The Herald Bulletin

March 22, 2013

Editorial: Watch for motorcyclists as weather gets warmer


— While spring is slow in coming to central Indiana, we all know warmer weather will be coming our way. With rising temperatures, motorcyclists will increasingly be rolling their bikes out of winter storage and riding on the streets and roads of the area. It’s a good time to think about motorcycle safety.

By far, the most authoritative source on motorcycle safety is a report, “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures,” written by Harry Hurt in the early 1980s. Hurt, working with the University of Southern California, analyzed approximately 4,500 motorcycle accidents in the greater Los Angeles area. The so-called Hurt Report, though dated, has never been superseded, and its data are still widely accepted.

His conclusions are sobering reading for both automobile drivers and motorcycle riders. They include the following:

◆ About 75 percent of the accidents involved a motorcycle and another vehicle, most usually a car.

The other 25 percent of accidents involved a motorcycle and no other vehicle.

◆ Of the motorcycle/car accidents, most were caused by drivers turning left in front of a motorcycle at an intersection. Most often, car drivers did not see the motorcycle in time to avoid a collision. ◆ In many cases, the motorist violated the motorcyclist’s right of way and violated traffic controls.

Most of the single-vehicle accidents can be attributed to rider error, not weather, road conditions, or mechanical failure. Most frequently, the rider erred by driving too fast in curves, and thus was not able to brake or turn safely.

◆ One alarming, but probably not surprising, fact: almost half of the fatal accidents show alcohol involvement, according to the study.   

What can you do?

For the motorcyclist, do all you can to be visible to car drivers. Make sure your headlight is working, use high beam during daylight hours and consider adding auxiliary lighting. Wear visible clothing and helmets. All black attire might be a cool, in-thing with your motorcycling crowd, but high-viz yellow can be seen. Wear a helmet: “The use of the safety helmet is the single critical factor in the prevention or reduction of head injury, the study concluded.

As you approach an intersection, even when you have right of way, slow down a bit and pretend that you are invisible. Assume nothing about the cars around you. Keep a couple of fingers on the front brake lever so you can reduce your stopping time. The claim that “I had the right of way” makes little difference if you are being rushed to the emergency room.

When riding by yourself away from traffic, know your limits. Know the condition of the roads on which you’re riding. A recent oil or gravel spill on a road that you think you know can lead to a slideout. When with a group of friends, if their speed is beyond your ability avoid the temptation to keep up with the group to maintain face. Speed matters.

And, the “duh” statement: don’t drink and ride.

For the car driver, keep in mind that you share the streets and roads with motorcyclists. The frontal area of a motorcycle is significantly smaller than a car, so a second look before you make a left turn might prevent an accident. Give the motorcyclist some space, in front and behind. You have a steel cage, seat belts and airbags to keep you safe. The cyclist has only his or her wits, protective gear, and room to maneuver to stay safe in what for riders is a most enjoyable sport. Let’s work together to keep the sport safe.

If you want to read more: http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~john/vfr/hurt.html