Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey
The past couple of weeks have been mostly meteorological nirvana for motorcyclists in the region. After a hard winter and a frustrating April, the sun and warmth of spring have finally arrived in the Laurel Highlands.
But it’s also a hazardous time. Drivers are still growing their “motorcycle eyes” as evidenced by the numerous near-misses I’ve seen already this month. Every year, PennDot and motorcycle groups like the American Motorcycle Association and ABATE issue cautionary statements urging drivers to look carefully for those single headlights before pulling into or across traffic, or changing lanes. Usually it’s June before I see a general improvement in people’s observational habits.
Drivers are not the only issue. All motorcycle riders experience that joie de vivre of the ride, but some take that joy to extreme. Speeding and weaving, pulling stunts in traffic, riding impaired, and tailgating are some of the actions I have come to call “riding stupid.” You’re having fun. I get that. But you not only risk yourself, you risk other people on the road who may have to swerve out of your way, even getting into accidents themselves.
And there’s the damage you do to the rest of us. In the minds of a disturbingly large number of drivers, all two-wheel operators fit the same bad mold. It doesn’t matter whether you ride a dual sport, standard, cruiser, chopper, sport-tourer, full-bagger, or a superbike; we all look like the same hooligan.
These are stressful times. We don’t need to be doing things that push people over the edge.
The Laurel Highlands is a great place to ride, with a plethora of twisty roads and magnificent scenery. But there are stretches that hold their own dangers.
PA 271 (Menoher, west of Viewmont) is a stretch where enormous trees line both sides of the road. It is beautiful, to be sure. But those same trees, some that are multiple feet in circumference, block the view of people pulling out of those neighborhood streets. They cautiously creep forward, trying to peer around the woods, but in that process can actually get their front end into traffic. This is a difficult enough place for cars and trucks. With motorcyles the hazards in crease.
Franklin Street in front of Memorial Hospital is another. The road surface undulates, making lane positioning a dicey proposition. Pedestrian s cross traffic between the hospital and the Doctor’s buildings across the street. Not everyone uses a crosswalk, either. During rush hour, the traffic moves in fits and starts. The possibility of someone stopping suddenly in front of you is very real. Cars and trucks deposit a layer of grease, oil, and anti-freeze onto the center of the traffic lane. Bad enough when dry, it only takes a little rain to make that surface slick. Of course, if you’re going to go down, you could pick a worse place than right in front of a hospital.
Gas station parking lots. I’m not going to pick on any single retailer here, but when you pull into or out of “gas pumpz”, know that there are no real lanes. People back up without looking, turn without looking, and even drive at dangerous speeds through the lots. People walk from the store to the pumps and vice versa with their heads down, not looking.
Shopping Center parking lots, are another place where driving lanes and speed limits seem to be optional.
The best driving or riding habit to have is what we in the military call “S.A.,” or situational awareness. Always take the time to look before pulling out, even when you have the light. And if you insist on running the yellow, at least look at the intersection instead of the light as you streak through it. Yes, you may be in a hurry, but taking that extra second or two to make sure the road is clear won’t make you later, and it will likely save a life.
Driving (and riding) is not a right. It is a privilege granted by a license. And in the larger scheme of things, a license to drive is no different than a license to practice medicine. Doctors and drivers both hold people’s lives in their hands, so the responsibilities need to be taken with deadly seriousness.
Let’s all do our level best to make the roads as safe as possible this summer.