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Motorcycle insurance and safety: What you need to know

Motorcycle insurance

Ride a motorcycle? Better make sure all your insurance coverage is in place.

The safety statistics are grim. Motorcycles represent about 3 percent of all registered vehicles and less than 1 percent of all vehicle miles traveled, yet motorcyclists account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to the National Safety Council.

"It's harder to maintain control on two wheels than on four, and when crashes occur, motorcyclists are at greater risk because they don't have an enclosed vehicle to protect them," says Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

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Higher gasoline prices may be one of the factors fueling increased ridership. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of registered motorcycles jumped from 5 million to 8.4 million.

That's been accompanied by an increase in fatalities and injuries. Between 2003 and 2012, deaths of motorcycle riders and passengers soared 33 percent, from 3,714 to 4,957, according to the National Safety Council. Injuries skyrocketed from 67,000 to 93,000 during that time.

Life-and-death choices

"There are things motorcyclists can do to make riding safer," Rader says, particularly wearing a helmet and riding a bike equipped with antilock brakes. "On a car, a lockup might result in a skid. On a motorcycle, it often means a serious fall." In fact, IIHS research has found that motorcycles equipped with optional ABS had a fatal crash rate 31 percent lower than for bikes without ABS.

Wearing a helmet also is critical. The National Safety Council estimates wearing a helmet saved 1,617 motorcyclists' lives in 2011. In fact, Florida requires riders who choose to go without a helmet to buy at least $10,000 worth of personal injury protection coverage.

Proper training is key. "Rider education is the first, and by far the most important step in being the safest rider," says Scott Hall, motorcycle product manager for Progressive Insurance.

In addition to saving your life, a safety course could get you a 10 to 15 percent break on your insurance rates. You also may receive an additional discount if you have antilock brakes on your bike. And some carriers offer a discount or additional injury coverage if you wear an approved helmet.

Two wheels don't mean less coverage

 Like auto insurance, motorcycle insurance requirements vary from state to state. Insurance.com managing editor Des Toups and experts at Liberty Mutual Insurance and Progressive Insurance recommend:

Bodily injury and property damage liability, which covers you if you're at fault for an accident that injures another person or damages someone's property. This is mandatory in most states.

Guest passenger liability, which covers anyone riding pillion. “Not all liability policies automatically cover your passenger,” Toups says. “You may have to buy additional coverage, depending on your state laws and your insurance company. Ask.

Comprehensive and collision coverage, which pays to repair or replace your motorcycle if it's stolen or damaged in an accident or stolen. This is optional unless your lender requires it.

Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, which covers you when the person at fault for an accident doesn't have insurance or doesn't have enough insurance. Some states require it; others don’t.

Medical payments, which covers the cost of medical care you require as the result of a motorcycle accident. It can be used regardless of who is at fault. (States with “no fault” laws requiring automobile owners to buy personal injury protection typically exempt motorcycles, making this coverage even more important.)

It's crucial to understand the importance of uninsured and underinsured coverage, says Alex Hladkevych, motorcycle product director at Liberty Mutual. "If the driver responsible for a crash does not have adequate coverage, you could be stuck with a big hospital bill."

And injuries can be worse as riders get older. A J.D. Power and Associates  survey from 2010 found the average age of a motorcycle rider climbed from 40 in 2001 to 49 in 2010. While older riders may have more motorcycle riding experience, they also may be more prone to injury.

A Brown University study examined the injuries of riders treated in emergency rooms between 2001 and 2008 and found older motorcyclists were almost three times as likely to be seriously injured as younger riders. Bikers in their 40s and 50s were almost twice as likely to be hospitalized as younger riders.

That could make medical payment coverage particularly important. "This will pay for your immediate medical expenses from an accident whether or not you are at fault, and could be beneficial if you lack proper health insurance coverage," Hladkevych says.

It’s not all about the bike: Discounts and more

While motorcycles typically cost less to buy and to insure than a car does, you don’t need less insurance.

“Insurance is for worst-case scenarios,” Toups says. “The worst-case scenarios for a motorcycle can bankrupt you just as easily.”

Along with your motorcycle coverage, you also might want to consider purchasing life insurance if you ride a bike. Liberty Mutual sells both products, and Hladkevych says it isn't harder or more expensive for motorcycle riders to buy life insurance through the company.

Other discounts may come from purchasing several insurance policies through the same company, such as auto and motorcycle insurance or motorcycle and homeowners insurance, and if you store your motorcycle for the winter.

Your motorcycle insurance coverage may be influenced by how much you use your bike, Hladkevych says. "Whether you're a weekend rider vs. a daily commuter in heavy traffic could alter the amount of coverage you may choose to purchase.”

Or you might want to increase your comprehensive and collision coverage if your bike has custom parts or you travel with a lot of gear, Hall says.

Motorcycle insurance, like other types of insurance, "isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition because it's based on a person's individual needs and the vehicle," Hall says.

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