How to stay safe on a motorcycle

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - As deaths from motor vehicle accidents continue to decline year after year, one accident type remains stubbornly deadly. Nationwide, motorcycle crash deaths doubled between 1999 and 2008, and this summer there have already been several fatal crashes in our area.

A police spokesman said 21 percent of the city's fatal accidents so far this year have been motorcycle accidents -- the most recent just last week -- in Kansas City, Mo., alone. As the summer months heat up, and more motorcycle riders take to the road, that percentage may rise.

But motorcycle riding doesn't have to be dangerous, riders and transit officials say. Simple precautions for bikers and drivers alike can make the roadways a safer place.

"The one no-brainer thing that motorcyclists do is they don't learn to ride," explained Gail, the owner of Gail's Harley Davidson, who has no last name. "If you learn to ride... No problem."

Many dealerships and private motorcycle schools offer classes, some taught by former or current motorcycle-mounted police.

A MoDOT spokesman told 41 Action News that the simplest way to save motorcycle riders' lives is to wear a helmet. A DOT-approved helmet reduces the chance of dying in a crash by 40 percent, and 19 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have mandatory helmet laws. Missouri requires riders of all ages to wear a DOT-approved helmet. Kansas requires helmets only for riders younger than 18.

"I have talked to a lot of people who have had accident wearing helmets and leather, and they have told me 'oh my gosh, I'm so happy I had my helmet on. I'm so happy I was wearing leather,'" Gail said.

Other riders called helmets a nuisance.

"If it was my choice, I wouldn't wear a helmet," said rider Shawn Lopez, who has broken 42 bones in 35 years of riding and racing bikes. "It should be your choice to ride with a helmet or without a helmet."

Bikers and safety experts agree that drivers can improve bikers' safety, and their own, by keeping their focus on the road.

"I've had three instances last year where I about got hit, and each one of them somebody was on a cellphone," Lopez said.

"They need to watch for motorcycles. It's so easy when you're in a car not to really pay attention," said Gail.

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