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Our Views: Drivers, motorcyclists share responsibility for safety of bikers

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April 24, 2014

Motorcycling season is underway, despite our start-and-stop spring weather.

Already, two Janesville families are in mourning. Mitchell J. Vance, 24, and Devin J. Julius, 18, died when an SUV inexplicably crossed the centerline last Sunday night on Highway 14 just west of North Harmony Town Hall Road and smashed into the motorcyclists, who were riding with four others. Authorities spent the week trying to track down the hit-and-run driver. Debris led investigators to believe they are seeking the driver of an Infinity QX56, model year 2004-07.

All indications are that the motorcyclists were obeying the law. The two who were killed aren’t suspected of speeding and were wearing helmets, though state law doesn’t require them. Authorities found no skid marks to suggest the SUV even braked before slamming into the motorcyclists. Even if authorities find the driver, they might never learn the real reason why he or she crossed into the path of the bikers.

Vance and Julius haven’t been the only victims in the region this spring. Late Monday, a woman turning into a Portage County driveway in a minivan struck a motorcycle carrying two young adults. The crash left the families of two UW-Stevens Point students in mourning.

These tragedies are poignant reminders that in spring, summer and fall, we share Wisconsin roads with thousands of motorcyclists. Bikers and other motorists all play roles in the safety of those aboard the smaller, vulnerable vehicles.

Last year, Wisconsin had 84 motorcycle deaths. That’s down from 116 in 2012. A transportation safety expert attributed the decrease to bad weather that kept motorcyclists off the road but also to safety campaigns against drunken and distracted driving.

Motorcyclists can do much to protect themselves. Because motorcycles don’t offer the security of autos or trucks, operators must be smart, practical and educated about safety. Inexperienced operators should sign up for ABATE of Wisconsin’s Share the Road program. Never drink and ride. Obey stop signs. Use turn signals and prudent speeds. It’s wise to always wear a helmet. State statistics suggest two-thirds of those who die in motorcycle crashes aren’t wearing helmets.

As the crash in Janesville suggests, however, helmets won’t save every cyclist involved in an accident. That’s why other motorists must be extra attentive. Parents should talk with young drivers about the need for more caution during the long motorcycle season. All drivers should put down those cellphones.

Motorcyclists must use headlights, which help other motorists see motorcycles. Still, check at least twice before turning or pulling into intersections because, even with that headlight, a motorcycle can be harder to see than a car or truck.

This season, look twice, and save a life. Let’s all safely share the road in hopes of preventing more mourning.



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