Watch out for motorcycles

It seems spring weather has finally arrive, and area residents are taking full advantage of it.

That means car and truck drivers will have to get used to sharing the road with motorcycles again.

During May, officials in Michigan and Wisconsin are reminding all drivers to be on alert for motorcycles.

May is National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and is being observed in both Michigan and Wisconsin.

Motorcycles are increasing in popularity.

More than 500,000 Wisconsin residents have motorcycle licenses or permits and nearly 340,000 motorcycles are registered in the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

In Michigan, the number of endorsed riders in May 2008 was 518,156 and swelled to 561,878 by May 2012. Women riders have increased their numbers by more than 10,000 during that same time period, jumping from 54,084 in 2008 to 65,183 in 2012.

As their popularity increases, unfortunately, so do the number of traffic accidents.

Last year, 116 people died last year while riding a motorcycle in Wisconsin. It is the highest number in the last 30 years. Most incidents occurred when riders failed to wear a helmet.

In Michigan, more than 10 percent of traffic fatalities annually involve motorcycles. The average age of motorcyclists killed is 43 and more than 90 percent of riders killed are male. In 2012, 129 motorcyclists died in traffic crashes, an increase from 109 in 2011.

Statistics show that 58 percent of Michigan motorcyclists involved in a crash did not have an endorsement on their license

To help keep the riding experience safe, traffic safety experts offer the following safety tips:

– Keep the headlights on at all times to increase the chances of being seen by other drivers.

– Wear protective clothing, including a Department of Transportation approved crash helmet and protective eyewear.

– Practice defensive riding techniques to avoid or minimize the severity of a crash; don’t expect the other motorist will see you.

– Watch for animals in your path, especially at night.

– When behind a car, motorcyclists should try to ride where the driver can see the motorcycle in their rear-view mirror. Riding in the center portion of the lane should put the motorcycle image in the middle of the rear-view mirror – where it is most likely to be seen.

– The most dangerous place for any rider is an intersection. That is where most motorcycle crashes take place. The most common cause of these crashes is that the car driver infringed on the motorcycle rider’s right-of-way. The best way a motorcyclist can increase his or her chances of being seen as they approach an intersection is to ride with the lights on, and in the portion of the lane that gives the best view of oncoming traffic. As a motorcyclist enters the intersection, the rider should position the motorcycle to provide a space cushion all around that allows for evasive action. Remember, the key is to see as much as possible. This will usually make the motorcycle as visible as possible.

Other motorists should also be aware of motorcycles on the roadways.

Drivers can help reduce to crashes by paying close attention to the following:

– Watch for motorcycles. Most drivers involved in a crash say they never saw the motorcycle. Make sure your view of the road is unobstructed by removing items hanging from a rear-view mirror.

– Motorcycles are smaller than cars, making it difficult to accurately determine the speed of a motorcycle. Always allow adequate room when entering the roadway upon the approach of a motorcycle.

– Keep an eye out for motorcyclists on the road, and look twice for them at intersections before proceeding.

– Check specifically for approaching motorcycles when making a left turn. Failure to see them is the most common cause of crashes between motor vehicles and motorcycles.

– Be careful not to follow a motorcycle too closely. A motorcycle stops quicker than a car or truck. The rule of thumb is to keep at least 3 to 4 seconds of time between your vehicle and a motorcycle.