Thursday, October 29, 2009

Public Policies and Motorcycle Safety

Two universities in Florida recently analyzed the effect of public policies in reducing motorcycle injuries and deaths.

Researchers from the University of Miami and the Florida International University compiled fatal and non-fatal motorcycle injuries with state laws, population characteristics and environmental characteristics. The study covered the period from 1990 to 2005.

Information came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System and state traffic agencies.

The goal was to estimate the effects of alcohol and traffic policies on fatal and non-fatal injuries.

Several striking conclusions were seen:

Universal Helmet Laws

About 489 lives could have been saved if helmet laws were in effect nation-wide in 2005. The large magnitude of this effect was unexpected by the authors of the study. Helmet laws dominated all other traffic safety policies, highlighting the importance of wearing a helmet to minimize the consequences of a crash.

Mandatory Rider Education Programs

Programs for training and educating new motorcyclists reduced non-fatal motorcycle injuries, according to result of the study.

Higher Speed Limits

Interestingly, higher speed limits on rural interstate highways worked in the opposite direction for the non-fatal injury rate. Fewer injuries resulted from higher speeds. One possible explanation may be that states with the higher speed limits also have more dangerous road conditions, so that crashes more often resulted in deaths, rather than non-fatal injuries. Another factor may be the characteristics of rural states, with less traffic congestion, allowing higher speed limits.

License Revocation Policies

Having laws that revoke or suspend the operators license of traffic offenders actually resulted in higher rates of non-fatal injuries. No explanation was given for this unexpected analysis.

The study was unable to account for other important factors that vary from state to state, such as enforcement policies and advocacy groups.

The researchers intend to focus now on how the universal helmet policies reduce fatalities and whether the effects change over time.


Lessons Learned

First, a big thank-you to and their Twitter stream ( pointed me to this interesting article published by R&D Magazine (

Now, some lessons learned:


Wearing an adequate helmet will probably save your life in the event of a crash. There should be no doubt in your mind that wearing the helmet is better than not wearing it...the risk is too great.

A common objection is along the lines of "It's my life, my brain, my ride." But that is false, selfish, distorted thinking. If you are rendered comatose or dead from brain injury resulting from a motorcycle crash, your decision to not wear a helmet will devastate a huge network of friends, family and fellow motorcyclists. Your injury will bring horror to possibly hundreds of people.

There is no guarantee with a helmet...that's why I'm careful to write that it will "probably save your life". And there is, of course the chance that wearing a helmet will actually cause spinal injury in the event of a less than catastrophic crash, but we must put these "exceptions" in proper persepective. Riding with a helmet will usually, more often than not, almost always, protect your brain, mind, and emotions better than riding without a helmet.

Rider Education

I'm a huge fan of basic and experienced rider training. 25 years of experience is usually just one year's worth of learning multiplied 25's not really skilled, progressive, practiced training. There is no substitute for learning the basic skills, practicing them often, and improving advanced techniques. This cannot be done by commuting to work or three hours on a weekend ride for fun...the training must be focused and observed by someone who can, and will, critique your skills.

I'm beginning to internally close my ears and ratchet down my respect for motorcyclists who say something like, "I don't need no basic training...I've been riding for 25 years, for goodness sake!" To me, they are saying that they know how to twist a throttle and stamp on gears, but they know little about the true skills of motorcycling:

  • Advanced turning

  • Maximum braking

  • Slow speed operation

  • Street-riding strategies

  • Critical situations

  • Stopping on a curve

  • Swerving and evasive maneuvers

  • Alert readers will recognize my regurgitation of the topics covered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation books. I'm a supporter of MSF and their courses, and I'll not apologize for it...their basic Riding and Street Skills RiderCourse is excellent for the beginning rider. The 8-hour Experienced RiderCourse is invaluable for any rider with at least one year's experience up to the roughest old-timer.

    I would challenge any experience rider who thinks they are riding safely and skillfully without benefit of formal training: sign up for the experienced rider course and put your money where your mouth is. I'll bet that you will NOT be able to adequately perform their drills the first time.

    And that's what a crash is: the first time.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    100 MPH Motorcyclists Arrested

    In two unrelated incidents on the same day, an Oregon County Deputy arrested two motorcyclists for Reckless Driving, Reckless Endangering and Violation of Basic Rule.

    On the 24th of October, at about 2 pm, the deputy was driving an unmarked vehicle. He observed a motorcycle approach in the oncoming lane, performing a "wheelie", continuing past with the front tire in the air for at least 15 yards. The deputy turned around and followed the motorcyclist, which was traveling at speeds over 100 mph through residential areas and curves.

