More cycles, more danger: But the good news is, motorcycle fatalities are down
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Warm weather brings motorcycle enthusiasts out in droves to enjoy the scenery and the thrill of the open road.
On April 12, Pattie Vidzicki, a Coaldale wife and mother known for quick wit, sharp sense of humor and kind nature, died when a pickup truck pulled out in front of her as she rode on Route 54 in Barnesville.
Five days later, on April 17, a Summit Hill motorcyclist was seriously injured in a collision with a car as it pulled out of the intersection of Route 902 and Country Club Road.
Six days after that, on April 23, a Bernville man was killed and his wife injured when their motorcycle crashed into a car that had pulled out from Route 901 onto Route 209 in Norwegian Township.
The warmer weather and longer daylight hours mean more cycles are on the roads, and that means more danger of accidents.
But the good news is that motorcycle fatalities dropped nationwide in 2009, according to a report prepared for the Governor's Highway Safety Association by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. It was the first time the numbers fell since 1997, Hedlund found.
The report came out just in time for May, which is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in Pennsylvania.
Hedlund compiled the data from all 50 states, although some provided incomplete information.
According to the report, while fatality data was incomplete for the final months of 2009, the decrease for the full year nationwide is expected to be at least 10 percent. If there is a 10 percent decrease, then motorcyclist fatalities dropped from 5,290 in 2008 to no more than 4,762 in 2009.
The numbers in Pennsylvania and in our area appear to follow that trend, according to statistics provided by the state Department of Transportation.
Statewide, the number of motorcycle fatalities fell from 236 in 2008 to 204 in 2009. that's a relatively small number, given that there were 816,535 licensed cyclists in the state in 2008.
More locally, Carbon County fatalities dropped from two in 2008 to zero in 2009, and Monroe's from six to four.
Schuylkill County's rate, however, rose from five in 2008 to seven in 2009.
Hedlund wrote that "states suggested several reasons for their motorcyclist fatality decreases: less motorcycle travel due to the economy, fewer beginning motorcyclists, increased attention to motorcycle safety programs in the states, and poor cycling weather in some states.
While Hedlund attributed the drop in part to the poor economy, saying that most motorcycle riding is recreational and people just didn't have the money, that conclusion is likely to be disputed by those who ride motorcycles because they are cheaper to fuel than cars or sport utility vehicles.
One local motorcycle safety instructor says education and awareness are the most likely reasons.
"I think it's more education," said Joe Minor, who rides with the Soldiers Angels Support Team.
"More people want to learn how to avoid different situations. For example, Minor said, "riding down the highway - where to ride on the road. A lot of people don't realize where they should be riding."
Another major factor in motorcycle accidents is awareness, he said.
'You have to be aware of the situations around you. We have to not only watch where we ride, but we have to watch where everybody else is driving," he said. 'A lot of people are not paying attention. It's simple: all they have to do is pay attention and there would be less accidents."
That advice goes for the drivers of cars and trucks too.
"They need to be aware that there are other vehicles out there that are other sizes. Motorcycles are small and may not be seen by drivers of larger vehicles," he said.
Drivers and riders need to be aware of blind spots, too.
"Looking in the mirror, drivers are not always going to be able to see us," Minor said.
He advises cyclists to take safety courses.
"There are courses that AARP, motorcycle clubs and dealerships give, and they are free - so why would you not take advantage of it?" Minor said.
The Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety program lists several sites which offer courses, including Blocker Enterprises on Route 248.
You must register for the courses by calling 1-800-845-9533 or by accessing the state Motorcycle Safety program website at https://www.pamsp.com/register.aspx.