Signs like this have popped up on freeways across the nation. A few days ago, I saw one on I-24 in Chattanooga with this overhead message: “Please drive safely. Look twice for motorcycles.” A few moments later, a motorcycle came out of nowhere, zooming to my right at more than 100 mph, weaving in and out of each lane, and then taking off into the distance. The next day as I was driving westbound on I-24, about to merge on to Highway 27 north into downtown, traffic was a bit heavy. I was behind an ambulance in the right lane. The ambulance was not on an emergency trip, everyone was traveling at average speed. Again, a motorcycle suddenly appeared a few feet from my bumper in a big hurry. He was unable to pass, so he whizzed by on the shoulder, going around the ambulance and beyond, soon to terrorize other motorists. I remember thinking, “I’ll probably read this guy’s name on the news tonight.” As you know, motorcycle fatalities are a regular part of newscasts in Chattanooga and beyond.
I thought again about that sign. I really do look for motorcycles. But if you’re zooming up behind me at 100 mph or more, and you’re switching lanes every second or so, I can’t see you. If you’re on my tail, and I have to brake suddenly, nothing good will come from it.
I love motorcycles. My wife will tell you, I wish I still had one. In my teens and twenties, I had the basic Honda 350, capable of going about 60-70 mph comfortably, or 75-80 on the freeway if needed. I worked seven days a week back then, and had little time for recreational riding, but I loved every minute I was on that bike. Well, except when it was cold or rainy. When we got married, my wife had no interest in riding, so I sold it. It was a great 15-year hobby for me, and I still miss the wind, the freedom, and frankly the gas mileage.
I can’t understand why motorcycles (or any vehicle for that matter) that can accelerate to 160 mph or beyond are legal to drive on our highways. The so-called “crotch-rockets” are the ones involved in most of the motorcycle fatalities, according to my police officer friends who work those accidents. Oh, the stories they tell. Like the one about the recent crash victim who bet a friend that he could make a round trip from Chattanooga to Atlanta in two hours. That would involve an average speed of 120. He made it down to Atlanta on I-75, turned around and headed north. He didn’t make it back home.
They tell me about the riders with no helmets. The riders who lose their lives due to a combination of speed, reckless driving and impairment (drugs, booze or both). The ones wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, with absolutely no protection from what they can run into at high speeds. And they tell me about the families of riders who either die, or are permanently disabled. Someone has to break the news to them. They always ask “Why did it have to happen?”
The cops tell me there are two kinds of riders. The majority of course are responsible. You don’t notice them because they observe the speed limit and obey the laws. They’re just going to school or work, saving some cash in the process. Then there are the thrill-seekers. No amount of overhead signs, public service campaigns or cautious car and truck drivers can save them. “There’s nothing we can do about them,” an officer said. “You can’t get their tag numbers, they’re too small. We can’t chase them, a high-speed pursuit would be even more dangerous. Besides, we can’t go that fast, we’re basically driving taxi cabs with blue lights. The only way we catch them is when they kill themselves. We just hope they don’t take anyone else down with them.”
He continued, “The state wants you to believe that car and truck drivers are responsible for most motorcycle fatalities, because they don’t look for bikes when they’re entering the highway or even changing lanes. That absolutely does happen, but I can tell you that most bike fatalities are caused by the riders themselves. They just don’t have the right mindset. They think they’re indestructible, but from what I’ve had to clean up on the highway, I can tell you they’re not,” he said. “They don’t have air bags, seat belts, or a few hundred pounds of sheet metal protecting them. Often it’s them vs. an 18-wheeler, and they’ll lose that battle every time.”
Another officer who specializes in reconstructing accidents placed some of the blame on YouTube. “We’ve had some guys who either try to copy the stunts they see, or are trying to shoot video to put on the Internet,” he said. “There are some loose-knit groups here in Chattanooga who try to out-do each other, and then act surprised when one of their members loses his life. It’s not just kids either, some of these people are old enough to know better.”
Again, the majority of motorcyclists are responsible, good drivers. I know this. I also know that some car and truck drivers are just as irresponsible, fast and reckless. Their weapons of choice are larger and more dangerous to others, although they have more protection for themselves.
So yes, as the sign says, I want to drive safely, and look twice at least, for my motorcycle friends. I had some close calls myself back in the day. So as much as anyone, when I’m entering a highway, I’m not just checking to see if a car is coming, I’m looking for motorcycles too. I hope everyone does that. But when I see those signs telling me to look for motorcycles, I want to tell my two-wheel friends, “Let’s make a deal. I’ll look twice for you, if you slow down so I can see you coming.” I really don’t want to read your name on the news tonight.