    The deputy caught up to the motorcycle as it pulled into a residence and made contact with the driver. The 32-year old motorcyclist said he was test-driving the motorcycle, wanting to see what it would do. He was taken into custody on charges of Reckless Driving and Violation of Basic Rule (104 in a 55 mph zone) and transported to county jail.

    At about 3:30 pm on the same day, the same deputy observed a group of four motorcycles traveling together. Approaching a stop sign, three of the cyclists stopped, but the fourth did not, accelerating in front of the deputy who had the right of way and was attempting a turn onto the highway, cutting him off.

    The motorcyclist continued to accelerate and the deputy turned around and followed. The motorcyclist approached a stop sign, slowed to about 10 mph and went through the intersection without stopping. At this point the deputy stopped and activated his stationary radar which indicated the motorcycle was traveling at 108 mph.

    The deputy caught up to the motorcycle, estimating its speed at about 110 mph, passing another vehicle in a series of blind curves, in a no-passing zone. The deputy initiated a traffic stop and contacted the driver of the motorcycle and his passenger (his wife). The motorcyclist said he had no idea how fast he was driving and was arrested for Reckless Driving, Reckless Endangering and Violation of Basic rule (108 in a 55 mph zone).

    Read full story here...

    Lessons Learned

    I have to restrain my fingers from typing the most scornful epithets I can muster for which to use in referring to these two motorcyclists. The ONLY justification I can present for their behavior and poor sense of judgement is that speed and power are drugs that can easily overcome a person.

    But if cocaine and heroin are powerful drugs, why aren't all citizens druggies? What aren't all motorcyclists disregarding law and sensibility by reckless speeding? The obvious answer is that humans can control their appetites, and those who can't shouldn't be allowed the privileges enjoyed by those who can.

    What am I saying? I believe these two speeders should PERMANENTLY lose any legal right to ride a motorcycle that is capable of more than 45 miles per hour.

    Every motorcyclist should recognize that their machine has the capability of providing a drug-like rush that can overcome their better judgement. If you have to, look for a venue that will allow you to speed without endangering others...get into racing, find a completely isolated stretch of something other than speeding through a residential area or highway with other travelers.

    Motorcyclists, more than any other recreational vehicle operator, are susceptible to the effects of public opinion. We will find our motorcycle rights become severely limited when the non-motorcycle public get fed up with juvenile, reckless, unthinking bikers who can't control their appetite for speed and thrill.

    For the sake of all motorcyclists, choose the right time and place for's definitely not in mid-day in a residential area or public highway with other traffic. Use your head!

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Motorcops Injured by Head-on Crash

    A pickup truck collided head-on with two parked Idaho State Motorcycle Patrol officers near Boise, Idaho, Thursday, October 22, 2009, at about 3:45 pm.

    The motorcycle patrol officers were parked in the median of Interstate 84. The driver of a pickup left the highway and struck them head-on. News agencies are reporting that it may have been deliberate.

    One officer was treated and released - the other remains in the hospital in serious condition.

    No arrest has yet been made in the accident. The pickup driver, age between 20-30 years old, is being tested for presence of drugs or alcohol.


    Lessons Learned

    Stopping in the median or shoulder of a highway cannot be considered safe. It's entirely legal, and necessary at times, but it is not safe, not even for experienced motorcyclists.

    A strong case could be made for saying that parked on the side of the road is more dangerous than riding in traffic. A parked motorcycle has no evasive capability, and the riders are not paying much attention to the traffic. In this instance, that inattention was tragic.

    What to do?

    Don't park alongside a busy roadway unless absolutely necessary. If at all possible, find a cross street, an exit ramp, a rest stop. This is especially important towards the end of the day, when the sun is low in the horizon, making it hard to see, or if the light is fading for the evening.

    If you must stop alongside the road, watch oncoming traffic like a hawk...don't turn your back completely on them, glance up often and stay on the side of your bike that is away from traffic.

    This crash could have been deliberate, but even if it were an accident, or the result of the pickup's equipment failure, or if the driver suffered a heart attack, the result would be the same.

    Parking in the median or shoulder of a busy roadway is dangerous!

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    Cager's U-Turn Injures Motorcyclist

    Silverdale Man Seriously Injured in Motorcycle Wreck Near Shelton, Washington
    October 17, 2009

    A motorcyclist crashed into a car that was attempting a U-turn on a highway. The 52-year old motorcyclist was northbound on Highway 101, following a Kia Rio, at about 2 pm. The driver of the Rio attempted a U-turn, and the motorcycle hit the car. The motorcyclist was air-lifted to a Seattle hospital in serious condition. The 35-year old driver of the car was cited for failure to yield and treated for minor injuries.


