By MEGAN OSBORNE
As warm weather has settled in, motorcycle season is in full swing. And that includes a reminder about safety. For some, it means taking a motorcycle safety class, as a handful of riders did recently in Huntington, completing the Basic Ridercourse developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.
"You're teaching them to respect the bike and understand it, but more importantly how to watch for danger," said Tim Clay, who runs social media at Black Sheep Harley-Davidson in Huntington. Clay formerly oversaw the Motorcycle Safety Program at the dealership.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclists made up 3 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States in 2015. There were 4,976 fatal motorcycle accidents that year (29 of those in West Virginia) and an estimated 88,000 motorcycle-related injuries. Motorcyclists accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 4 percent of all people injured.
"To me, the two biggest factors that create a situation are other drivers being distracted mixed with the inexperience of the rider," Clay said. "Something will happen, and they don't know what to do. With that lack of being in that situation, the lack of being on the road, they can't reach in and grab that and make a choice."
The class aims to teach beginners to ride defensively so they are prepared to react to potential crash situations. According to Clay, experienced riders can benefit from the beginner class as well.
"Too many people don't take the class that should," Clay said. "People who have been riding for years come into the class, and they're surprised at how much they learn. And it's good to take a refresher course in the spring just to tune up and refresh your skills before you take off riding."
Clay said in areas where motorcycling is a seasonal hobby, like the Tri-State, drivers need to re-learn to watch for motorcyclists as the bikes come out after being locked up during the winter months.
In addition to actively watching for motorcycles, drivers can make roads safer for motorcyclists by minimizing distraction and taking time to make cautious decisions.
"We can't stress enough to take a moment, slow down," Clay said. "Don't be in a rush to get through that intersection, don't be in a rush to jump the light when it turns green."
West Virginia state law requires motorcyclists to wear a helmet. Of the 31 motorcycle-related deaths that occurred in West Virginia in 2012, 45 percent of the riders were not wearing helmets, according to the NHTSA.
Motorcyclists can take steps to reduce their risk by wearing proper protective gear, making smart riding decisions and being self-aware about their own skill levels. According to the West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, some basic safety tips to remember while riding include being aware of surroundings, having smooth speed control, looking with one's head and not only relying on mirrors, maintaining a safe riding distance and practicing.