Steve Otto Columns
Bike Week adds motorcycles to roads; caution urged
As an estimated half-million motorcyclists begin their annual trek to Bike Week in Daytona Beach this weekend, a survey of bikers shows that while 71 percent are most worried about being hit by distracted drivers, only one in five wears reflective gear to reduce that risk. Bike Week begins Friday and riders from all over the state will be heading to the popular East Coast destination. That results in a dangerous intermingling of motorcycles and other vehicles on the highways. And more often than not, it's the other vehicle that is the cause of a serious motorcycle wreck. The Florida Motorcycle Safety Coalition says that 60 percent of vehicle-motorcycle crashes in Florida are caused by the drivers in vehicles. Besides recommending bikers wear helmets, AAA and the coalition recommend motorcyclists should also do whatever they must to make themselves conspicuous on the road."Motorcycle riders are more at risk than other motorists since they are often hard to see," said Michele Harris, director of AAA Auto Club South's Traffic Safety Culture. She said bikers' resistance to wearing reflective gear is a result of an attitude that nothing can happen to them if they are careful. "It's kind of an 'I'm invincible' thing," she said. Eight out of 10 bikers wear helmets, she said, the most since a mandatory-helmet law was repealed in Florida 15 years ago. "Still," Harris said, "there is definitely room for improvement. Back when the repeal happened, the number went down. Now, it's coming back up, thankfully." She said there are more people riding motorcycles, especially in Florida, where the weather cooperates year-round. Plus, there are major biker rallies in the state that draw motorcycle enthusiasts from all over. Some motorists aren't used to the glut of bikers on the road, but there are some tips to avoid collisions. Drivers should always assume a biker is next to them or close by, and they should watch for shadows and listen for motorcycle engines if they don't see them. Sometimes, bikers concealed in blind spots can be heard. "Shadows and sounds," she said, "are very important." Here are some other motorcycle-awareness tips for motorists: • Check blind spots before changing lanes or merging, particularly in heavy traffic. Assume motorcyclists pulling out of side streets do not see you and may pull in front of you. • Expect to see motorcycles as they are often hard to see in traffic. Look for a helmet, tires or a shadow alongside a vehicle that you can't see around. • Don't drive distracted. Drivers who take their eyes off the road for just two seconds double the risk of getting into a crash. Distracted driving is a major cause of motorcycle crashes. • Keep your eyes and ears open at all times. Motorcyclists may blend into groups of vehicles and may be closer than you think. Also, not all motorcycles are loud so listen closely if you think one is nearby. • Watch out when making left turns. Most crashes between cars and motorcycles involve left turns. The AAA online survey was conducted Feb. 8 to 11 and included motorcyclists living in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. A total of 202 motorcyclists completed the poll, which has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 6.7 percent. Here are some other statistics that came out of the survey: • 33 percent of bikers say they have been involved in a motorcycle crash and of them, 67 percent said another vehicle caused the crash; • 23 percent of bikers surveyed say they have ridden within a few hours of alcohol consumption; • The main reasons cited for riding after drinking were: Bikers believing they were not intoxicated (74 percent) and bikers saying they were driving only a short distance (35 percent).
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