Many of you already know that May is motorcycle awareness month.
The self-appointed “wise men” and policy elites down in Salem, OR declared it (.PDF) – so it must be true! They’ve also piled on and proclaimed it to be Transportation Safety Month, further relegating the motorcycle to the “end of the line” as they blah, blah, blah, espouse the virtues of raising awareness on motorcycle safety. Why not pile on with farm tractor safety month and stop texting month too?! Why limit the pile on?
The real story is that with warmer weather approaching motorcyclists are hungry to get out on the roads and this is a good opportunity to remind riders to realize that our fellow ‘cagers’ might have forgot over the long and wet winter that they share the roads with motorcycles and to ride defensively.
Speaking of riding defensively, did you know that Oregon back in 2005 was named by the NHTSA as having the top motorcycle safety program in the nation? Either did I, yet it’s true.
And since I’m talking about defensive riding you might be interested to know what a couple of our poster child riders are up to – which serve to reinforce the public’s viewpoint of motorcyclists. Let’s highlight Mr. Richard Boedigheimer (33) who showcases “driving safe” during motorcycle awareness month: He was pulled over on Oregon 22 west of Mill City after being clocked at 140 MPH. He told the Marion County deputy that he was “just having fun” with his new girlfriend of one week who was a passenger at the time. No word on the girlfriend status after the arrest. Need more examples? How about Mr. Nicholas Houck (20), who attempted to elude state police on a H-D motorcycle without a helmet at speeds exceeding 100 MPH. First you draw attention to yourself for not wearing a helmet, in a state that requires it, then more troubling decide to elude. Mr. Houck also had a suspended license…
Notwithstanding the above poor judgment… the good news is the number of motorcycle crash fatalities in Oregon have dropped to their lowest level since 2004; the bad news is that 38 people lost their lives in motorcycle crashes in 2010 according to preliminary data from the Oregon Department of Transportation.
A report released (.PDF) this week by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that nationwide motorcycle fatalities declined in 2010 by at least 2 percent. Based upon preliminary data, GHSA projects that motorcycle fatalities declined from 4,465 in 2009 to 4,376 or less in 2010. The projection is based upon data from 50 states and the District of Columbia. The decline comes on the heels of a dramatic 16 percent drop in 2009, which followed 11 straight years of steady increases in motorcycle deaths.
The new report—the first state-by-state look at motorcycle fatalities in 2010—was completed by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. GHSA is projecting declines in approximately half of the states and for Oregon they are projected to be down 27 percent. The Oregon GHSA Vice Chairman Troy Costales credits the state’s progress to a strong training program and a new law strengthening penalties for riders who do not have a motorcycle-specific license as well as working with motorcycle clubs, who are advocates for riding safe and sober.
The disturbing news which comes with deeper analysis of the data reveals that there are some areas for concern. First, 2010’s decrease of at least 2 percent is far less than 2009’s dramatic 16 percent decrease. Second, the 2010 decrease was concentrated in the early months of the year, with fatalities actually increasing by about 3 percent in the third quarter compared with the same quarter in 2009. Additionally, with the improving economy and surging gas prices, motorcycle travel is expected to increase, thus increasing exposure to risk. Finally, motorcycle helmet use dropped from 67 percent in 2009 to 54 percent in 2010. In addition, motorcycle registrations continue to rise as the baby boom generation rediscovers riding a motorcycle.
In Oregon, the laws focus on safety and training. The 2009 Oregon Legislature passed several motorcycle safety related laws in an effort to improve safety. In 2010, the penalty for riding without a motorcycle endorsement changed from a Class B (minimum $360) to a Class A (minimum $720) violation. Changes were also made to Oregon’s motorcycle training requirements, requiring new motorcycle riders to complete an ODOT-approved training course. The law has a five year phase-in period based on the age of the rider. As of January 2011, new riders age 30 and under must complete a basic or intermediate rider training course. Additional age groups will be phased-in each year until 2015 when all new riders must take training.
Oregon has made significant progress in motorcycle safety, but I’d argue that an awareness campaign once a year is not nearly enough. Remember the rants and blog posts about those ODOT message boards? No, I’m not bitter…
Photo courtesy of NHTSA.