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Share the road.

Much emphasis has been placed on motorcycle safety from publications to mandatory courses and check rides. Millions have been spent to train our military motorcycle operators with one goal in mind--stopping fatalities. In 2008 over 100 service members were killed in motorcycle-related mishaps, far more than that of previous years. Without turning this into a statistical report, it is safe to say that there is a percentage devoted to riders who did nothing wrong but were hit by automobile drivers who were not paying attention or "just didn't see" the motorcyclist. While looking at this percentage, it reminded me of the time when I worked at a pharmaceutical safety office as a summer intern.

My commute was over 70 miles on a popular four-lane divided interstate; the routine driving became common and boring as the summer months lagged on. I had developed a bad habit of zoning out during the drive, and cruise control didn't help matters. For the most part, I would stay within speed limits with the cruise on; but I had another bad habit of just glancing in the side mirror when changing lanes instead of performing a full check.

Everyone has heard of those "blind spots" in vehicles, and some vehicles are worse than others. I was driving an older model Mitsubishi sedan that had a fairly good blind spot at 7 o'clock. In this particular situation, I was about 20 miles from home; it was 6 o'clock in the afternoon. The speed limit on this stretch of interstate was 65 MPH at the time, and I had the cruise on at 70. I was tired, and the boredom of the road was taking over. I had some loud music on and windows up, and I was beginning to pass a semi.

This particular stretch of interstate is a main route for truckers, so lane changing happens frequently. I can't remember if I had my signal on, but as I pulled into the passing lane to pass the semi, I heard a loud thumping coming from the left rear of the vehicle. I was startled! A brief moment of fear and adrenaline rushed over me. I had no idea what was occurring. Much to my amazement, a motorcyclist was in the shoulder of the interstate running at about 70 MPH along side me, his hand on my car. He made eye contact with me and thumped the top of my roof to let me know he was okay. I'm sure he was also a little miffed, to say the least. I was shocked. I "just didn't see" him. But it was more than that. I hadn't been paying attention and let the routine of my daily drive lead to complacency.

When I arrived home I mentally reviewed what had happened. Although I was thankful that nobody became a statistic, I was still a little shaken over the near miss. Nowadays, I perform a full check of all my mirrors and blind spots, and I try not to change lanes so frequently. Moreover, I try not to become complacent while driving. I may be well protected in a car, but there are others on the roads that don't have that protection.

Motorcyclists can do everything right--training, experience, safe handling--and still be injured or killed by a driver of an auto who just isn't paying attention. Like I said, a lot of attention has been given to properly train our motorcycle operators, but I don't see a whole lot of attention towards "motorcycle awareness" for the auto drivers. While we probably can't reach the general public, we can educate our service men and women about keeping an eye out for motorcyclists. Furthermore, as the roads become increasingly more crowded over the years, we may need to take a hard look at different driving techniques for our motorcycle operators. Not just how to operate and handle a motorcycle, but how to effectively scan ahead and look for "common warning signs" from other drivers like failure to stop, aggressive driving, and failure to signal. I believe teaching defensive driving techniques to operators of autos, bikes, etc., can make a cautious driver safer. Understanding and anticipating other drivers' reactions while on the road can mean precious seconds between safety and injury. It is important that each and every one of us share and use the roadways in a responsible and safe manner. Drive cautiously, drive defensively, and arrive safely!


75% of motorcycle accidents involve collision with another vehicle, where failure of motorists to recognize the motorcycle is the leading cause.

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Author:Kurtz, Jakob Q.
Publication:Combat Edge
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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