As is usually the case each year, there will be an increasing number of motorcycles and scooters on the road as spring transitions into summer. The combination of nicer weather and rising gasoline prices tend to bring two-wheeled vehicles out of their garages and onto our streets and freeways.
The second factor hasn’t been much of an issue this year (yet), as the sour economy has kept fuel prices in check, but last year at this time there was a visible increase in the number of people commuting on cycles. Sadly, another statistic went hand-in-hand with that increase, as motorcycle crashes went way up. According to the CHP, approximately 575 riders were killed in collisions in California in 2008.
That’s why the California Highway Patrol has teamed with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to designate May as “Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.” During this month, motorcyclists and car drivers should focus on keeping those crashes from happening. It’s a good time to pay extra attention to safety and then carry that knowledge and care throughout the year.
For motorcycle riders, key points include proper training and licensing. Unlicensed and self-taught riders are over-represented in crashes. Anyone starting out riding should take the Basic Rider Course offered by the MSF. The classes are taught in controlled conditions in empty parking lots, and are a great head start toward getting the proper license endorsement from the DMV.
If you’re a veteran rider, or know someone who is, there is also an Experienced Rider Course to sharpen up skills and erase bad habits. Just like airline pilots who go back into the flight simulator every now and then for a refresher, riders should continually further their learning. Just because you’ve been doing something for a long time doesn’t mean you can’t hone your skills and learn new ones.
The next message that officials would like to get out to motorcyclists is to never ride impaired by alcohol or even medication. Reaction time is everything on a bike, and again, riding under the influence is a big factor in the motorcycle crash statistics. Stopping for a cold beer during a ride can be a big mistake.
And even if you’re only riding “a little scooter,” it’s important to wear the right safety gear. That means a proper, D.O.T. approved helmet, and things like boots and protective clothing. Even a low-speed crash can cause serious injury to an unprotected rider. The next time you see a rider or passenger wearing things like shorts and flip-flops, just imagine what would happen to that exposed skin if it should hit the pavement, even at just 20 miles per hour.
Those of us in cars can also do our part in keeping motorcyclists safe. First and foremost is to be aware of motorcycles on the road, and know that they’re much harder to see than cars. They might be blocked from your view by a larger vehicle, or even by that cute thingamabob you have hanging from your rearview mirror. (Did you know that it’s illegal to hang anything from your mirror while driving? It can block the view of not just riders but pedestrians as well.)
Also, don’t throw anything out of a car window. That apple core or cigarette butt that you might think is “no big deal” can strike a rider. You’d be really sorry if that motorcycle rider happened to have a gun and a badge! And if you carry things in the back of a pickup truck or on a luggage rack, take extra care to be certain they’re secured. A large object landing on the road in front of a motorcyclist can be a disaster.
Keep in mind that in California, it is legal for motorcyclists to ride between cars in traffic, although the CHP warns that riders must do so in a safe manner, or risk being cited. You might be mad that you’re stuck in congestion and the motorcycle gets to file through, but don’t blame them for trying to save a little time. Besides, every motorcycle on the freeway means one less car to clog the lanes. Give them some extra room if you can, and don’t fall into a texting or phoning trance just because traffic is heavy.
And remember that motorcyclists aren’t just a bunch of thugs or middle-aged yuppies pretending to be thugs. Nor are they all young people fantasizing about being racers. If you were to go to a motorcycle gathering spot, you’d likely find accountants, doctors, attorneys, dentists, executives and folks from all walks of life enjoying their two-wheeled machines. Essentially, motorcycle riders are just another slice of society.
So as you head out on your various commuting or recreation trips, keep those motorcyclists in mind and watch out for them. And if you ride a bike or would like to, remember to do it the right way. If everyone pays attention to safety, those horrifying crash statistics can be greatly reduced this year.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz@pacbell.net.