    Lessons Learned

    The citation makes it clear that the U-turn was made carelessly, possibly illegally. The motorcyclist did not have time to avoid a collsion when the driver of the car suddenly slowed for a U-turn, probably without signalling. The motorcyclist probably swerved to the left, only to collide with the car as it turned left into the path of the motorcycle.

    Was the collision unavoidable? The only factor completely under the control of the motorcyclist in this situation is distance between him and the car he's following. At least two seconds of travel distance is recommended, and more is even better. Frequently check your buffer distance: begin counting the seconds when the car ahead of you passes some prominent mark or object near the road - perhaps a road sign or intersection. You speed should allow you at least two seconds before you pass that same mark. If it takes you less than two seconds to reach the mark, you're following too closely. Ease up on the speed briefly to increase your following distance and then re-check by counting seconds. Two-lane highways, narrow roads, or twisty roads require more than two seconds buffer space between you and the vehicle you're following.

    Live to ride again: allow at least two seconds distance between you and the car ahead of you - expect the unexpected.

    Sunday, October 11, 2009

    Serious Injury Traffic Crash in Klamath Falls

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    A motorcyclist was seriously injured when his motorcycle collided with a pickup.

    The 41-year old motorcyclist was southbound on a highway. The 26-year old driver of the pickup drove out of a parking lot, heading northbound, turning into the path of the motorcycle, which crashed into the left side of the pickup.

    The motorcyclist was transported for treatment of serious injuries. The pickup driver was not injured and was cited for Driving While Suspended and Reckless Driving.

    Complete story here...

    Lessons Learned

    Sadly, this seems another of those instances when nothing would have prevented tragedy except responsible, mature and alert operation of a motor vehicle on the part of the driver of the pickup. This certainly appears to be a case of a stupid cager who shouldn't have been on the road.

    If there is any lesson to be gained it is that motorcyclists must expect all cagers (drivers of automobiles) to be stupid, blind and reckless. The next time you're driving in traffic and you spot a car waiting to leave a parking lot in front of you, watch him like a hawk. Cover your brake, ready to stop his front tire for movement forward...change lanes if possible to gain more space between you and him.

    Here's a possible tactic to consider: use another vehicle as a "blocking guard". When approaching an intersection or parking lot, change to the left lane of a multi-lane roadway. Pick a car that's ahead of you in the right lane and come up beside him before you enter the intersection or driveway. Make sure the driver of your "blocking guard" knows that you are there - don't ride in his blind spot. If a car runs the red light, or turns out of a parking lot without looking, at least you'll have a couple of tons of metal between you and him - the vehicle on your right will take the blow rather than you, as long as your "blocking guard" doesn't swerve into you. If you ride just a few feet ahead of your guard vehicle, even if he swerves he'll probably miss you.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009

    Fatal Traffic Crash - Highway 101

    Less than eight hours ago a man lost control of his motorcycle and slid underneath a pickup traveling in the opposite direction. He died at the scene.

    The 55-year old rider from Seattle, Washington was southbound on a 2007 Harley Davidson, entering a sharp right curve. He lost control and slid into the northbound lane, smashing under a 2000 Toyota pickup. The 62-year old driver of the pickup tried to steer right to avoid the collision, coming to a stop straddling the fog line on the northbound shoulder of the highway. He suffered minor injury.

    The motorcyclist was wearing a protective helmet.

    Lessons Learned

    Middle of the afternoon, no mention of weather conditions, no mention of traffic or road conditions...we are left with only two reasonable causes for this crash:

  • Distraction

  • Speed

  • Something caused the rider to take his eyes off his line of travel. Or he was traveling too fast for the curve.

    First, the issue of distraction.

    Surrounded by scenery, especially that of our beautiful coastline, riding our wonderful, twisty Highway 101, it's oh-so-easy to take your eyes off the road. On a motorcycle, it only takes a brief moment to crash if you're not looking where you want to go.

    A motorcycle goes where your head is pointed and our eyes are looking. It's that simple, or at least it should be that simple in the way we ride. If we emphasize the need to always turn our head and look in the direction we want to go, our balance and sense of speed combining with our lean will work.

    It's different when operating a car. A four-wheeled vehicle is inherently stable...there is no wind in our face to distract us...a car does not lean into the curves...we can usually get by with just our peripheral vision.

    We have no such luxuries on a motorcycle.

    Next, the issue of speed.

    The ONLY way to take a curve at high speed is to lean...lean WAY over...lean so far your peg scrapes and you expect it to scrape, so you're not surprised when it scrapes and you lean more and accelerate even more.

    Is that how you want to take that curve?

