May is Motorcycle Awareness Month

The Kittitas County board of commissioners recently proclaimed May to be “Motorcycle Awareness Month.”  The proclamation was issued in response to a number of concerns regarding the increasing number of motorcycle-related deaths that occur in Washington every year.  Motorcycle Awareness Month is a nationally recognized event and was officially adopted in Kittitas County to help increase awareness among motorists who share the road with Washington’s 230,000+ registered motorcyclists.

As a population, motorcyclists represent just 3% of all motor vehicles driven on public roads in the United States, yet they account for 14% of all deaths.  According to NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), motorcyclists are five times more likely to be injured in a crash and thirty times more likely to die in a collision than occupants of vehicles.

Motorcycle riders in Washington are victims of similar statistics.  According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, during the three year period from 2009 to 2011, there were 6,640 crashes involving motorcycles.  Of these, 1,249 crashes resulted in serious injury and 206 resulted in death.  Studies conducted by the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission indicate the majority of these crashes occurred during peak riding season (May through September) when traffic is heaviest (3 p.m. and 6 p.m.).

Despite various states’ efforts to enact mandatory helmet laws, head injuries are still the leading cause of death in motorcycle accidents.  Helmets have helped to reduce the number of fatalities (according to some estimates by as much as 37%), but the use of helmets alone will never be able to prevent 100% of all motorcycle fatalities.

ABATE (American Bikers Aimed Towards Education) is one organization that is attempting to prevent the number of motorcycle fatalities in Washington, but not through the use of mandatory helmet laws.  Instead, members of ABATE are motivated to “foster and promote motorcycle safety” through “education and public awareness.”  Their recent efforts to declare May the official Motorcycle Awareness Month in Kittitas County are just one example.

Such efforts are critical to promoting motorcycle safety in the State of Washington.  U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, recently said that “[m]otorists and motorcylists have a common responsibility to safely share the road together,” and that “[i]ncreasing safe riding and cooperation among all road users is essential to reducing the number of deaths on our nation’s highways.”  Washington State Patrol Lieutenant, Kandi Patrick, echoed these sentiments, stating that “[d]rivers of all vehicles…need to be extra attentive and make sure they share the road.”

Below, are some helpful tips provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Washington State Patrol intended to promote motorcycle safety and awareness:

  • Never drive distracted.  Doing so can result in tragic consequences for motorcyclists.
  • Remember, a motorcycle is a vehicle with all of the rights and privileges of any other motor vehicle.
  • Always allow a motorcyclist the full lane width—never try to share a lane.
  • Perform a visual check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or exiting a lane of traffic, and at intersections.
  • Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
  • Because of its smaller size, a motorcyclist can be hidden in a vehicle’s blind spot.  Always check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic and at intersections.
  • Turn signals on motorcycles are not the same as those on motor vehicles – motorcycle signals are usually not self-canceling and riders sometimes forget to turn them off.  Allow enough time to determine the motorcyclist’s intention before you proceed.
  • Remember that road conditions that are minor annoyances to motorists can pose major hazards to motorcyclists. Motorcycle riders may change speed or adjust position within a lane suddenly in reaction to road and traffic conditions such as potholes, gravel, wet or slippery surfaces, pavement seams, railroad crossings, and grooved pavement.
  • Allow more following distance – three or four seconds – when behind a motorcycle so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emer­gency.
  • Never tailgate.  In dry conditions, motorcycles can stop more quickly than cars.