Adventures in Getting There: Motorcycle Awareness Month

Motorcycle rider heading north along Route 59.  |  Courtesy of Jessica Janek
Motorcycle rider heading north along Route 59. | Courtesy of Jessica Janek

When speaking on behalf of the DuKane Chapter of ABATE of Illinois, President Judy Kaenel asks attendees to count the number of motorcyclists they see on the road.

“People are surprised how many motorcyclists they see once they start to look for them,” she said.

Based on Illinois Department of Transportation data, more than 350,000 motorcycles are registered in the state of Illinois. With warmer weather finally here, more of those motorcyclists are likely back on the roads.

As president of the DuKane chapter of ABATE, a 500-member group aimed at increasing awareness of motorcyclist safety and rights, Kaenel said, “We try to help motorcyclists ride safer and also have motorists watch for us.”

More riders mean more accidents, with motorcyclists accounting for the vast majority of injuries and fatalities. In the first weekend of the start of motorcycle-riding season in April, Kaenel said, more than 100 motorcycle accidents were reported across the state of Illinois.

When a motorcyclist and a motor vehicle crash, the motorist often claims he or she never saw the motorcyclist.

“The stronger texting laws and cellphone laws have done little to reduce the number of distracted drivers,” she added.

As a motorcyclist, Kaenel explained, “I have to do two things — I have to watch the road, and I also have to watch for other motorists who are not watching for me.”

After our long and snowy winter, motorists need to become accustomed to the sight of a motorcycle on the road. To gain attention, the month of May has been designated as Motorcycle Awareness Month.

According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Commission June 2013 report, 47 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes involve other vehicles. In more than a third of these cases, the other vehicle violated the motorcycle’s right of way.

Alcohol was found to be the most prevalent factor in a crash when the motorcyclist was in a single-vehicle accident. Other factors contributing to fatal motorcycle crashes included operating a motorcycle in an erratic or reckless manner, failure to yield right-of-way, failure to obey traffic signs or laws, and live animals or debris in the road.

In 2012 in Illinois, 3,312 motorcyclists were injured and 1,177 suffered incapacitating injuries.

Of the 148 Illinois motorcyclists killed in 2012, 21 wore a compliant helmet, and eight wore a helmet that was not compliant. In the majority of fatalities, the motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet, which is not required under Illinois law.

Motorcyclists groups, including ABATE, question the data and conclusions of motorcycle-related accidents presented by various government agencies.

“In a fatal accident, almost all motorcyclists die from blunt force trauma to the body,” Kaenel said.

Regardless of what kind of body armor a motorcyclist is wearing in a high-speed accident, the motorcyclist will die, she added.

For motorcyclists’ own safety, wearing reflective or fluorescent clothing can increase their visibility and lower their accident risk.

In addition, Kaenel recommends that motorcyclists of all ages and experience levels enroll in a safety course.

Illinois is only one of two states that provide that training free.

“A portion of every motorcycle license renewal goes toward funding the program,” Kaenel said.

These programs give riders the tools they need to ride safely, she added.

“Every time I hear of the death of a motorcyclist brother or sister, the first thing I ask is what happened, not what they were wearing,” Kaenel said. “Motorcyclists are somebody’s mother, father, sister or brother, and they have someone who loves them, and they would like to come home, so please be aware.”