The electronic signs are on interstate highways across the nation: “Watch for motorcycles. Look twice, save a life.”
Just after seeing that sign last week, a motorcycle came out of nowhere, passing on my right side at more than 100 mph, and then speeding off, weaving from lane to lane. I thought to myself, “I’ll probably read this guy’s name on the news tonight.” A few hours later, I delivered the news about a fatal motorcycle crash. Was it that guy? Maybe, or maybe not. This happens with alarming frequency.
Now about that sign: I really do look for motorcycles. But if you’re zooming up behind me at 100 mph or more, I may not see you. If you’re on my bumper, and I have to brake suddenly, nothing good will come from it.
I love motorcycles. I wish I still had one. In my teens and twenties, I had a Honda 350, capable of going about 60-70 mph comfortably, or 75-80 on the freeway if needed. When I got married, my wife had no interest in riding, so I sold it. It had been a great hobby for me, and I still miss the wind, the freedom, and the gas mileage.
I can’t understand why motorcycles (or any vehicle) that can accelerate to 160 mph are legal on our highways. The so-called “crotch-rockets” are the ones involved in most of the motorcycle fatalities, according to police officers who work the accidents. They told me about a crash victim who bet a friend that he could make the round trip from Chattanooga to Atlanta in two hours. That would involve an average speed of 120. He made it down to Atlanta on I-75, turned around and headed north. He didn’t make it back home.
They tell me about the riders with no helmets. The ones who lose their lives due to a combination of speed, reckless driving and impairment (drugs, booze or both). Those wearing T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, with no protection from what they can run into at high speeds.
The cops tell me there are two kinds of riders. The majority of riders are responsible. You don’t notice them because they observe the speed limit and obey the laws. They’re just going to school or work, saving some cash in the process.
Then there are the thrill-seekers. No amount of overhead signs, public service campaigns or cautious motorists can save them. “There’s nothing we can do about them,” an officer told me. “You can’t get their tag numbers, they’re too small. We can’t chase them, because a high-speed pursuit would be even more dangerous. Besides, we can’t go that fast, we’re basically driving taxi cabs with blue lights. The only way we catch them is when they kill themselves. We just hope they don’t take anyone else down.”
He continued, “Some people want you to believe that car and truck drivers are responsible for most motorcycle fatalities, because they don’t look for bikes when they’re entering the highway or even changing lanes. That does happen, but I can tell you that most bike fatalities are caused by the riders themselves. They think they’re indestructible, but from what I’ve had to clean up on the highway, I can tell you they’re not,” he said. “They don’t have air bags, seat belts, or a few hundred pounds of sheet metal protecting them. Often it’s them vs. an 18-wheeler, and they’ll lose that battle every time.”
Another officer who specializes in reconstructing accidents placed some of the blame on YouTube. “We’ve had some guys who either try to copy the stunts they see, or are trying to put themselves on the Internet,” he said. “There are some bike groups who try to out-do each other, and then act surprised when one of their members loses his life. And these are not kids. They are old enough to know better.”
Let me repeat, the majority of motorcyclists are responsible, good drivers. I know this. I also know that some car and truck drivers are irresponsible, fast and reckless. Their weapons of choice are larger and more dangerous to others, although they have more protection for themselves.
So yes, as the highway sign says, I want to look twice for my motorcycle friends. I had some close calls myself back in the day. When I’m entering the roadway, I’m not just checking to see if a car is coming, I’m looking for motorcycles too. I hope everyone does that. But when I see those signs telling me to look for motorcycles, I want to tell my biker friends, “Let’s make a deal. I’ll look twice for you, and if you’re riding at a speed at which I can see you coming, I will see you.” I really don’t want to read your name on the news tonight.