“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a Ride!”
Ahh….Memorial Day weekend. Visions of barbecues and backyard pools fill the minds of some, but for my husband and I, it represents a weekend away from kids for some adult fun. Every year we attend Hog Wild Rodeo, which is a motorcycle rally put on by the Circle of Pride M.C. here in SE Iowa. It’s a great time…bands, vendors, drag races, camping, and well, a whole lot of drinking. Even with colors represented, it’s a fairly safe environment; however, leaving the grounds on a bike is another story, and one that might not have a happy ending.
May is Motorcycle Awareness month, and Memorial Day weekend is one of the deadliest in terms of highway accidents. Every year, hundreds of Americans die from alcohol-related crashes; more so than on any other holiday of the year. According to a report released on Tuesday, May 22, by the U.S. Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), motorcycle fatality rates have remained about the same from 2010 to 2011, with about 4500 deaths, but rates have been slowly increasing over the last few years. In 2010, 29% of fatally injured motorcycle riders had a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit of .08 (NHTSA, 2011a). With gas prices rising, more people are opting to ride, and unfortunately, not all of them know what they are doing. Compound that with the fact that you have other drivers in cars and trucks that don’t seem to know how to share the road, and you can see that we have a large problem on our hands. In all, motorcycle accident deaths accounted for 14% of all traffic deaths in 2010.
Obviously, these are not statistics that we want to see. Only one out of five riders who are in an accident come out of it with simple bumps and bruises. Those who wear protective equipment, such as leathers and helmets, can fare better, but helmets are not always a great option and can sometimes cause more harm than good. Seven states have repealed their helmet laws since 1997, and no state has enacted a universal helmet law since Louisiana in 2004. A total of 19 states have universal helmet laws, but there are also states, like my own (Iowa) who have no helmet laws at all. While helmets can and do save lives, they can also impair vision and hearing, which may lead to accidents as well. Age and training also factor in: Motorcycle riders aged below 40 are 36 times more likely to be killed than other vehicle operators of the same age. The group ABATE (A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education) are committed to promoting safe operation, improving licensing , and better rider training, as well as making other motorists aware of bikers. They feel, (as do I), that education is key in saving lives, not passing legislation that encroaches upon our civil liberties, such as mandatory helmet laws.
Knowing how to ride safely is only a step in the process, however. The most important thing is to be aware of other drivers. Unfortunately, those in cars or trucks (or “cagers”) don’t always reciprocate. According to several reports in 2010, two-thirds of all accidents involving motorcycles and other motor vehicles were the direct result of that motorist turning into a biker’s lane and violating the motorcyclist’s right of way. It has been suggested that bikers are 27 times more likely to die in an accident that involves a motor vehicle than the passengers in that vehicle. Those are some pretty scary numbers. Distracted driving also accounts for a lot of accidents; many times a motorist will be eating, drinking, texting, or fiddling with the radio when they collide with a motorcycle. Iowa has passed a “no texting” law that will hopefully cut down on some of the distraction, but I’m not holding my breath. I still see drivers doing it all the time, especially younger ones.
So, how can we save lives? That is the key question. For bikers, the number one rule of safe riding should be to park it when you’ve had too much to drink. (even at the rally; road rash from sand hurts, too.) Education is also key, and new riders should have to go through a safety course before getting out on the road, as a lot of new bikers are self taught. If you can avoid it, when you’re in the city, never enter an intersection without another vehicle on your right side…this cuts down the danger of some idiot turning left into your lane. Make sure that your bike is maintained well. Wear your leathers. Know how to ride in a group. Don’t act like a moron…that’s a given. And definitely be aware of other drivers on the road, because they may not be as aware of you. Don’t assume that they see you; they probably don’t.
For drivers, much of the same applies. Don’t drive drunk. Don’t hog the road. Pay attention to what you’re doing, and be aware of bikers on the road. Look twice before turning. Don’t be an idiot. Put your cell phone down and pay attention to what you’re doing. Remember, above all, that you are bigger than that bike and you will cause more damage…so take steps to make sure that doesn’t happen, even if it’s inconvenient. You can eat that candy bar when you get to work.
We are anticipating a fantastic time this weekend, and it’s one that we look forward to every year. My biggest wish, however, is that my Hog Wild family; and others that come from hundreds of miles away, make it home from the weekend safe and sound. Pay attention, park it when you’re trashed, and watch out for other vehicles. I’d rather see my fellow bikers have a hangover than a head injury.
“Four wheels move the body; two wheels move the soul”
(warning: adult content)