It’s a great time of year to be astride a motorcycle. And given the social constraints imposed on us all by the coronavirus pandemic, taking a ride out in the sunshine and fresh air can be a fun temporary antidote to our troubles.
A bill in the Maryland Senate this year would have allowed riders older than 21 to go helmetless if they had been in the saddle for at least two years and had also taken a requisite safety course, but thankfully that legislation died in committee. The General Assembly should do nothing to change or even tweak Maryland’s helmet law. It should be simple: If you ride a motorcycle, you should wear a helmet.
It has often been said that tractor-trailer drivers and motorcycle operators are generally the best drivers on the road. That’s because they have to be vigilant at all times. Motorcyclists, especially, can’t let their guard down. After all, they don’t have tons of metal surrounding them.
Worst of all, highway study after highway study shows that other drivers often don’t really “see” motorcycles coming. At least, not as readily. Admit it, you drivers of cars, pickups and SUVs. You’ve stopped, and you were ready to pull away from an intersection when you spotted a motorcycle moving toward you. For a millisecond, its size or its one headlight didn’t register with you 100%, and you almost hit the accelerator. Then you didn’t.
Each year about 70 people die in motorcycle crashes in Maryland, with many of these fatalities occurring between May and September.
While traffic is somewhat lighter as many people still telework and limit travel during COVID-19 health emergency, the Maryland Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Administration’s Highway Safety Office and its partners are reminding riders and drivers that it remains critical to obey speed limits, be alert and share the road.
The Highway Safety Office, a unit of MVA dedicated to saving lives and reducing crashes through education and awareness, is stressing the importance of caution and adherence to speed limits even when fewer vehicles are on the road.
From January through April, crashes in Maryland involving motorcycles have declined 10.6% — 214 compared to 238 for the same period in 2019 — even though overall vehicle traffic has been down about 45% during the COVID-19 state of emergency.
St. Mary’s has seen one motorcycle fatality among its four highway deaths so far this year.
To avoid trouble, MVA tells motorcyclists:
• Gear up before you roll out. Wearing properly fitting, motorcycle-specific protective clothing can prevent serious injury in a crash. Over-the-ankle boots, gloves, a protective jacket and pants and a properly-fitted helmet with face shield or protective eyewear are all part of a full gear package. Choose riding gear that increases visibility in traffic in addition to providing protection in the event of a crash. Use bright colors and retro-reflective strips or decals, especially at night.
• Ride so you are seen. There is no one safe place to ride within a lane. Use lane positioning to be seen. Ride with your headlight on.
• Give yourself space and time to react. Allow space for emergency braking and for avoiding a crash. Make lane moves gradually and expect the unexpected.
• Ride sober. Motorcycle riding and alcohol don’t mix. Drinking slows your reaction time, affects your balance, coordination and vision, which can increase your risk of crashing.
• Signal your intentions. Always signal before changing lanes. Avoid weaving between lanes. Flash your brake light when you are slowing down and before stopping.
For drivers of other vehicles, MVA recommends:
• Look twice before changing lanes or merging into traffic. Use your mirrors and look over your shoulder to be sure it is safe before merging or changing lanes.
• Yield the right of way to an oncoming motorcycle when turning left. Violating a motorcyclist’s right of way can result in 3 points and a $1,000 fine if you cause a serious injury.
• Give plenty of space. Traffic, weather and road conditions require motorcyclists to react and maneuver differently. All drivers should allow enough room for motorcyclists to maneuver and enough time for themselves to adjust if needed.
• Use care when driving near a group of motorcyclists. Motorcyclists often participate in organized rides involving many riders. Sharing the road with these groups calls for patience and communication. If a driver needs to change lanes or reach an exit, they should signal the intention early and wait for riders in the motorcycle group to create a gap. Do not merge in between groups or riders unless there is enough space to do so safely.
Sharing the road and being careful can keep things safe for all operators of vehicles with two wheels, four or more.