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Protecting motorcyclists

January 02, 2004|by Bob Maginnis

On Sunday, Dec. 28, two people died when a Chambersburg, Pa., woman turned her car into the path of a motorcycle driven by William R. Harne of Mercersburg. Pa.

Such accidents happen more often than most readers might think. The U.S. National Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 1996, about 67,000 U.S. motorcyclists were involved in crashes reported to police.

Of those, about 60 percent involved a motorcycle colliding with a car. And in about a third of those car/cycle crashes, the driver turned into the path of the motorcycle.

In some cases we've heard about over the years, the driver has said things like, "I just didn't see him."

But that's anecdotal evidence that doesn't really tell the whole story. Although the cyclists weren't as massive as cars, they weren't invisible either.

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And here's another troubling part of the problem: The Motorcycle Safety Foundation, working with NHTSA, produced an "issue statement" that noted that between the mid-1980s and 1997, motorcycle fatalities declined, then rose again for the next three years.

Why the change? MSF's statement said there's no way to know, because the last comprehensive study was done more than 20 years ago. Since then, MSF noted, much has changed, including introduction of vehicles like minivans and technology like anti-lock brakes.

MSF said a new study would answer a number of questions, such as:

What are the root causes for an automobile driver's violation of a motorcyclist's right-of-way?

Such a question may be answered if the U.S. Congress approves the House Appropriations Committee's request for $2 million to study vehicle crashes in general.

Until that study is done, it will take extra care by everyone on the road to protect cyclists whose vehicles leave them more vulnerable than those of automobile drivers.

That, and perhaps some technology as well. To limit dangerous police chases of fugitives, inventors developed "stop sticks" to safely flatten the tires of fleeing vehicles. Many school buses are now topped with flashing strobe lights to increase their visibility.

In the past motorcyclists have resisted safety measures like helmets as a curb on their freedom.We urge them to keep an open mind on any new developments designed to protect them.

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