There is a segment of the motorcycling community in love with the sound of their exhaust pipes and think the rest of us love them, too. They even modify them so the blast will echo through the whole neighborhood as they open wide the throttle. It's akin to the teenager with humongous speakers in his car and an amplified bass so loud it rattles your breast bone even though you are inside the house. The bikers justify this with the slogan "loud pipes save lives," even though there is no evidence to back up this claim. They just hope the claim will elicit empathy from the public for the annoyance. After all, who doesn't favor saving lives?
However, with the increase in motorcycle ownership, riders should know what really saves lives, considering 66.7 out of a 100,000 motorcycles end in fatal accidents compared to 20.9 for cars.
The last significant study that tells us what really saves lives was the Hurt study done in 1981. An updated study is currently underway. Fortunately, loud pipes didn't show up as a factor.
What did show up was support for the slogan "look twice save lives." The failure of motorists to see or recognize motorcycles in time to avoid a collision was the predominate cause of accidents. The motorcyclist who wants to live must make sure he is seen. This means bright colored bikes and clothing help. It also helps to keep headlights on bright during the daytime. Some riders even put modulators on their bike headlights so they constantly fluctuate between high and low beam for daytime riding.
Since most collisions happen at intersections, including where driveways and parking lots intersect with streets, the motorcyclist too needs to look twice and assume the car about to enter his lane has not seen him. Two thirds of the accidents were caused by another vehicle violating the biker’s right of way. Particularly pay attention to the car that has been sitting at the intersection for awhile. He's probably not waiting for you. He's adjusting his radio, checking a map or note, or checking his daily planner. As soon as he gets done, chances are near 100 per cent he will pull out without looking, just as you get there. If he hits you, the first words he will say to anyone who will listen are, "I just didn't see him." At this point, Mr. Loud Pipes is saying, "He would have heard me.” More than likely, he would have heard you about the same time he hit you. I was driving my car the other day when I noticed a Harley Sportster coming up behind me. As he accelerated around me, his blaring twin straight pipes made me aware of his presence just about the time I would have hit him if I hadn’t seen him and had moved into the passing lane. Usually, by the time you hear a motorcycle’s loud pipes it is too late to take any action.
Half of the fatal accidents involved alcohol. Beer and bikes don't mix well, yet how often do you see bikes parked outside a tavern?
Ninety-two per cent of the accidents involved riders who had no training in motorcycle riding or safety and half of them were riding a bike they had owned less than five months. If you really want to save lives, don't let your spouse or kids buy a motorcycle until they have had a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course. The course is offered in many locations around the state. You can find details on the internet. (In Jonesboro it is offered at ASU and you can get information by calling 870 932-3606.) And, riders without a license to even ride a motorcycle were significantly over represented in these accidents.
Like most bikers of my generation, I too was self taught. I climbed on a big Harley hog, my buddy who owned it told me how to operate it and away I went. I had been riding many years with my own share of close calls before I took the MSF safety course. It was worth every dime that it cost.
Sixty per cent of the riders were not wearing helmets and 73 per cent were not wearing eye protection. Yet, a helmet is the single greatest factor in the prevention or reduction of head injuries. Other protective clothing also helps. A good set of leathers or fabric gear with properly placed armor helps. "Better cow hide than my hide" when sliding along the pavement on your side. ATGATT means all the gear all the time. Get it and wear it.
So, what was under represented in the study?: riders between the ages of 30 and 50, riders with dirt bike experience, large displacement motorcycles, and motorcycles equipped with fairings and windshields.
Loud pipes are more an annoyance than a safety factor. While I was in Arizona last winter, the town of Cave Creek, a popular motorcycle destination, passed an ordinance against loud pipes. You can expect this to become a trend.
The next time a motorcycle goes by with exhaust pipes blaring, notice whether the rider is wearing a helmet and other protective clothing. If you get a chance, smell his breath for a hint of alcohol and then ask if he is proud to carry his MSF course completion card and if he is proud to have a motorcycle endorsement on his driver's license. These are the things that really save lives. If all he has is loud pipes, he's just a gambler playing loose with the odds and in love with the sound of his own exhaust pipes.