers. Until recently, you couldn’t buy a bike with an automatic transmission. Even now, automatic motorcycles are too expensive for most people, so they’re still out there clutching and changing gears. There’s a lot to manage while you’re riding a motorcycle, and you must be hyper-vigilant about distracted car drivers.

People assume that most motorcycle accidents occur on highways. But intersections pose greater risks, particularly when you’re making left turns. More often than not, the motorcyclist wants to go straight or pass the car that’s turning, and the other driver doesn’t see them until it’s too late. More than half of these accidents are head-on collisions; only 5% are rear-end collisions. The likelihood of death and injury increases dramatically with motorcycle accidents in these scenarios.

It’s important that motorcycle riders always stay in defensive driving mode because in every circumstance, they’re at higher risk for injury than drivers who are in cars. If you get thrown into a bush or tree, you’re going to get hurt. There are no minor collisions when it comes to motorcycles, so as much as you may enjoy riding one, you need to minimize the chances of an accident as much as possible. Here are some tips on how to avoid accidents and minimize injury.

1. Wear protective gear.

Long pants and sleeves are a must when you’re on your bike. You’re already riding a motorcycle, so you don’t have to wear a muscle shirt and tennis shoes to look cool. Cover up your limbs and feet as much as possible. Leather is more protective than denim, but even a pair of jeans will spare your skin from road rash if you suffer a slide. Many people like to channel Fonzie when they ride motorcycles, which is why you see lots of black jackets and gear. But wearing bright colors makes you more visible to motorists, and visibility is key to avoiding a crash.

2. Keep your license and emergency information in your breast pocket.

Store your license, insurance card, and a list of emergency phone numbers in your breast pocket or another secure area of clothing. You or an emergency respondent should be able to access these quickly and easily if there’s an accident. After collisions, the motorcyclist is often unconscious or unable to respond to emergency personnel, and you want them to be able to identify you and call your family right away. Do not rely on your cell phone for contacting people, because it might go flying or get destroyed in the crash.

3. Carry underinsured motorist coverage.

Drivers frequently abandon the scene of motorcycle accidents if they weren’t directly involved in the crash. They might switch lanes without seeing the rider, causing the rider to lay down the bike while they speed away. If drivers flee the scene, it’s difficult to track them down and hold them accountable. That’s why you want to have underinsured motorist insurance in place so you can obtain compensation even if the at-fault party drives off.

4. Drive defensively at all times.

Situational awareness is essential to avoiding accidents. Assume that other drivers cannot see you, and adjust your behavior accordingly. Use your horn liberally as well. If you think there’s a chance other drivers can’t see you, start honking to let them know you’re on the road. People might be annoyed at the commotion at first, but they soften when they remember that motorcyclists are people’s fathers, mothers, husbands, and wives. You have as much right to the road as they do, but you must take responsibility for your own safety. Do not let your guard down for a minute, whether you’re cruising around the neighborhood or driving on a major highway.

5. Always wear a helmet — no exceptions.

Wearing protective head gear decreases the risk of brain injury by 67% and the risk of death by more than 30% in motorcycle accidents. No matter how short your route or how safe a trip you anticipate, your helmet should be in place at all times. Many accidents occur due to equipment failures and circumstances that pose little threat to cars but can be deadly on a motorcycle. Improperly inflated tires, road debris, and slick pavement are often factors in motorcycle accidents, and helmets can make the difference between life and death. Never assume that you’re safe unless you’re wearing a helmet and protective gear — and even then, drive with extreme caution.

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Texas is one of about 30 states that does not require you to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle. But you should do it anyway, for your physical and legal safety. Pop culture portrays motorcyclists as reckless, and that’s a tough image for judges, insurers, and jury members to shake. Even if you take every precaution when you ride, you’ll still be subjected to an extra level of scrutiny. The more proactive you are about your safety, the better your chances of preventing and surviving a crash and the greater your odds of winning a legal suit.

Riding a motorcycle is dangerous. In 2014, death rates for motorcyclists were 27 times higher than those for car motorists. But it’s also an incredibly fun hobby, which is why people like to take their chances. The key is to mitigate the risks so you can simply take pleasure in the experience. Motorcycling is meant to bring joy and excitement to your life, not tragedy and hardship to you and your family. You can maximize the former and safeguard against the latter by taking the right steps to protect yourself on the road.