Share the road; be alert for motorcycles

With the arrival of spring weather, motorcyclists are ready to kick off this year’s riding season.

As motorcycles continue to grow in popularity among men and women of all ages, safety is a constant concern.

Last year, 84 motorcycle riders and passengers died in Wisconsin traffic crashes, which was a 28 percent decrease from 2012 when 116 riders and passengers died in crashes. Deaths among Michigan riders fell in 2013 by one, or less than 1 percent, from 129 in 2012 to 128.

More than 515,000 Wisconsin residents have motorcycle licenses or permits and more than 390,000 motorcycles are registered in the state, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. There are 480,000 licensed motorcycle riders in Michigan.

“During National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, we’re reminding drivers to share the road and watch for motorcycles, especially at intersections and while making turns and lane changes,” says Greg Patzer, manager of the Wisconsin Motorcycle Safety Program (WMSP). “Drivers frequently misjudge the speed and distance of an approaching motorcycle because of its smaller dimensions. To prevent crashes, drivers should check the position of a motorcycle at least two or three times before they proceed through an intersection or make a turn.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation offers the following tips for motorists:

– Share the road. Motorcyclists are entitled to a full lane of traffic, just like another car or truck. Moped and bicycle riders must stay to the right and share a lane.

– Keep a safe distance from the motorcycle. Because of road hazards or other traffic conditions, motorcyclists may have to swerve or stop suddenly.

– Check your blind spots before turning, changing lanes, backing up or parking. Many traffic crashes occur because a driver did not check or see the motorcyclist.

– Be extra alert for motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles at or near intersections. They are easily overlooked if traffic is heavy or the driver is in a hurry. Pay particular attention when making left turns across traffic to insure that a motorcyclist may not be coming straight through.

– Use extreme care in passing. Because of the smaller size of a motorcycle, a car or truck passing too fast or too close could blow the motorcyclist out of control. In addition, a vehicle passing too close to a motorcycle, could throw stones or other road debris at the motorcyclist.

Motorcycle operators are urged to:

– Be properly trained and to have a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license.

– Keep in mind that weather conditions, road surfaces and fatigue pose greater problems for cyclist that other motorists.

– Always wear a helmet. A good quality helmet which fits properly affords the most protection. Gloves and boots provide added protection.

– Wear brightly colored clothing so the motorcyclist is seen by other drivers. Operation of the motorcycle’s headlight (standard on most late model motorcycles) also increases the visibility of the motorcycle.

– Assume that the driver of the other vehicle does not see the motorcyclist. Always be prepared to take evasive action. Drive defensively and within the rules of the road.

– Ride near the center of the lane just outside of the grease strip. Stay out of other drivers blind spots.

– When riding in a group, do not ride two abreast in a single lane. Ride in a staggered formation, allowing a safe distance between motorcycles to maneuver in an emergency.

– Avoid excessive speed when operating the motorcycle. Slow down at night and during inclement weather, when visibility is usually reduced.

– Avoid alcoholic beverages when operating the cycle. Be aware that over the counter drugs as well as prescription drugs may have effects on the motorcyclist such as making them drowsy.

– Keep your motorcycle in good operating condition, using the safety and maintenance checks listed in the owner’s manual as a guide. When it comes to preforming those maintenance items, if the motorcyclist does not have a good understanding of mechanical maintenance techniques or lacks the appropriate tools, they should seek the help of a trained service professional.