Two-Wheeled Safety in Maine


Healthy Living - May 3, 2016
William Sturrock, MD
Did you know that May is National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month? That makes perfect sense in Maine because the roads are finally clear of ice and snow, the air temps are just high enough to avoid frost-bite at travelling speeds, and we need a way to out-run the blackflies! Although riding through the emerging spring landscape can be a great source of enjoyment for many Mainers, it is not without significant risk. Last year we had an increase in fatalities associated with motorcycle accidents to 32, the highest yet recorded since 1991 and nearly three times the 11 fatalities we had in 2015. 
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) motorcyclists make up only 3% of all registered vehicles, account for 15% of all fatalities. Per mile travelled, motorcyclists are actually 26 times more likely to die in an MVA than occupants of an automobile.  Nationally over 5,000 riders die annually. Similar to car crashes, excessive speed together with use of alcohol and driver inexperience are often factors at play in an accident. However, there is one step that cyclists can take to significantly decrease their risk of serious injury: put on a helmet!
In the US, only 19 states currently require helmet use, and Maine is not one of them. Riders often complain that helmets are hot, uncomfortable or potentially decrease their vision/hearing, but these arguments pale when contrasted with the safety statistics. Again, according to the NHTSA, if you are involved in an accident without a helmet you have a 7 fold increased chance of dying compared to your odds while wearing a helmet.  Besides, we could imagine football players having the same complaints about their helmets, but you don’t see any of them choosing to play without them!
Another healthy choice you can make if you are a motorcycle driver is to take a motorcycle safety course before venturing out as a new biker. In fact, Maine requires this of all applicants for a license, and just this past legislative session, a new bill was passed to upgrade this process. Previously the requirement was to attend an 8 hour course, but now the new course will be 15 hours in length, and include both classroom and road experience. Veteran riders who already have a motorcycle license are not required to take the improved course.
Of course, most of us enjoying our travels on the roads in Maine will not choose to become motorcyclists, but there is still something very important that all drivers can do to save lives: stay on the look-out for all two- wheeled vehicles and give them the same right-of-way that you would for any vehicle. Most accidents involving a car are the fault of the auto driver. Usually it is because they did not see the biker or underestimated that person’s speed when pulling out in front of them. Motorcyclists are taught to drive very defensively, and as one who occasionally enjoys two-wheeled transportation, I very much appreciate the chance to ‘Share the Road’ safely with you.  Let’s all work together to make the 2016 riding season safer for all!