    If you are not willing to scrape your peg, then DON"T SPEED!

    I'm sorry for the all-caps, but not too sorry. A motorcycle can take a curve safely at a much faster speed than any four-wheeled vehicle, but the trade-off is the need for lean. Most weekend riders do not have the skill, and the trust, to lean deeply into a included.

    Unless you're willing to train daily on a track, taking high-speed curves, you must back off on the speed.

    It's OK to roll on the throttle in the middle of the fact, it's a good practice. The increased acceleration seems to help anchor the bike as it comes out of the turn and returns to a vertical stance.

    But entering a curve at high speed gives you no room to accelerate're already at the maximum speed for that curve and you haven't even started to lean. It's much easier to enter at a reasonable, even slow speed, roll on the throttle, leaning into the center of the curve, and continue to accelerate out of the curve.

    How do you know how fast to enter a curve?

    The best rule of thumb is the yellow warning signs that precede a curve. They are usually posted at a very safe, slow speed. Usually I'm able to add ten miles per hour faster to my speed and still have complete control entering the curve. But I wouldn't recommend exceeding that warning limit by more than 10 MPH.

    Enter the curve at the recommended speed (10 MPH over is OK), and roll on the throttle, accelerating as you pass the deepest part of the curve and start to straighten out.

    It's always possible to safely accelerate AFTER you've entered the's risky to try to de-celerate in the middle of a's deadly to enter a curve already going too fast.

    Keep your eyes on the road and control your speed.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Double Fatal Traffic Crash

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Two victims died when their motorcycle was struck by a sport utility vehicle (SUV) on Highway 97, north of Chiloquin.

    The 63-year old driver of the SUV was northbound and attempted to pass a truck. Moving out to the left lane to pass, he crashed head-on into the southbound motorcycle. Both riders of the motorcycle were ejected and died at the scene.

    The motorcycle operator was male, age 65...the passenger was male, age 49. Both were wearing helmets.

    The driver of the SUV suffered minor injuries...his passenger was transported by air ambulance with serious injuries.



    Lessons Learned

    Unforeseen and unpreventable.

    I've critiqued motorcycle-related accidents before in this blog, and I usually can point out at least one defensive riding tactic that relates to the incident...but not this time.

    From the news article it seems clear that the motorcyclists were blameless. A two-lane highway provides separation between opposing vehicle traffic only by painted lines and driver skill and wasn't sufficient for these two motorcyclists.

    The riders could be faultlessly alert and skillful, yet be killed by an inattentive or impaired driver who crosses the centerline directly in front of them.

    So, no lesson to learn?

    I take from this tragedy a reminder of two things:

    One, we are not ultimately in complete control of our lives.

    Two, ride with the expectation that the oncoming traffic is unstable:

  • crazy

  • inebriated

  • angry

  • distracted

  • unskilled

  • ignorant

  • careless

  • reckless, or

  • criminal.

  • Motorcycles by design and definition are unable to compete on equal grounds with all other traffic, except bicyclists and pedestrians. We can decide to never ride a motorcycle, or we can take all reasonable precautions and ride skillfully and defensively...

    ...and take our chances.

    Saturday, October 3, 2009

    Fatal motorcycle crash in Georgia

    WALB-TV in Albany, Georgia reported a fatal motorcycle crash occuring October 1, at about 5:30 PM, the second motorcycle fatality there this week, and the fifth in the last five months.

    A 57-year-old man was riding southbound on Liberty Expressway. As he neared the intersection with Antioch Road, a driver of a pickup truck pulled out in front of the motorcyclist. The intense collision between truck and motorcycle was severe enough to break the truck's drive shaft.

    The motorcyclist was alive, still wearing his helmet, when the ambulance arrived, but he died about 20 minutes later.

    The driver of the pickup stated that he entered the intersection just after another vehicle had turned in front of him, blocking his view of any oncoming traffic.

    Read the article:

    Lessons Learned

    Primary fault for the accident obviously goes to the driver of the pickup truck, but we must admit the motorcyclist neglected several essential defensive riding tactics.

    Scan for potential hazards: look as far ahead as possible...identify hazards well before you get near them. The sequence of one car turning in front of a hidden second car, and the motorcyclist ramming into that second car, means the motorcyclist was not slowing for the first vehicle...he was counting on the road being clear after the first car made his turn...but it was not, and he didn't have time to avoid it.

    Ride defensively...assume traffic is crazy and liable to act in unpredictable ways.

    The fact that there had been at least one fatality every month for five months running probably meant little to the motorcyclist. Of all people, perhaps motorcyclists are most notorious for thinking "It'll never happen to me!"