A minor mistake that might leave a driver's car scratched and dented could leave a motorcyclist bloodied or worse.
By design, motorcycles leave riders especially exposed on the unforgiving road.
Some enthusiasts might disagree, arguing the risks to riders are no greater than to those traveling on four or more wheels.
Common sense suggests otherwise, however.
That makes it all the more surprising that state legislators -- whose jobs, after all, are to make rules -- have taken such a hands-off approach to regulating motorcycles and their operators.
While drivers of passenger vehicles are warned to "click it or ticket," helmets are merely a suggestion for most motorcycle riders.
About 10 years ago Pennsylvania lawmakers repealed the law mandating riders wear helmets, caving to lobbyists' complaints that it infringed on their rights.
Within two years, the number of motorcycle crash patients admitted to trauma centers increased to 2,392, from 1,616 two years before the repeal, according to a Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report. A 2008 University of Pittsburgh found that head injury deaths increased 66 percent and motorcycle-related head injury hospitalization increased 78 percent after the law was repealed.
We've noted in the past it was one of the worst decisions the General Assembly has ever made, and completely inconsistent with other legislation, such as the mandatory seat belt law.
But that wasn't even the craziest aspect of Pennsylvania's motorcycle laws -- until recently riders didn't even have to prove they could competently operate their bikes.
Yes, to get a motorcycle license riders have to pass a skills test or take part in the free Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program.
But that's not the case for learners permits.
For those, riders pay a $10 fee and must pass vision screenings and knowledge tests (although they're only permitted to ride in daylight or carry passengers).
The thing is, there was no limit to the number of times riders could renew their permits.
That meant they could reapply year after year, never having to take the safety course required for a full four-year license.
That changed with a bill, sponsored by state Rep. Seth Grove and now awaiting the governor's signature, that limits the number of permits issued to a person to three in a five-year period.
"Permits are temporary, and their purpose is to get riders to obtain full driver's licenses," the Dover Township Republican said. "This legislation will enable riders to learn properly while pushing them to actually get their motorcycle licenses."
Grove -- who also sponsored a law last year that requires minors with motorcycle permits to complete a free 15-hour riding course -- deserves credit for calling nonsense when he sees it.
Now if he would only turn his attention to the helmet law ...