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Motorcycle Deaths in Area Raise Concerns
Rider Inexperience Considered One Factor


By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 24, 2009


It was halfway between midnight and dawn on an August Saturday when Chris Ford's sleek Suzuki motorcycle roared along the Capital Beltway in Virginia toward a slow-moving dump truck.

The next afternoon, Marc Grant was motorcycling with friends in Calvert County when something went wrong and two bikes crashed by the side of the road.

Less than three hours later, Tony Trilli was on his motorcycle in Charles County when a speeding stolen car veered toward him from the oncoming lane.

Three men, three motorcycles, three deaths within 36 hours.

Nationally, motorcycle sales have suffered along with the economy, but hard times and high gasoline prices have put more riders on the road. Last year, highway deaths fell in almost every category except accidents involving motorcycles. Although Maryland, Virginia and the District bucked that trend, the anecdotal evidence of this summer's carnage suggests a different story when numbers are tallied for 2009.

"We're extremely concerned about the increasing number of crashes and fatalities," said Pete terHorst of the American Motorcyclist Association.

Sixty motorcyclists died on the region's roads last year, 38 of them in the District and adjacent jurisdictions, according to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency does not keep a running total of motorcycle deaths for the current year. It will use reports received from the region's scores of local, county and state law enforcement agencies to produce its 2009 report.

"With the traffic being what it is in this area, inexperienced motorcyclists are particularly likely to get into trouble," said Capt. Susan H. Culin, who commands the traffic division of the Fairfax County Police Department.

For the most part, motorcycle riders die for the same reasons that people who are driving vehicles with four wheels die: inexperience, alcohol, miscalculation and inattention to the road. But a motorcycle tends to be less forgiving than a car on all four of those counts.

Motorcyclists also are more vulnerable to mistakes by other drivers. And, like pedestrians and bicyclists, they are less visible than cars and sport-utility vehicles.

"You have to constantly have your head on a swivel," said John Krawczyk of Crownsville, who rides a 996cc Ducati. "You have to look out for yourself. You can't trust the other drivers to look."

Motorcycle fatalities fell during the 1970s, when federal pressure persuaded all but three states to require helmets. Many states have since rescinded that mandate, and now just 20 states -- including Virginia and Maryland -- and the District require them for all riders.

Although failure to wear a helmet is a major cause of fatalities, there are a number of reasons motorcycle deaths and injuries have more than doubled in the past decade. The simplest among them is that the number of people riding motorcycles has almost doubled during the same period.

In addition, the highways have become increasingly crowded, more middle-aged men are taking up motorcycling, more powerful cycles of all types are available, high-speed cycles are particularly popular among young men, and other vehicles on the road have grown larger.

"There are so many more trucks and SUVs," terHorst said. "Are you more likely to be killed in a crash with an SUV or with a [Honda] Civic hybrid?"

Three out of four motorcycle fatalities involving another vehicle occur when the other vehicle makes a left turn in front of an oncoming motorcycle, said Patricia A. Turner, who studies motorcycle accidents for the Texas Transportation Institute.

Early Tuesday, Bill Jacobs was headed south on his Harley-Davidson on Crain Highway in Glen Burnie when a driver heading the other way in an Acura made a left turn in front of him, and they collided. Jacobs died at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

About half of motorcycle fatalities do not involve another vehicle.

Jason Wright lost control of his motorcycle on Springwoods Drive in Lake Ridge, struck a concrete median and was thrown from the bike. He died March 6.

Jerald Goldsmith lost control of his Kawasaki Ninja at the Mazza Gallerie in Northwest Washington and was thrown into a parking garage wall behind the Neiman Marcus store. He died June 2.

Steve Stone's motorcycle hit a curb in Woodbridge, sending him sliding across the sidewalk and into a tree. He died June 12.

"I think it's a lot of operator error," Krawczyk said. "Guys aren't paying attention, and they aren't gearing up properly, and perhaps they need to get a little more training."

When Krawczyk, 46, returned to motorcycling after a long hiatus, he took a refresher safety course. His standard gear includes a full-face helmet, a heavily padded jacket, padded pants and boots. And he started out with a less-powerful motorcycle, moving up to the big Ducati later.

