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May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- May is the month of motorcycles and motorcyclists.

The sun shines, the birds sing and riders across the country swing their leg across their two-wheeled steeds to hit the open road. According to an article by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, there are a few basic rules to follow to ensure that everyone, riders and non-riders alike, can enjoy a beautiful and safe spring season. And with all motorcyclists (including me) hitting the streets, we ask that car drivers keep vigilant and look not only once, but several times, for riders. We are smaller than cars and harder to see in traffic.

1. Get properly trained and licensed -- The best first ride is an MSF RiderCourseSM. Riding is serious fun and proper training is crucial. However, half of all riders today have never taken a proper safety class. To help motorcyclists earn an endorsement or license, MSF offers progressive instruction to motorcyclists of all skill levels, starting with the Basic RiderCourse for beginning riders that includes five hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours of riding exercises in a controlled environment. Riders who already have basic skills, a license and at least six months experience can hone their techniques in MSF's Experienced RiderCourse or the Military Sportbike RiderCourse. MSF recommends every new rider enroll in the Basic RiderCourse and encourages riders to get as much training as possible, no matter how skilled they may be. Even the pros practice the basics to keep their skills sharp.

2. Wear all protective gear, all the time -- T-shirts and shorts are good for the beach, but not for riding a motorcycle. Riders should gear up properly before every ride, even if just riding down the street on an errand. Wearing a DOT-compliant helmet and eye protection is the law in many states, required 24/7 for active duty personnel and while on the base/on duty for civilians (see Air Force Instruction 91-207) and is strongly recommended everywhere else. Wearing boots that cover over the ankle, long pants, and a riding jacket is also advisable. Built-in body armor is a smart addition, and can look pretty cool too. The Air Force also requires the upper outer garment to be brightly colored in the daytime and reflective at night. This helps other drivers see us!

3. Ride unimpaired by alcohol or other drugs -- Bikes and booze don't mix. Government studies show that 46 percent of riders killed in motorcycle crashes had been drinking. While under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, a motorcyclist's necessary skills, including agility, perception and awareness, are decreased dramatically. In fact, having a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.05 percent increases the risk of crashing by about 40 times. So while it is bad enough to try to get behind the wheel of a car while buzzed or drunk, hopping on a machine that requires maximum control and concentration is simply stupid.

4. Ride within your own skill limits and obey traffic laws -- Every rider should know the limits of their ability, and not attempt to exceed them. Humans weren't designed to fly, and unless you're a trained professional on a closed course, stunting, high speed or tricks can only cause you trouble. Follow all traffic laws and be conscious of how road conditions may affect your riding. MSF now offers an online Rider Perception Challenge to help riders gauge and improve their visual awareness of road signs and common collision traps, which can be taken free at www.msf-usa.org/riderperception. Using sharp skills and common sense will keep you alive; trying to be Superman will not.

5. Be a lifelong learner by taking refresher RiderCourses -- Motorcyclists should keep in mind that no matter how often or how long they've been riding, there is always room to learn something new. Taking an advanced course to brush up on the basics and work on perfecting current skills is a smart move for any rider.

The MSF hopes riders will follow these rules and suggestions for everyone's benefit, and to ensure a safe Motorcycle Awareness Month for 2013.

The MSF promotes safety through rider education and training, operator licensing tests and public information programs. The MSF works with the federal government, state agencies, the military and others to offer programs for all skill levels so riders can enjoy a lifetime of safe, responsible motorcycling. Standards established by the MSF have been recognized worldwide since 1973.

The MSF is a not-for-profit organization sponsored by BMW, BRP, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Piaggio, Suzuki, Triumph, Victory and Yamaha. For safety information or to enroll in the RiderCourseSM nearest you, visit www.msf-usa.org or call (800) 446-9227.