By G. ANTHONIE RIISJune 28, 2018
It is summertime, and recreational vehicles are out in force.
Boats, jet skis, four wheelers and motorcycles are built for fun in the sun, but they also make for higher risks. While motorcycles are by far the most popular recreational vehicle, according to the Army Motorcycle Safety Handbook: For Leaders and Riders, when it comes to safety they are in a class all their own.
"Motorcycles are unlike any other recreational vehicle. Boats, Jet skis, snowmobiles, and others have their own areas, and environments that allow them to be enjoyed in relative isolation," reads the motorcycle safety handbook. "[Motorcycles] on the other hand, constantly interact with the local population. They share the same roads and environments that everyone else populates. This puts motorcycles at an extreme disadvantage."
Brian Wood, Fort Knox Motorcycle Safety specialist and avid motorcyclist, said Army standards set for service members and Army civilians are there to help motorcyclists' odds in the event of an accident.
"The Army's personal protective equipment is very effective," Wood said. "Wearing a [Department of Transportation] helmet is the single most important item of PPE cyclists should wear. It's been shown to protect you from, or at least minimize, head injuries."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclists are the clear victims in vehicle accidents and are 30 times more likely to die in a crash than occupants of a car -- five times more likely to be injured.
The state of Kentucky has evidence to back this up.
In 1998, when state lawmakers repealed the 1968 helmet law, motorcycle fatalities skyrocketed beyond 50 percent, according to transportation.ky.gov/Highway Safety Documents/Motorcycle.pdf.
The document also quotes the NHTSA finding that compared pro-helmet states saw a fatality rate of nine percent for cyclists who wore helmets compared to a 65-percent fatality rate for those who shunned helmets. The NHTSA estimates that helmets reduce motorcycle deaths 22 to 37 percent and brain injuries by 44 to 65 percent.
Wood said there are things cyclists can do to ride safer, and there are things car drivers can do to help.
"Motorcyclists should follow the techniques they learned in Motor-cycle Safety Foundations course, and if they haven't been to the course in a while or have been off the bike, they should revisit course," he said. "The course teaches bikers to replace bad habits with good ones, like driving defensively, not getting boxed in, and driving for the condition of the roadway as opposed to the speed limit."
Defensive driving helps keep everyone safer, said Wood, who encourages car drivers to give motorcycles the benefit of the doubt by providing extra space between them.
"Be on the lookout for bikes; look for them in your blind spots when switching lanes or turning," Wood said. "Use your turn signals and don't be fooled by their turn signals. Wait till they've committed to the turn -- they're actually in the act of turning -- before you proceed.
"Left-hand turns are the worst," he continued. "Either we don't see them for our blind spot, or they misjudge how fast we're coming and pull in front of us."
Risk doesn't always arrive on wheels though, said Wood. An element that adds risk to a lot of summer fun is water.
"All watercraft can be especially dangerous," Wood said. "Inexperienced operators navigating in unfamiliar waterways can be a danger [to everyone on the water."]
Wood offers one thing that everyone can do to mitigate risks on the water -- learn to swim.
"It's never too early to get your kids swimming," Wood said. "The sooner you get them swimming, the safer they'll be at the lake or at the pool in your own backyard."
People who are strong swimmers should still wear life jackets when boating, according to Wood.
"Even if you know how to swim, you should always wear an approved lifejacket whenever you're on a boat," he said. "Boating accidents are common, and you may not have time to find one and to put it on [when you need it]."
All boating should be done responsibly, said Wood, which means no alcohol.
"Mixing alcohol with boating greatly increases the risk factors," Wood said, "It's against the law, and you can be cited for boating under the influence."