"In Europe, you're not allowed to go out and buy the biggest bike you can afford," he said. "You have to start small and work up."

A federal study of 2007 fatalities found that in more than 40 percent of cases in which crashes did not involve another vehicle, the motorcyclist was drunk. That number soared to 65 percent at night on weekends.

"You look at the effect of one drink on balance and coordination, and it's very different than driving a car," Turner said. "Between alcohol and inexperience, you have half the accidents."

Another telling federal statistic showed that although fatalities among riders 20 to 29 almost doubled in the decade ending in 2006, the number among people ages 40 to 49 tripled, and it was four times as great in the 50-to-59 age range.

"A lot of guys who used to ride 20 or 30 years ago are empty-nesters now," Turner said. "They're saying, 'I'm going to go out and get me a bike,' but the bikes are larger, faster, very different bikes than what they rode before."

Bob Tyler's Harley-Davidson "Fat Boy" swerved across the double yellow line and into the path of a Honda Accord on South Kings Highway in Fairfax County. He died June 6 at age 47.

Dan Reed was thrown from his motorcycle when he tried to avoid stopped traffic in Chesapeake Beach and was hit by a motorcycle coming in the other direction. He died April 25 at 54.

Mark Waller was just about to pass the Washington Monument on Constitution Avenue on March 8 when he missed a red light and his motorcycle plowed into an SUV. He died at age 42.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.
 

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Silent pipes take lives
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Three out of four motorcycle fatalities involving another vehicle occur when the other vehicle makes a left turn in front of an oncoming motorcycle, said Patricia A. Turner, who studies motorcycle accidents for the Texas Transportation Institute.
About half of motorcycle fatalities do not involve another vehicle.
A federal study of 2007 fatalities found that in more than 40 percent of cases in which crashes did not involve another vehicle, the motorcyclist was drunk. That number soared to 65 percent at night on weekends.
Bam, bam, and bam!
 

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Premium Member
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We should have tiered licensing for bikes, but also same with heavier or faster cars, trucks, and Suvs. Some suvs aren't much different from a small bus or commercial truck. Lets see how many people buy these tanks when they have to take extra driving courses and testing similar but not as extensive as a CDL. With the extra instruction and less unneccesary suvs(ones people buy but never do more than commute and shop with) insurance rates will go down for everybody. With less poorly trained mass moving on the roads, the injury rates will decrease. Has anybody else noticed in general how the non-pro drivers of large vehicles drive more poorly than smaller ones? I have surmised that being higher with plusher suspension and other amenities cause the driver to be less connected to the road and their surroundings, which may subconciously lower the important of those surrounding add in higher grade electronics to help confuse and distract even more, and its a wonder we dont have more people being anti-suv. I am always hearing how much a risk a motorcyclist to everyone else if they are going 30% over the speed limit, but consider speed and mass. The amount of damage a denali would cause would twice as much at half the speed limit. Owning suvs when you never trailer anything, and no more offroad than me on my rsv100r is just makes you a FELCHER. I wont compare mileage rating since our recreational sport uses gas and if you really and truly cared that much you probably would find another interest than one that requires fossil fuels.
 

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Silent pipes take lives
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I definitely agree with tiered licensing for larger vehicles.
 

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EET FUK
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instead of being able to get a learners permit for a bike and coming back 2 weeks later to pass the test they should make it mandatory for all motorcyclists to take riders education, like drivers ed. riding a bike has definately made me a better driver because im more alert and pay attention to things i wouldnt of otherwise if i was just a cager. theres alot of idiots out there who buy the biggest baddest bike to go 5423542435mph in a straight line and endanger the public themselves and damage the reputation of responsible riders and enthusiasts alike. stricter rules on motorcycle safety and training should be mandated, also the fact that there is alot of unlicensed riders on the road as well. but in the end its all a money making factor if you think about it, stricter laws for bikes or cars is going to mean less people are going to make an effort to buy them, which in turn hurts sales and the already poor economy. its really a catch 22 but if people promote the need to rider education and take it to the legislature than perhaps we might have a fighting chance. but thats just my 2 cents.
 
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