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DC Insider: Enhanced enforcement and motorcycling

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It seems every day I read a news article detailing how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, state-level departments of transportation, or local law enforcement agencies are conducting enhanced enforcement operations targeting motorcyclists.

Often, the article will contain this phrase: “Extra officers will be on duty patrolling areas frequented by motorcyclists and where motorcycle crashes occur.”

Whether on the racetrack, trail or highway, motorcycle safety is the top priority for the AMA.

I applaud any and all efforts to reduce motorcycle crashes in an efficient and legal manner. However, I fear the drive behind many of these efforts is misguided.

Yes, motorcycle crashes have gone up. But, it is too easy to look at the raw numbers and assume that motorcycling is getting more dangerous.

For one thing, there are many more motorcycles on the road today. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of registered motorcycles has more than doubled.

Perhaps most importantly, you can’t assume that motorcyclists themselves are the cause of all of the increase in crashes.

According to the landmark 1981 Hurt report, “The most common motorcycle accident involves another vehicle causing the collision by violating the right-of-way of the motorcycle at an intersection, usually by turning left in front of the oncoming motorcycle because the car driver did not see the motorcycle.”

To use more recent data, in 2007, according to the NHTSA[1], 50 percent of all fatal motorcycle crashes involved another type of motor vehicle. In 40 percent (939) of these fatal accidents, the other vehicle turned left across the motorcycle’s path while the rider was going straight or passing or overtaking the vehicle.

I hope law enforcement agencies recognize this and tailor their enforcement strategies accordingly – enforcement should not target areas simply because they are “frequented” by motorcyclists.

Instead, enforcement should target areas where motorcyclists are at greatest risk and motorcycle crashes occur. But even then, not all of the focus should be on the rider. It also should focus on the myriad factors that cause crashes, including distracted drivers, speeding (by both passenger motor vehicles and motorcycles) and driving under the influence.  

We riders can do our part by ensuring that we can be seen. This will reduce the chance that another motorist will invade our right of way.

Drivers paying attention to, and respecting, motorcyclists will not occur until enhanced enforcement aligns to counter the causes of crashes. That is why we must ensure enforcement and education campaigns are reaching their target audiences in an effective and legal manner.


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