This summer has seemed interminable. Record-breaking heat, coupled with some violent storms and drought that hasn’t been seen since the Dust Bowl days of the thirties. The weather has dealt a direct blow to an already-creaky economy, driving up utility usage, damaging infrastructure, and with a slim harvest approaching, food prices will likely spike and stay high through the winter.
For a while, gas prices were headed in the right direction. But in the last few weeks, the gains have been lost to an uncertain supply situation in a market where fuel usage continues to rise.
For motorcyclists, this has been a dangerous season. Most states are reporting increases in crash-related injuries and fatalities. In addition, there have been many accidents that involved the motorcycle simply driving off the road for unknown reasons in broad daylight. You have to wonder if extended exposure to the triple-digit heat and high humidity is not taking a hidden toll.
But the increases in crashes has been readily apparent to anyone who has followed the news. For a few years I carried an updated post on my motorcycle blog, Soul of a Motorcyclist, in which I posted brief summaries of motorcycle accidents culled from the news courtesy of Google news alerts. Normally, updating the blog involved an hour or so a couple times per week, but this summer the accidents were coming so quick and fast that I finally abandoned the task.
A large majority of the accidents involved the rider being the victim of a failure to yield by a car or truck driver. The second-most often cause involved riders losing control of the bike for various reasons. But drunk riders really made the news this summer, in crashes that more often than not involved very high speeds.
The DUI and DWI accidents are worrisome. But what the increase in failure to yield accidents reveal is a continuing trend of drivers looking, but not seeing, approaching motorcycles before turning left, or pulling into intersections. One expects these kind of incidents to surge early in the riding season when bikes are re-emerging from hibernation. But by this time of the year, they are far from being a rare sight on the road. If there is any comfort in this, it’s that courts are finally acting against such drivers, charging them with felony counts of vehicular manslaughter, among other charges.
The economy is in for an extended rough ride and as gas prices continue to surge, people are going to turn to motorcycles and scooters as a way of ameliorating the impact of $4- per-gallon-plus gas prices. That means with each succeeding season, the number of bikes on the road will increase.
There was a time when scooters were limited to displacement sizes under 250cc. That meant relegating them to the light duty of city streets. But the big four of Japanese bike makers (Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Yamaha) all offer scooters in engine sizes from 500 to 700cc, making them powerful enough to tackle the interstates. Recently, BMW announced a new 650cc scooter for their Euro market, but I can’t believe that we won’t see that wearer of the blue-and-white roundel around here before too long. They’re a good choice, especially if one’s commute involves time on a freeway stopping and when going, creeping along at less than 15 mph. On a few really hot days, I was caught in construction-related slowdowns on 100-degree days, and was forced to pull off in order to let the overheated clutch shed some degrees. Scooters all have what passes for automatic transmissions, which makes the navigation of heavy traffic a good deal easier, both for the bike and the rider. Some men will resist the scooter at first, but the siren sound of 50-60 miles per gallon is likely to look pretty hairy-chested when gas prices top $5.00 per gallon.
This means that drivers will have to learn to be more observant of their two-wheeled kin, or risk going to jail or prison for a very long time.
I doubt very much that America will ever resemble most Asian countries where two-wheeled conveyances outnumber the four-wheeled vehicles. But as gas continues to climb, and consumers seek relief of any kind from the penalty of the pump, we’re going to see many more motorcycles and scooters on our streets and highways.
Hopefully, driver awareness will increase as well.