More cycles, worries
Amid motorcycle accident jump, demo stresses safety
By Bethania Palma, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 08/14/2007 11:18:47 PM PDT
Motorcycle stunt driver Bryan Friday maneuvers away from a car backing up, a common hazard for motorcycle drivers, during a motorcycle-safety demonstration on Tuesday at Irwindale Speedway. The demonstration was sponsored by the California Highway Patrol, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and Automobile Club of Southern California. (David Pardo/Corresponent)
IRWINDALE - The silver Ford Taurus veered sharply in front of the motorcycle rider, cutting him off. With screeching tires and smoke rising from the pavement, the crash was averted. But just barely.
This scenario was staged Tuesday by two professional stunt drivers at the Irwindale Speedway, but it happens every day on city streets, experts said.
Deaths from motorcycle-related traffic collisions have more than doubled since 1998, mainly because more people are buying the fuel-efficient two-wheelers, experts said. Registration in the state for motorcycles has increased 71 percent.
That's why the California Highway Patrol, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the Automobile Club of Southern California teamed up to demonstrate what longtime riders agreed were the three most common crash scenarios.
"Everything you see here, I've had happen to me," said Robert Gladden, project manager for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Gladden has been riding for 37 years.
Stunt drivers John Alden and Bryan Friday demonstrated what Gladden was talking about.
In one scenario, Alden backed the Taurus into Friday's path, forcing him to swerve. In another, the car and the motorcycle drove side by side until Alden suddenly accelerated to pass the motorcyclist on the left, cutting him off at the last minute, as though on a freeway exit.
In the final scenario, which officials said is most common, Alden waited in the Taurus for a minivan to pass before making a left turn while Friday tailed behind on the motorcycle, hidden from Alden's view. Alden turned directly in front of him, barely missing the biker.
CHP Officer Matt Lentz, who works in the Baldwin Park office, which includes parts of the Inland Valley, said his office had investigated 425 crashes involving motorcycles from 2005 to 2007.
Of those crashes, eight involved fatalities, he said.
So far this year, officers at the Rancho Cucamonga CHP station have investigated 64 motorcycle crashes, said Officer Sean Cooper. In roughly half of those, the motorcyclist was found to be at fault, he added.
There were 102 crashes in 2006, and 78 crashes in 2005 that the CHP station's officers investigated. The station is responsible for the 210, 10 and 15 freeways.
CHP Officer and Inland traffic management center spokesman Albert Graciano said motorcyclists and motorists need to watch out for each other or the results can be deadly.
"The No. 1 cause for motorcycle accidents are unsafe lane changes," Graciano said. "Motorists go to change lanes and they don't anticipate anyone splitting traffic. So people go ahead and change lanes and then get hit by a motorcycle or sideswipe a motorcycle."
"On surface streets, the most dangerous situations for both motorcyclists and motorists are left turns into driveways or intersections. People always see cars coming but have a difficult time seeing the silhouette of a motorcycle."
For motorcyclists, dangers come with riding too fast or splitting traffic when traffic around them is traveling at a lot slower pace, Graciano said.
Motorcyclists generally wear helmets in California and travel to Arizona if they want to ride without them, Graciano said.
"It's not really an issue out here," he said about not wearing a helmet.
Insurance companies will revoke a motorcyclist's insurance if they're caught without a helmet, Graciano said. With the recent passage of a law requiring insurance to drive in California, people do not want to take the chance of riding without a helmet, he said.
While experts agreed blame can be more or less equally shared between motorcycle riders and car drivers, it's the bikers who suffer most.
"When two vehicles get together and somebody dies, it's the motorcyclist," said Dr. Steve Bloch, the Auto Club's research analyst.
Cyclists not only lack the external protection cars offer, but they are harder to see, officials said.
"The fact that motorcyclists are so difficult for vehicles to see means (both) have to be extra careful," said Carol Thorp, spokeswoman for the Auto Club.
The main thing people need to do is stay alert and avoid distraction, Thorp said.
"Everybody's job when they're behind the wheel or the handlebars is to pay attention to the road," she said.
Staff writer Wes Woods II contributed to this report.
"So far this year, officers at the Rancho Cucamonga CHP station have investigated 64 motorcycle crashes, said Officer Sean Cooper. In roughly half of those, the motorcyclist was found to be at fault, he added."
And the other half involved motor officers.