Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tennessee stresses safety for bikers

With high fuel prices, even more riders expected to take to the highway in summer By CHRISTINA E. SANCHEZ • Staff Writer ( Tennessean) • July 23, 2008 With every motorcycle he sells, Danny Bost offers advice to each rider: Take a safety training course. Riders who do not heed the warning of Bost, co-owner of Bost Harley-Davidson in West Nashville, increase their chances of becoming part of a growing national trend. As more people buy motorcycles, largely because of high fuel prices, more people are dying in motorcycle crashes every year. "We send all of our new riders, and even our expert riders go to the safety training class," said Bost, who has also been a rider for 35 years. "You can always have more training and more education." Motorcycle deaths are down so far this year. But with the $4-a-gallon gas prices and the dry, sunny weather, more people are pulling their bikes out of their garages and taking them on the roads. While summer is prime time for motorcycle accidents, safety instructors and state officials hope the numbers will stay down because of an increased emphasis on safety in the past two years. "It's a jungle out there," said Ray Ashworth, a Bellevue resident who has been riding motorcycles for 44 years. "When you are riding you have to keep your focus. Riding is a risky activity." Motorcycle fatalities increased across the nation by 5 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to a recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association. Those were the latest statistics available. Meanwhile, Tennessee saw an 8 percent increase for the same time period, and a 5 percent increase in 2007, when 148 riders died. "The stats are very alarming in Tennessee, as they are across the United States, and gas prices are meaning more motorcycles on the road," said Kendell Poole, director of Tennessee's highway safety office. Poole faithfully checks the daily traffic fatality reports, and he is alarmed by the trend he has seen: Motorcycle fatalities more than doubled from 2000 to 2007 in Tennessee. Just Monday, Poole learned that four motorcycle riders had died. "We have more bikes on the road than we have ever had," Poole said. "We need to have education and enforcement. When you see these numbers, they are very alarming." Fuel efficiency sought Bost said many motorcycle dealers have seen a spike in sales. "The biggest change we have seen in the last six or eight months is that more people are looking to get a motorcycle because of the increase in fuel economy," Bost said. The average Harley-Davidson gets around 45 miles per gallon, and some can even see 70 miles per gallon, he said. The number of state-issued motorcycle registrations and licenses in recent years reflects what dealers see in the showroom. Motorcycle licenses jumped from 233,984 in 2003 to 289,984 in 2007. Also, the Department of Revenue had 8,000 more people than last year register motorcycles with the state. Tennessee has a universal helmet law, passed in 1967, that requires that all motorcycle riders wear helmets. Only 20 states have the law, while the rest have laws targeting specific groups of riders. But a helmet alone is not enough, said safety instructor John Milliken, program coordinator for the state Motorcycle Education Program. "Watch what people in cars are doing: putting on makeup, talking on the phone, eating a bologna sandwich," Milliken said. "Also, don't ride above your abilities." Two years ago, the federal government began issuing grants to states to help them promote motorcycle awareness among other drivers and to educate motorcyclists on safety. Tennessee received almost $117,000 in 2007. And crash statistics show that the effort may be working. So far this year, there have been 64 motorcycle fatalities, compared with 93 in the same period last year. Most motorcycle fatalities, however, happen between June and the end of September. Ashworth, the Bellevue rider, learned the hard way as a teen the importance of safety and using common sense. At 14, he rode a bike with a cast on his arm and slammed into the back of a car. He wasn't hurt, but he learned his lesson. "Motorcycling is not rocket science. It's a few simple skills, but you've got to do those skills well," Ashworth said. "You can never let go of your focus."

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