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Staff writer

Having been thrown through the air three times in collisions with cars, motorcyclist Kenji Takeuchi of Nagoya has realized that a helmet alone isn’t enough to protect him.

While drivers of cars are strapped in with seat belts and cushioned by air bags, motorcyclists are much more vulnerable to the impact of accidents — a reason bikers have a higher death rate in accidents than those in four-wheel vehicles.

Takeuchi, 39, president of electric equipment dealer Mugen Denko Co., has recently designed a safety jacket that instantly inflates in a collision and cushions the rider’s body during impact.

If the cyclist is thrown from the motorcycle, a cable hooking the “air jacket” to the bike is pulled. The jacket then inflates within eight-tenths of a second via a compressed air cylinder, said Takeuchi, a 20-year motorcycle veteran. “The jacket covers the body from the neck to the waist, which, other than the head, is where deathblows are often inflicted in motorcycle accidents,” he explained.

Of the 1,659 motorcyclists killed in accidents last year in Japan, 51 percent died from head injures, 19 percent from chest injuries, 8 percent from neck injuries and 7 percent from abdominal wounds, according to the Tokyo-based Institute for Traffic Accident Research and Data Analysis.

“If a bike crashes into a car, the cyclist often gets thrown into the air, so 0.8 seconds is sufficient to make it inflate to absorb the impact of landing,” Takeuchi said. “Even when a biker falls on his own and hits the ground before the cable is tugged, the jacket will help ease the consequences of secondary impacts, such as the body being thrown against a guardrail,” he said.

Sixty-four percent of motorcycle accidents last year involved collisions with other vehicles, while 23 percent involved only the cyclist, according to the institute.

Dat Japan Co., a Tokyo-based firm that offers a delivery service by motorcycle, has ordered 100 of Takeuchi’s jackets for its 250 drivers. Company spokesman Hisao Inami said the number of accidents involving its delivery workers every year is “considerable.”

Reactions from bikers have been positive, Inami said. “(Our staffers) say it’s no big deal to hook the jacket to the bike every time they get on, and they note that the jacket weighs no more than the vest they would otherwise wear on the job,” he said.

The jackets come in two styles and weigh 1.2 kg or 2.3 kg, depending on the degree of impact it can absorb. Prices start at 45,000 yen, Takeuchi said.

One tip for using the jacket: Don’t forget to unhook the cable before leaving your bike.


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