Regardless of the random snow earlier this week, motorcycle riders have been taking advantage of the early spring and mild weather to rev up and head on down the road.
Motorcycle use is on the rise in Pennsylvania and nationally, and with May marking National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, the state Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is focusing on improving motorcycle safety with its campaign, “Live Free Ride Alive” in an effort to reduce the number of motorcycle accidents and fatalities statewide. According to PennDOT, there were 397,700 registered motorcycles in 2010 and more than 837,900 licensed motorcyclists in 2011.
The campaign’s website, www.livefreeridealive.com , was designed with motorcyclists in mind and contains information on safety, including proper licensing and how to reduce the risk of accidents. Motorcyclists can take the “Be One Less Pledge,” which is a promise to “honor the fallen and keep those on two wheels, on two wheels by pledging to be one less statistic.” They can also post messages, videos and stories.
While the site has many tips and resources for motorcyclists, one area rider says it’s also important for motorists to increase their awareness of motorcycle riders. Mike Meyer is the Elk County representative, road officer and membership captain for A.B.A.T.E. (American Bikers Aimed Toward Education) of Pa.’s Endless Mountains Chapter 34, District 4, which encompasses Elk, Cameron, Forest, Potter, McKean, Tioga, and Clinton counties. He said a lack of awareness by motorists is too often behind the cause of an accident involving motorcycles, and according to PennDOT, more than 50 percent of motorcycle accidents are caused by other vehicles.
"The main reason why people get into accidents with motorcycles is because motorists aren't looking for us, at their blind spots. They're looking for the semi, they're looking for a truck, but a lot of people just aren't looking for a motorcycle,” Meyer said. “They're (motorcycles) easy to hide in blind spots. That's why the 'Look Twice, Save a Life' campaign is so important.”
“Look Twice, Save a Life” is the other side of the safety campaign for motorcycle riders and is aimed at helping motorists increase awareness of their two-wheeled friends on the road.
Meyer said A.B.A.T.E. of Pa. began the self-funded motorcycle awareness campaign in 2005, distributing yard signs with the campaign motto to be posted in yards and other prominent places along roadways with heavier traffic. Decals are also available. Both the yard signs and decals are free to anyone who asks. The campaign has now become a partnership between PennDOT, the Motorcycle Safety Program, and A.B.A.T.E. of Pa. to prevent motorcycle accidents and fatalities, and Meyer said it has been very beneficial in increasing awareness.
"PennDOT's really stepped up their efforts on this,” Meyer said. “Between PennDOT and A.B.A.T.E., all of those [yard signs and decals] are free of charge. All they have to do is get hold of a local A.B.A.T.E. member and it doesn't cost you anything."
Meyer noted area businesses who provide support to A.B.A.T.E. due to their nonprofit status have been putting out the signs and offering decals as well.
“With the price of gas the way it is, more and more people are switching to motorcycle transportation. I'm seeing more and more people in the factories driving bikes,” Meyer said.
He noted that ordinary road conditions that pose little or no hazard to automobile operators can be much more dangerous for motorcyclists.
"People who drive in cars have a seatbelt, airbags and they have a steel frame around them for protection. The motorcycle rider-- in an accident, it's the rider who collides-- there's nothing there to protect the rider. Even a small accident can be a fatal accident," Meyer said.
He said motorcycle riders are concerned for everyone’s safety and work hard to learn how to manage their ride, follow safety techniques and observe proper precautions. Many accidents, he said, occur when motorcyclists and motorists meet up at stop signs or traffic lights.
“The main thing is stop signs. That's the big thing, to look twice, because people rush through at the stop sign without looking. A lot of people think because we're on a motorcycle and they're in a car that they have the right-of-way. The main issue we've heard many times is, ‘I had the right-of-way' from someone on a bike.
“Most of our accidents happen because we end up T-boning cars because they pull out in front of us. They think that we're supposed to stop. Just because you're in a car does not automatically give you the right-of-way. We should be treated just like we are in another vehicle.”
He said whether drivers spot a motorcyclist riding single or a big group, the same rules apply, and had some practical advice for drivers to help everyone share the road safely in addition to “looking twice.” Giving riders some distance is always a good precaution to take, he said, and the “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” is especially true when it comes to motorcyclists.
“Judging a motorcyclist's distance from a car, we seem to be farther away because they're smaller. They [motorists] follow a little closer than they should," Meyer said.
Pick up a copy of the Friday, April 27, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.