Cruise with safety
During the summer months, tens of thousands of Iowans are going to be cruising down the highway on motorcycles. While on their hogs, riders will need to pay close attention to their surroundings to stay safe, and other drivers on the road will need to watch carefully for motorcycles around them.
According to a study done by Iowa State University, using data from the Iowa Department of Transportation, between 2015 and 2018, there were 3,924 motorcycle crashes in the state. Of those crashes, about half are single-motorcycle crashes and the other half are crashes involving a motorcycle and at least one other car or truck.
“Seventy percent of the time, when a motorcycle is involved in an accident, somebody gets hurt,” said Lt. Mark Miller, commander of the Iowa State Patrol Post 7 in Webster County. “And five percent of the time, someone dies.”
About 37 percent of the time, the lieutenant said, a motorcycle crash is caused by a vehicle turning left and not seeing the oncoming motorcycle.
“The left turns are killers all-around,” Miller said. “Use extra caution when those are happening.”
Locally, over the past two years, the Iowa State Patrol has covered 30 motorcycle accidents in the area. Those 30 accidents included six fatalities and 28 injuries.
When preparing to head out on the road for a ride, a lot of safety comes from anticipating what could go wrong. Riders should give themselves time to react if something happens to the vehicle in front of them or an obstacle enters the roadway. Miller suggests keeping space from other motorcycles and cars and having an “escape route” planned in case there is a problem.
Although the state of Iowa does not require helmet use while riding a motorcycle, Miller highly encourages their use.
“Very few people seem to wear helmets, but if you wear your helmet, it really increases your chance of surviving an accident,” he said.
Of the 3,924 motorcycle crashes studied by ISU, only about 16% of the riders were wearing a DOT-compliant helmet.
“For helmets, there’s all kinds of choices now with varying protection,” Miller said. “A full-face motorcycle helmet will give you the most protection, all the way down to the really small helmets that give you less protection, but at least they’re going to protect that top of your head.”
Motorcyclists should also not ride when they are overly tired, intoxicated or otherwise impaired.
Another common feature of summer is heavy rainstorms, which can make it more difficult for other drivers on the road to see motorcycles and for riders to see obstacles that may be in the roadway, Miller said.
In the Fort Dodge area, the local chapter of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association is an organization that prioritizes motorcycle awareness and safety in the community.
“Gold Wings is a large proponent of safety equipment,” said John Kilmer, an assistant director of the local GWRRA. “We believe in helmets, gloves, safety jackets, high-visibility fluorescents. We also believe in boots.”
The group does community outreach throughout the year to teach motorcycle safety.
“When you ride a motorcycle, you always have to be on the alert for cars, watching for traffic because traffic does not watch for you,” Kilmer said.
One of the biggest mistakes Kilmer sees younger motorcycle riders make is speeding.
“They’re young, they think they’re invincible and they don’t realize that cars do not look for motorcycles, and when you’re traveling at a high rate of speed, it’s even a larger factor,” he said.
For Miller, the issue of motorcycle safety is personal.
“I’ve been a state trooper since 1989 and I’m also a motorcycle rider, so I kind of see it from two different sides,” he said.
As a rider, Miller often notices cars following too closely behind motorcycles on the road, as well as motorcycles following cars and other motorcycles too closely.
“You need to make sure you’re leaving plenty of space between you and other bikes,” he said. “Bikes tend to group up and a lot of times they tend to get really close to each other, but you still have the same dynamics when you’re riding a motorcycle a when you’re driving a car, you have to give yourself time to react to things if something happens to the bike ahead of you. Keeping that spacing and keeping that escape route at all times is highly important.”
But Miller’s safety advice isn’t just for those riding the motorcycles — other vehicles on the road need to watch out, too.
“Cars, before you pull into the intersection, before you take a turn, check a second time,” he said. “Just take that time to look a little bit harder to see if anything is coming down that road.”