I live in Virginia, and this is where I learned to ride a motorcycle and have done most of my miles. For the first 90% of my riding life, I lived in northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., and commuted daily in the insanity that people there refer to as “traffic.” I’ve been to New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and even Atlanta, and while they all have tons of traffic, none of them quite compares to the level of carelessness of DC-area traffic. Maybe it’s that inherent “don’t you know who I am” or “don’t you know who I work for” that pervades DC, but it’s truly terrible traffic.
In all those years, though, I’ve only ever been involved in two crashes – one in a car (my fault) and one on a motorcycle (her fault). Neither was a result of distracted driving, just momentary inattention to the details outside the vehicle and BAM! it’s over in a split second.
According to an article in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch (Put down your phone, bikers say as motorcycle deaths spike in Virginia, 9 April 2018), 107 motorcyclists died on Virginia’s roads in 2017, up from 72 deaths in 2016. Based on what I read in the NHTSA’s most recent report (of 2016 statistics), I’m not super surprised – although Virginia’s 48.6% year-to-year increase is alarming.
The article is right – drivers need to put down their damn phones. If you use your phone while driving, you are a vehicular manslaughter charge looking for a place to happen. It’s not just phones, though – as car and light truck manufacturers continue to cater to drivers who insist on being entertained while they should be operating a potential murder weapon at 75 miles per hour, the distractions are increasingly available without ever picking up a cell phone. It’s time for these massive, intricate infotainment systems to go – or at least be vastly toned down.
Looking away from the road, whether you’re looking at a phone or an infotainment system, is distracted driving, and it’s potentially deadly every time it happens. The truly scary thing, though, is that infotainment systems are showing up on motorcycles. High-end Harley-Davidson, Indian and Honda all have these killers on their bikes, and other manufacturers are racing to catch up. I predict a spike in single-vehicle motorcycle crashes as infotainment systems penetrate deeper into the lineup. It only takes a second of inattention to crash.
It’s not just car, pickup trick and SUV drivers killing motorcyclists, though. We are killing ourselves. In Virginia in 2017, 40% (about 43 riders) died with blood-alcohol concentration above the state’s legal limit of 0.08. This is well above the 2016 national number of 25%, and even above the 2016 national number for single-vehicle motorcycle crashes (37%), whether or not fatalities were involved.
The easy takeaway from that is that, no matter what, the easiest way to stay alive as a motorcycle rider is to STOP DRINKING AND RIDING.
The NHTSA report posits that 15% of the 2016 motorcycle fatalities would have been prevented had the rider use a helmet. Those of you who know me know I’m a full-time full-face helmet user. I’m adamant that everybody in my family and indeed, even anybody that rides behind me or in the sidecar also use a full-face helmet. It’s non-negotiable.
I’m not one of those ATGATT monsters, though. I mean, yes, I endeavor to wear All The Gear All The Time, but if I’m being honest, motorcycle pants are a pain in the ass and sometimes I will ride with either motorcycle jeans (kevlar reinforced, knee pads, etc.) or even just regular jeans. You’ll never see me riding without helmet, jacket and gloves on, though. If you want to ride like that, I’m not going to hassle you.
If you want to ride in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, though, I won’t be riding with or even near you. If you go down, I don’t want to have to administer first aid (or CPR) to somebody who can’t be bothered to utilize the barest amount of safety gear. Where helmets might prevent death, jackets prevent pain. Boots prevent amputations. You don’t want to be that rider that has to re-grow 30 square inches of skin or learn to walk missing three toes on your left foot.
To sum up: motorcycle deaths are up nationwide. Alcohol is the greatest contributing factor to motorcycle deaths. Distracted driving is a close second and will soon be challenging for first place. Helmets prevent motorcycle deaths.
Action items for every rider: Protect yourself. Don’t drink and ride. Use a helmet. Educate others. Lead by example. Arrive alive.