Don’t be Lawrence of Arkansas

On this day in 1935, one of history’s most remembered motorcycle crashes occurred. Storied British warrior, archaeologist and adventurer, T. E. Lawrence — known more commonly as Lawrence of Arabia — crashed his motorcycle in an effort to avoid two young boys riding bicycles. Lawrence would succumb to his injuries six days later.

It’s fitting we recall this momentous crash because May is Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month. With the bitter cold of winter now in the collective rearview mirror, motorcyclists are returning to the open roads. Because motorcycles pose a unique set of safety concerns, we all need to increase our efforts to keep everyone safe.

These responsibilities fall into two distinct spheres: Things motorcyclists themselves should do; things the rest of us should do in the presence of motorcyclists.

First, it should be noted that increased safety isn’t just about courtesy. It’s a matter of life and death. According to a press release from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclist fatalities increased in 2012 to 4,957, accounting for 15 percent of total fatalities for the year. What’s worse, this increase in motorcycle fatalities continues a tragic trend over the last 15 years, which only saw a one-year decline in 2009. Crash-related motorcycle injuries also increased from 81,000 in 2011 to 93,000 in 2012.

As NHTSA observes, “Safe riding practices and cooperation from all road users will help reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on our nation’s highways.”

For all vehicle operators, NHTSA reminds us that we should never drive, bike, or walk while distracted. Doing so can result in tragic consequences for everyone on the road, including motorcyclists. Beyond the improved safety that following this admonishment holds, it can also spare you expensive traffic citations. As we should all know by now, texting while driving can garner a hefty fine, and citations for inattentive, careless or reckless driving are astronomical.

NHTSA also reminds us that a motorcyclist has the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as any other motorist on the roadway. Of course, the flip side of this is that motorcyclists aren’t supposed to weave through traffic, pass inside a lane or do many of the irresponsible things that we’ve all seen motorcyclists do.

To this point, we should allow a motorcyclist a full lane width. Though it may seem as if there is enough room in a single lane for a motor vehicle and a motorcycle, looks can be deceiving. Do not share the lane: a motorcyclist needs room to maneuver safely.

Perhaps the greatest piece of advice for the motorcyclist-aware traveler is to be mindful of distance. Don’t follow a motorcyclist too closely. Give yourself four or five seconds worth of distance to stop.

Lastly — and we recognize the contentious nature of this position — motorcyclists are ethically bound to wear a helmet — even if they aren’t legally bound to do so. Unless, you’re “el lobo,” a lone wolf with no family, no friends and no fetter to society, there are people who will be affected if you crash and are killed or seriously injured because you don’t like wearing a helmet.

The numbers don’t lie. As NHTSA reports, “Ten times as many unhelmeted riders died in States without a universal helmet law (1,858 unhelmeted fatalities) as compared to States with such laws (178 unhelmeted fatalities). In 2011, 60 percent of fatally injured motorcycle riders and 49 percent of fatally injured motorcycle passengers were not wearing helmets at the time of the crash.”

If you are in any way governed by rational thought, you will wear a helmet when you ride. The people who would be left behind to mourn or left to care for your broken, paralyzed and comatose body will thank you for it.