To be safe, motorcyclists treat cars 'like an enemy'

News-DemocratMay 13, 2014 

Think driving a motorcycle is like driving a car, just with more wind?

"A lot of people underestimate the complexity of motorcycle riding," said Jeremy Rosene, who is assistant coordinator of the motorcycle rider program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. "I've heard people say it's more like driving an airplane than driving a car."

May is Motorcycle Awareness Month, which coincides with nicer weather that brings enthusiasts out in droves. But the higher number of motorcyclists yields more crashes, including three fatal accidents in the metro-east last week.

Rosene said all licensed drivers could benefit from the Motorcycle Rider Program to learn what makes a good motorcyclist and what bikers need on the road for everyone to stay safe.

Motorcyclists and their riders are entitled to all the rights and privileges as those in a passenger vehicle, Rosene added. Here is a Q&A with Rosene about motorcycle issues:

Why do motorcyclists ride where they do within a lane?

"In most cases it's to maximize visibility, both for them and for other drivers," Rosene said. "The more room they take up in a lane, the more visible they are."

That's why riders prefer riding side by side, rather than "stacked up." When more than one rides, riding to the side allows them to see better, rather than having another rider blocking their view.

Does that mean larger bikes are safer?

"Not necessarily. Larger bikes have more lights, but not as a blanket statement (they aren't safer)."

At stoplights, how much space should be left around the motorcycle? Are there special rules, or treat it like a car? How close should a rider get to the car?

"Treat it like a car. He's treating you like an enemy, I hope, someone who is out to kill him."

Motorcycles are entitled to the full width of the lane on the road and the full parking spot in lots, just like a car.

How hard is it to fall over? When a motorcycle is changing lanes or leaning into a turn, is falling a concern?

"It's kind of tough (to fall). The faster you go, the more stable you are, just like riding a bicycle when you're a kid. When you're still, it's hard to stay up. (The physics of it, with wheel speed) is the faster they go, the more likely it is they're going to stay up."

Most accidents occur at intersections, Rosene said.

How many times have you fallen, or had to lay down the bike?

"Twice. In each case I learned to go slower."

In Rosene's first fall, he was driving about 10 mph and going from an asphalt road to gravel. The second he was riding about 30 mph and it was raining, so the road became slippery. He was not injured either time.

Insurance must be expensive?

"Motorcycle insurance is generally a lot less expensive than a car. Mine is about $70 a year (for a 1982 900 Honda). They're a lot more economical than a car, and a lot more fun."

"Helmets are expensive. If you buy a less expensive, lower quality helmet, they're heavy and uncomfortable, they don't fit right," Rosene said. People are less likely to wear uncomfortable helmets.

Rosene wears a helmet. "Every time," he said.

Danger, by the numbers

* Motorcycle fatalities accounted for 16 percent of all vehicle fatalities, but about 3 percent of vehicle registrations.

* About half of motorcycle rider deaths occur in crashes involving only the motorcycle.

* About 40 percent of those motorcyclists with fatal injuries had alcohol in their bloodstream.

* The motorcyclist contributed to the cause of the crash in about 75 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes.

* Injuries result in 72 percent of all motorcycle crashes.

Source: Trooper Calvin Dye Jr., Illinois State Police

Contact reporter Mary Cooley at

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