With May recognized as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, motorcyclists and motorists are being asked to share the road to help prevent accidents, injuries and deaths on local roadways.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcycle fatalities have been on the rise in recent years. In 2012, 4,927 motorcyclists were killed in traffic crashes, a continued increase from 4,630 in 2011. Those deaths accounted for 15 percent of the total highway fatalities for the year.
The number of injured motorcyclists also rose - from 81,000 in 2011, to 93,000 in 2012. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that on a per vehicle mile basis, motorcyclists are more than 26 times more likely to die in a crash than occupants of cars, and five times more likely to be injured.
Sgt. Jon Kulko of the Cape Coral Police Department's Traffic Unit explained that as summer arrives and outside temperatures get warmer, motorists can expect to see more motorcycles on the road.
"More people are out and running around. It's just a little more dangerous at this time of year," he said.
Throughout the month, the CCPD's motorcycle unit is planning special enforcements to focus on safety. The officers will stop motorcyclists to examine their reflectors, mirrors, lights and other safety equipment, as well as to make sure that the motorcycle operator is wearing proper eye protection.
"We'll be checking different motorcycles," Kulko said.
On the other hand, if an officer observes a driver violate a motorcycle's right-of-way or some other violation that could have led to an accident, the driver will be stopped and the safety issue addressed.
"This year we've had a fair share of motorcycle crashes. We're just going to keep continuing with our enforcement and awareness, so they don't continue to rise," he said, adding that both motorcyclists and motorists need to be alert when out driving around. "We're just trying to make sure everyone's aware."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offered the following tips:
- Wear a DOT-compliant helmet and other protective gear.
- Obey all traffic laws and be properly licensed.
- Never ride distracted or impaired.
- Use hand and turn signals at every lane change or turn.
- Wear brightly colored clothes and reflective tape to increase visibility.
- Ride in the middle of the lane where you will be more visible to drivers.
- Avoid riding in poor weather conditions.
"If they get in a crash, a helmet helps save their head from injuries," Kulko said.
Protective gear can protect their limbs, while eye protection keeps out the bugs and debris.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, helmet use is on the decline, dropping from 66 percent of motorcyclists wearing them in 2011 to only 60 percent in 2012.
Officials reported that head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes. It is estimated that proper helmet usage saved 1,699 lives in 2012, but another 781 lives could have been saved.
Nineteen states have a universal helmet law that requires them. In Florida, riders are not required to wear one if they are at least 21 years old and have at least $10,000 in medical coverage insurance.
- Allow the motorcycle the full width of a lane at all times.
- Always signal when changing lanes or merging with traffic.
- Check all mirrors and blind spots for motorcycles before changing lanes or merging with traffic, especially at intersections.
- Always allow more follow distance - three to four seconds - when behind a motorcycle. It gives them more time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.
- Never drive distracted or impaired.
- Motorcycle signals are often non-canceling and could have been forgotten. Always ensure that the motorcycle is turning before proceeding.
"They want to make sure they keep their eyes open," Kulko said, adding that checking blind spots and taking caution with parked cars are key. "Make sure they are always looking for the motorcyclist."
In the Cape, motorists tend to report not seeing a motorcycle as the reason for an accident. For motorcyclists, speed is a lot of times a factor that leads to the accident, according to Kulko.
"Speed, or changing lanes around an intersection," he said.
For more information on motorcycle safety, visit online at: www.nhtsa.gov.