Harley riders still enjoy the road

Caution urged for drivers of cars and motorcycles

For Zachary Smith, 27, of Dagsboro, riding a motorcycle just once was all it took for him to be hooked.

Coastal Point • Submitted: Motorcycling enthisiasts and friends Zachary Smith, Mike Milspaw, John Milspaw and Brian Marvel stand behind their respective motorcycles.Coastal Point • Submitted
Motorcycling enthisiasts and friends Zachary Smith, Mike Milspaw, John Milspaw and Brian Marvel stand behind their respective motorcycles.

“All my friends were getting them, and after I took I ride, I wanted to get one even more,” he said.

Besides the sounds of the bike, the relaxing feeling he gets from riding and the comfort of camaraderie, he said riding can erase any negative thoughts or feelings and put life into perspective.

“It’s very relaxing and enjoyable. To have the wind in your face, it makes you feel better if you are ever feeling bad. You have to experience it to get the feeling,” he said.

He did admit that there is sense of caution for all motorcyclists, and they can never be too confident when sharing the road. When asked if he ever feels like his bike is in a permanent blindspot, Smith answered. “Oh, yes. People don’t see you. I’m always real cautious, especially coming up to intersections.”

Smith and his friends participate in various bike shows and will be attending the eighth annual Bike Week in Ocean City, Md., to be held Sept. 11-14, where some 200,000 bikers from around the country come to congregate, ride, check out area vendors and win prizes.

With Bike Week coming up and warm weather continuing on for another few months or so, now is as good a time as ever — for both motorcyclists and the car and truck drivers who share the road with them — to be more diligent, especially since there were six serious motorcycle crashes in Delaware between just Aug. 17 and 26.

Four of those crashes involved fatalities for the motorcycle rider, with serious injuries sustained by the riders in the other two crashes. One of those killed was a Fenwick Island resident, 37-year-old Robert J. Senseny Jr., whose motorcycle failed to negotiate a curve on Route 54 on Aug. 22 and flipped over several times, ejecting Senseny. He was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Delaware’s current helmet law for motorcycles requires that riders and operators older than 18 possess a helmet while riding. They are not required to wear that helmet, nor is the type of helmet required specified. Helmets and eye protection are required by the state for those 18 or younger. Some motorcyclists have opposed helmet requirements, citing personal freedom or a feeling that helmets restrict vision and movement. A more stringent helmet law was repealed in Delaware in 1978.

According to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, eight of the 12 motorcyclists fatally injured in crashes in 2006 were not wearing helmets, and safety studies indicate that helmets reduce motorcycle rider fatalities by 22 to 37 percent and brain injuries by 41 to 65 percent.

In Delaware, according to the OHS, motorcycle deaths have been on the rise since 2001 and hit an all time high in 2005, when 21 motorcyclists died in crashes. That number dropped by almost half in 2006, but it rose again in 2007, when 17 cyclists were killed. As of Aug. 18, 2008, 10 motorcyclists had been killed in Delaware since the start of this year, compared to 11 for the same period in 2007. That total for 2008 had jumped to 12 motorcycle fatalities as of Aug. 26.

Motorcyclists face

more risk

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 80 percent of motorcycle crashes injure or kill a motorcycle rider, while only 20 percent of passenger car crashes injure or kill an occupant.

For each mile of travel in 2005, motorcycle riders were eight times more likely to be injured in a crash and 37 times more likely to die than passenger car occupants. When examining rates per registered vehicle, motorcycle riders were five times more likely to die than passenger car occupants. One out of every nine U.S. road fatalities last year involved motorcycle riders.

With the lack of protection, the effects of a crash involving a motorcycle can be much more devastating than a car crash, OHS officials note. This was particularly the case in one of the recent fatal accidents, in which the motorcycle driver was ejected from his motorcycle into the path of oncoming traffic and was fatally run over by several cars.

Excessive speed has been a consistent factor in the recent accidents, according to the Delaware State Police.

“In analyzing the recent fatal motorcycle crashes, we have determined the majority of these crashes can be attributed to the operators traveling at high speeds,” explained Sgt. Joshua A. Bushweller, director of public information for the Delaware State Police.

“Motorcyclists must understand the severity of traveling too fast,” he added. “The faster a vehicle travels the greater the consequences when faced with any obstacle. In many recent cases, it has been curves that these operators could not negotiate safely. The Delaware State Police is urging motorcyclists to slow down and travel at the posted speed limits.”

He added that inexperience and a false confidence have been factors as well.

“In some cases, we have also learned that inexperience has played a factor,” continued Bushweller. “Many new motorcycle enthusiasts get right on their motorcycles after taking the necessary courses and feel a sense of security. They don’t fully understand the power that some of these bikes put out and they find themselves in a situation they cannot control.

“We encourage all riders to practice riding as much as possible to become familiar with the motorcycle and its capabilities,” he emphasized.

That’s music to the ears of devotees like Smith, who has just recently purchased his second Harley-Davidson. In warm weather, he likes to get out as much as three times a week, and he rides into the fall and winter months as well, albeit less frequently.

“Once you ride, it’s like an addiction,” he said. “You want to ride all the time.”

To allow for both a safe and pleasurable driving experience for all, the Office of Highway Safety offers these guidelines:

Motorcyclists –

• Follow posted speed limits and keep all wheels on the ground at all times

• Do not try to share a lane with a vehicle; stay in your own

• Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic;

• Never drink and ride, it is responsible for roughly a quarter of Delaware’s motorcycle deaths;

• Watch out for loose sand, gravel, debris, and uneven and textured surfaces;

• Do not pass on the shoulder;

• Suit up for safety – wear not only a helmet, but also appropriate eye gear, long sleeves, over-the-ankle boots and reflective material when riding at night;

• Keep your skills up to date by signing up for a DMV Motorcycle Training Course, either beginner or advanced.

Motorists –

• Always make a visual check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic and at intersections;

• Always allow a motorcyclist the full lane width;

• Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic;

• Allow more following distance, 3 or 4 sec¬onds, when following a motorcycle, so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emer¬gency; never tailgate.

For more information on Delaware Motorcycle Training Courses visit www.dmv.de.gov and click on Driver Services.