Motorcycle Kill Switch: What Is it & Why It’s Important?

I. Introduction

The motorcycle kill switch is a safety button (normally red color) located on the right side of your motorcycle handlebar and it has an on/off mechanism. Most modern motorcycles have this safety feature on the right side of the handlebar within the reach of the thumb.

However, the location (left or right side of the handlebar) or the color of the kill switch may differ from brand to brand.

This article takes you through the key information about the kill switch and answers some frequently asked questions about it.

Your motorcycle kill switch is important because in case of emergency you can access it easily and stop the engine or start it again by pushing it to the ‘off/on‘ position without removing your right hand from the handlebar (throttle) and without reaching out for the ignition key.

As the name indicates, your motorcycle kill switch kills or cuts the engine from the ignition circuit.

You may face many emergencies during a motorcycle ride e.g. tipping off the motorcycle on yourself with the engine on, the throttle is stuck and you are not able to decelerate, there is an accident/crash, etc.

On all these occasions the motorcycle engine can be shut down with the kill switch either by you or a stranger on the road who wants to help you. The color (red) and the prominent location of the kill switch make it easy even for a stranger to shut down the engine.

II. Motorcycle kill switch, why it is important?

In simple words, your motorcycle kill switch is an emergency and safety switch that you can easily access to switch off the engine, especially when you are not in a position to do it through the ignition key.

The location of the kill switch is normally on the right side of the handlebar and you can reach it with your right-hand thumb to switch it off or on, without lifting your hand from the throttle. The kill switch shuts the power to the engine and the engine gradually stops.

The motorcycle kill switch is important because it helps you in emergency situations as explained below:

  • The motorcycle is tipped onto you with the engine on and you are not able to reach the ignition key. The kill switch can help you here to stop the engine.
  • During an unfortunate crash, you may not be able to turn off the ignition key due to reasons like the key is damaged or bent, or the crash makes it inaccessible, and in such conditions, you can use the kill switch to shut down the engine.
  • In case of accidents, the kill switch looks prominently due to its red color, and even strangers can assist you by easily locating it and turning off the engine.
  • Assume a situation where you are riding fast and want to bring down the speed, but the throttle is jammed and does not operate. You are not in a position to take out your hand to reach the ignition switch, but you can easily stop the engine using the kill switch.

III. Working of a motorcycle kill switch

The working of the kill switch on your motorcycle is simple. When the kill switch is in the ‘on‘ position the ignition circuit of your motorcycle is complete and the spark plug gets the current to produce the spark for combustion.

When you turn ‘off‘ the kill switch, the ignition circuit is broken, the spark plug does not get current, and the engine shuts down.

In other words, the kill switch breaks the connection between the engine sparkplug and the ignition coil when you push it to the ‘off‘ position. When you push the kill switch to the ‘on‘ position, it reconnects the engine sparkplug with the ignition coil, and the spark plug can produce the spark for combustion.

IV. Few tips on how to use the kill switch

  • Ensure the kill switch is in the ‘on’ position when you are starting the motorcycle. If the kill switch is in the ‘off’ position, your repeated effort to start your motorcycle with the ignition key can create troubles (like the flooding of the engine with gasoline in motorcycles with carburetors).
  • Always use your right-hand thumb to operate the kill switch, you can make it a habit.
  • Do not fiddle with the kill switch when your motorcycle is idling or stopped, it can be damaged and will not help you in an emergency. The kill switch is designed to keep the rider safe.
  • Some owners’ manuals may call the kill switch an ‘emergency stop switch’, but they are the same and have the same function.
  • Many motorcycles owners’ manual advises the rider to use the ignition key for normal riding and use the kill switch for emergencies. It further tells that an ignition key turns off all the electrical connections of the motorcycle, but the kill switch turns off only the ignition circuit. If you turn off the engine using the kill switch, keeping the ignition key on, you may face trouble starting the motorcycle the next day due to a drained battery.
  • The slowing down of your motorcycle due to the hitting of the kill switch can be compared to what happens if your fuel tank becomes empty while you are riding fast.

V. Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

1 When should I use the kill switch?
Some riders may have the habit of using the kill switch regularly at traffic signals or shortstops. Doing this may not harm your motorcycle, but it is not advisable.

It is wise to use the kill switch only for emergencies (accident, stuck throttle, crash, etc.). Using the kill switch routinely can wear it down, and it may not work when you need it during emergencies.

2 How to handle the motorcycle after hitting the kill switch?
Hitting the kill switch does not put a sudden brake on your motorcycle engine. It breaks the current flow into the spark plug and the engine slows down to a gradual stop. You will have time to apply the brake and bring the motorcycle to a stop safely.

However, if this happens when you are riding fast, you should keep calm and handle the situation with care.

When the motorcycle is still moving, you have the option of turning on the kill switch to resume your ride.

3 Is it mandatory for all the motorcycles to have a kill switch?
A kill switch is a safety feature and is provided on most modern motorcycles. The location of the kill switch (right side of the handlebar) and the color of the kill switch (red) are the same for many motorcycle brands, however, the kill switch on a few brands of motorcycles may differ in their location on the handlebar (left or right) and the color.

It is not clear whether there is any US Federal or State law that makes it mandatory for all motorcycles sold in the US to have a kill switch.

4 My motorcycle already has an ignition key, so, why an additional kill switch?
The function of the ignition key and the kill switch may appear the same, but it is not so. An ignition key serves the purpose of normal starting/shutting off of your motorcycle, however, the kill switch is positioned to come to your rescue in case of emergencies.

Also, when you turn off the ignition key completely, it disconnects all the electrical connections, whereas the kill switch disconnects only the ignition circuit to the sparkplug.

So, if you shut off your motorcycle engine with the kill switch and leave the ignition key on, the battery charge may get drained off slowly.

VI. Conclusion

Now you are fairly aware of the importance of the kill switch on your motorcycle and how it works. Continue to enjoy your rides and make use of all the safety features including the kill switch, to make your rides safer.

Be careful, about hitting the kill switch, especially when you are riding at high speeds.

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