Less than 24 hours ago as I type this, I was informed of the death of a friend. A healthy, life-enjoying, laughing, story-telling friend is dead. He died as a result of a motorcycle wreck, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
In the biker community, there is a saying that there are two kinds of motorcycle riders: those that have slid and those that will slide. It is pretty much accepted that if you ride long enough, you are going to wreck. Most of the guys I know that ride, myself included, have a number of wrecks to our credit. Sometimes it is gravel where there should be none. Sometimes it is just plain bad judgment. Bad weather, mechanical failure, animals (wild and domestic), tree limbs—all of those things might contribute to a situation that no amount of riding experience will allow you to correct. We know that going in and accept it as a reasonable risk to be able to go on and enjoy that which we love. But there is one particularly rotten thing that causes an inordinate amount of motorcycle casualty incidents: People in cars.
I’m told that is what took my friend. He swerved to avoid a car that was intruding on my friend’s right-of-way and went off the road. I’m told he never regained consciousness. But why, why would a vehicle operator place their car in such a position that it would likely cause such a wreck leading to injury, expense, and/or death? It could be that the driver hates bikers. It has happened before. Someone takes that two-ton weapon and turns it on an unsuspecting citizen for some perceived wrong. It has happened but really not that frequently—lately, at least, not that anyone is admitting it. Most of the time, the driver claims that they just didn’t see the motorcycle. That is a lie. It is a lie each time someone says it. It has always been a lie. Unless it was Ray Charles at the wheel, it is a LIE!
I have been in the situation where the driver claims not to have seen me. Now, I go about 250 pounds. My old Harley is closer to 600 pounds. So, together with whatever tools and gear I’m carrying, let’s call it an even 900 pounds. My bike and I present a fairly large sight picture. We are larger than a mile marker. We are larger than a street sign. We are larger than a “STOP” sign. We are larger than freakin’ traffic signals and yes, we too have lights burning. Larger than mailboxes, and any number of things that stand close to the road for years at a time with no one running over them. Hell, folks even use them to give directions and guess what? Drivers see them. So I am somehow supposed to believe that someone whose vision is good enough to see all those other things, is somehow bad enough so that 900 pounds of polished black and chrome and other colors is invisible? Why pray tell, would such a person be allowed to drive?
Oh, yeah: IT’S A FREAKIN’ LIE!
The truth is that one sees with the brain. That is where the signals are processed and the image stored and used. The brain also does some threat analysis on the images it receives. It is how you know when to be afraid, when to run like hell, when to be ready to fight. For most drivers, it would appear that a single motorcycle and rider present either no threat or significantly less threat than other things (like talking inanities on the phone or, having to listen to a bad song on the radio, or what might happen if they don’t light and smoke a cigarette right now). Years ago, when I was paying attention to such things, I remember a report on a study that showed that drivers who were also motorcycle riders had a drastically lower incidence of “not seeing” motorcycles. Obviously, we are talking about a perception problem here and, of course, I have a solution for this problem.
I suggest we get a law passed that a biker’s friends and family are allowed to beat the hell out of anyone who admits to driving with vision so bad as to not be able to see several hundred pounds of bike and rider. My guess is that as soon as the law is passed two things would happen: 1. Drivers would begin to see individual bikers as a threat and stop pulling out in front of them (almost no one pulls out in front of a group of motorcycles because Hollywood has made sure they see a group of bikes/bikers as a threat) and, 2. They would say anything other than “I didn’t see the bike.”
I know that isn’t going to happen, at least officially, but perhaps it could be a starting point for a discussion about how to change the perception of individual motorcycles by drivers. In my not too terribly distant memory, there have been at least a couple of occupants of cars killed in collisions with motorcycles, so the perception is certainly not warranted. Maybe the permanent revocation of driving privileges would do it. Perhaps having the vision-impaired individual assume the financial responsibilities of the injured or dead bikers would cause drivers to look twice. I don’t know what it is going to take, but I know that allowing the status quo to continue is an incredibly stupid and hurtful option.
Steve Dupree’s resume includes a ’76 Triumph Bonneville, ’75 Norton Highrider, ’76 HD XLCH, and ’81 FXSB Sturgis. With a riding history that spans 30+ years, two continents, several states, and more bumps, scratches, dents, and roadside repair than he wishes to remember, Dupree learned about motorcycling and the lifestyle the hard way. Any anger he expresses, he came by honestly.