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Playing it safe on motorcycles
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Not surprisingly, the high fuel prices have caused more people to turn to bicycles and motorcycles for transportation. Both are great for saving money, but they bring with them increased hazards. At a time when passenger vehicle fatalities are declining, motorcycle fatalities are rising significantly.

Many bicyclists fail to adhere to the laws that govern their usage. In fact, it is common to see bicyclists running stop signs and red lights, riding on the wrong side of the road and riding at night without a light. All of the aforementioned are dangerous, but in particular, riding on the wrong side of the road causes the most confusion for motorists. The problem with wrong-side riding is that motorists turning to the right or left at an intersection, into a driveway or alleyway are not expecting to see traffic coming from the opposite of normal traffic flow. As a result, bicyclists end up colliding with an automobile or truck, and as expected, the bike rider ends up with the injuries or death.

The need for adherence to traffic laws speaks for itself. It is a simple matter of safety and courtesy. And, California Vehicle Code Section 21200(a) states: "Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this division." To be clear, the word "highway" means any road, street, highway, freeway, etc., that is open for use by the public and is owned and/or maintained by the public. Even public parking lots are subject to the provisions of the California Vehicle Code.

There is also the issue of bicyclists wearing helmets. Persons under the age of 18 must wear a helmet. For persons 18 or older, it is not the law, but common sense dictates that helmets should be worn when riding a bicycle. Head injuries are the most common cause of bicyclists' deaths, but with a proper helmet, these injuries can be reduced.

Bicycle safety starts at a young at age, with parents having the responsibility to teach children the laws and common sense rules.

Regarding motorcycles, it seems that the fact that all traffic laws apply to them is much better understood by the public than it is for bicyclists. We are seeing more use of motorcycles in our area, and as their numbers increase, so will the frequency of motorcycle-involved traffic collisions. The danger factor for motorcycles is significant, so it is wise to take all necessary precautions to make for safe travel.

Motorcyclists must wear helmets, regardless of age. They have to obey traffic laws, but in order to survive the typical traffic and roadway dangers; frankly, they must take extraordinary measures to stay safe. Mechanical defects on a passenger car can be just an inconvenience. On a motorcycle, it can be disastrous. Frequent assessments of the motorcycle's brakes, tires, axels, lights and horn are critical to its safe operation. The rider should wear highly-visible clothing as well. And when operating a motorcycle, one of the greatest threats is motorists who are changing lanes and fail to see the motorcyclist. When I go for a motorcycle ride, even the shortest ones almost always feature at least one occasion when a passenger vehicle operator changes into my lane, forcing immediate evasive action. I am sure that those incidents are unintentional, but when riding a motorcycle, it requires an entirely new meaning to the concept of "defensive driving." Failure to practice it to the maximum will almost certainly end in the motorcyclist being struck by an errant motorist.

The rule with motorcycles is to drive with a large "space cushion," to be on the extreme alert for other motorists who do not see them and objects and debris on roadway surfaces. Motorcyclists need to be sure to be as visible as possible.

Bicycles and motorcycles are here to stay and will probably continue to increase in numbers and use. The rest of the motoring public has a responsibility to drive safely with the assumption that they may encounter bicycles and motorcycles at anytime and to drive accordingly. The best assumption for bicyclists and motorcyclists is that all other traffic is trying to kill you, and to protect yourself accordingly.