Motorcyclists Have Their Own Responsibilities On The Road

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A FEW MONTHS AGO I wrote about a woman named Lora A. Hunt from Lake Zurich, Ill. She was painting her fingernails while driving her SUV, and in the process, she rear-ended and killed motorcyclist Anita Zaffke, who was stopped for a red light. At the time, it was opined that she'd be brought up on charges of felony vehicular manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail.

A recent article in the Daily Herald, a local Chicago newspaper, reports that Ms. Hunt was indicted for "reckless homicide." The six-count indictment could mean as many as five years in prison if she's convicted.

Lake County Assistant State Attorney Mike Mermel said Hunt's actions went beyond distracted driving, and that she was oblivious to the safety of other motorists. "This was not distracted driving, but almost intentionally reckless," Mermel said. A bond of $100,000 has been set.

This is a good start. It won't bring Zaffke back, but it might make a few drivers aware of their responsibilities to the persons they share the roads with. Maybe, but I doubt it. Until legislation is passed that imposes severe prison and monetary penalties on drivers who maim or kill others due to their inattentiveness, nothing is going to change.

To show you how naive I am, the other day I heard a radio report about government efforts to make texting while driving illegal throughout the U.S. How in the hell could you ever possibly drive and text? I would never have considered the possibility. It's all I can do to find a phone number stored in my cell phone and try to connect with that.

Although the thought behind this proposal is based on common sense, I think this is another fruitless gesture, like mandating the use of hands-free devices while using a cell phone.

What was even more amazing was learning of a group fighting against the law because it considers it a violation of first amendment rights. I guess killing or maiming doesn't count as there doesn't seem to be any clause that covers the victims of people texting while driving. Perhaps it comes under the clause that defers anything not specifically covered by the Bill of Rights to the state or the people.

While being killed or injured due to another's action on the road is appalling, it's even more appalling what some motorcyclists are doing to themselves. According to confirmed statistics, from September 2007 to October 2008, there were more Marines from Camp Pendelton killed in motorcycle accidents than there were combat deaths.

Pretty shocking. I'll wager that the motorcycle death rate at other military bases tells the same story. What's interesting is that most, if not all, of these riders had to complete a rider education program before they could secure permission to ride their motorcycle on base.

Does this mean that rider education is a waste of time? Not at all. What Rider Ed can't do is change the chemical mixture in the brain that causes you to turn the throttle toward yourself when you should be turning it away. I don't know what the answer is to this problem, but it's serious, and I'm surprised that more base commanders haven't outlawed motorcycles on their facilities, which could have a severe impact on some dealers.

AN EXAMPLE: APE HANGERS

Speaking of what some motorcyclists are doing to themselves, I've noticed out here on the left coast that more and more Harley riders are equipping their bikes with ape hangers. I recall they were very popular in the '60s, and maybe into the '70s, but I know that at least in some states they were legislated out of existence. When I was living in Minnesota, I believe a law outlawed handlebars more than 8 inches over the top of the fuel tank, which effectively put an end to the fad. I assume that people put them on their bikes because they think it looks cool. Maybe, but for sure it doesn't add anything to improve handling. Any opportunity for countersteering is diminished the higher you go.

The other day I saw some ape hangers that caused the rider to be almost entirely stretched out. The only way he could have had input into the handlebars, other than a minor nudge left or right, was if he were to stand on the pegs. This is bad idea not only for the rider, but for those around him who depend on his skill and expertise to guide his ride safely through traffic and along twisty back roads. This is such a bad idea that it should be legislated out of existence.

It's easy to let motorcycle safety fall to the bottom of your priority list while you focus on business. But remember that safety is important in both keeping and gaining customers. If the general public perceives that motorcycling is unsafe, or overly risky, fewer people will be drawn to it, and customers may conclude, as they look at rising accident and fatality rates, that the activity is no longer worth the risk.

This article originally appeared in the Dealernews November 2009 issue.