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What Can Riders Do To Stay Safe On Two Wheels?

August 17, 2011 1:13 p.m.

As gas prices rise, more people are turning to motorcycles and scooters as an economical mode of transportation.

Related Story: What Can Riders Do To Stay Safe On Two Wheels?


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. High gas prices and crowded San Diego highways have many people searching for a solution to their daily commute. One answer seems to be a two wheeled vehicle, either a motorcycle, motor bike or scooter. Some local scooter dealers report they've seen sales jump as much as 50% in recent months. But with I lower price and more flexible vehicle also comes safety risks. The highway patrol is reporting an increase in motorcycle accidents in San Diego, and it's now engaged in a statewide safety campaign. My guests, Brian Pennings is public affairs officer for the CHP. Hello.

PENNINGS: Good afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: And Rob Gladden is here, he's vice president of the motorcycle safety foundation. Hi, Rob.

GLADDEN: Good afternoon. Glad to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Let me start with you, officer Brian Pennings. And when we say that there's a trend toward more motorcycle accidents in San Diego, what are the statistics that we're talking about?

PENNINGS: Well, we have a tremendous amount of collisions involving motorcycles, and we are seeing a rise. And it all goes back down to safety. The current statistics that I have in front of me said that we have five motorcycle fatalities in San Diego County in 2010, and already this year we had seven. And I think that may be a little bit more because some of them haven't been reported into the statewide system yet. As a public information officer I am notified and respond to most every -- most of our fatalities in East County. And we have a tremendous amount of motorcycle fatalities in our local mountains.

CAVANAUGH: I read that motorcycle accidents account for 5% of the over all accidents in San Diego County, but 30% of the fatalities. Why would that be?

PENNINGS: Well, when you're riding a motorcycle, as rob will tell you, you don't have the cushion or space around you that dissipates energy to protect the required. You -- the safety features, the air bags and restraint systems don't apply to you when you're on a motorcycle. So therefore your chances of knowing injured and or killed are at a much higher risk because you have no mechanism to dissipate the energy of the force of the collision.

CAVANAUGH: So it's not necessarily that riders are doing anything really risky. It's just that when they have an accident, they're really hurt.

PENNINGS: Well, I wouldn't say they're not doing anything risky. Some riders take a tremendous amount of risk based on some of their actions when they're driving. Not every fatality is the fault of the other motorist that's involved. Sometimes it's multiple motorcycles involved at the same time. What the required needs to realize and we'll probably touch on in just a little bit is that the consequences of much more severe. And because of that, you need to have a heightened awareness and you need to apply the basic rules because the sequences are so much greater than if you were in a car.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, rob gladden, when we talk about two wheeled vehicles, there's a great variety. We go from motorcycles to motorbikes and scooters. What differentiates them?

GLADDEN: Well, typically motorcycles are larger than scooters. Scooters may have a smaller engine so maybe they don't have as high a speed. And mopeds are gaining popularity too. You've got motorcycles that get 60 miles to the gallon. But all motorcycles, motor scooters and moped vs one thing in common. That is, the rider makes all the decisions. . Whether it's a tiny moped or an 1100 cc motorcycle, it's up to the required when they get on it to make good decision when is they're on that vehicle.

CAVANAUGH: Do some of these low powered scooters and mopeds; are there restrictions on where they can actually be operated?

GLADDEN: Yeah, if you're on a smaller vehicle, you can't ride on the freeway. There's always signs that will tell us where you should go. But what's important that people when they get on those, they understand the rules of the road. And get your license, so you're licensed by the state and you understand the rules of the radioed before you get out there.

CAVANAUGH: How much less does it take to operate a motorcycle or scooter than it would just a standard car?

GLADDEN: Well, a motorcycle or a scooter, you're using both hands and both feet. There's a lot more coordination required. It's important to understand the controls and how they affect thing have. We also encourage people and tell people, the best first ride is a basic safety rider course. You'll find five hours in the classroom, learning the rules of the road, and ten hours on how to manipulate the controls and safely pilot the vehicle.

CAVANAUGH: Right. I was talking about the cost actually of gas and things of that nature. It's much less than a regular car right?

GLADDEN: You can get a used motorcycle for just a few thousand dollars, and you're going to get 40, 50, some of the small displacement motorcycles on the road get 70 miles or greater to the gallon am so they're great commuter vehicles. Easy to park too.

CAVANAUGH: And officer Pennings, what kinds of licensing are required for people who are riding these vehicles? I know that motorcycle riders need to have a license. But can you just hop on a scooter and start driving?

PENNINGS: Well, no, you're going to -- you're going to need a -- special endorsements to ride those types of vehicles. And the reason being is the safety that, as rob was talking about, your safety is compromised when you get on a two wheeled vehicle because you don't have the cushion space around you. It's very important that you understand the dangers that are getting yourself into when you hop onto a vehicle like that. And as we say, they're gang popularity because of the price of gas. And the class M1, which the motorcycle endorsement is very important for people to understand when they obtain that, they have to have their permit first. That permit has a couple of provisions, meaning that you cannot ride on the freeway, you have to stay on surface streets, you cannot ride at night, and you cannot ride with passengers. It's for practice, and it's not until you get your full motorcycle endorsement that you can do those three things, and oftentimes we catch people who are riding outside their provisions on their motorcycle permit because they are -- they work in a certain location and have to use the freeway to get there or they have to ride at night or even they want to go on a ride and they want to take a friend with them, and they take somebody on their bike, and they're driving outside their provisions, and it's like you're driving without a license. That permit is only valid if you drive within those regulations.

CAVANAUGH: I want to get both of you in on this because I know that there are pet peeves that people have. Of drivers have against riders, riders have against drivers. Let me talk to you guys about the idea of motorcycles and scooters sort of we have gone in and out of lanes to get to the front, you know, to get to where the light is. That happens a lot. I know that it drives drivers crazy sometimes. Is that the kind of risky behavior that you discourage, rob, when you talk about safety?

GLADDEN: Yeah, when you're lane sharing as it's called in California, first of all, it's not illegal to lane share. But when you do that, you are reducing the time and space cushion you have around you to react to what other motorcyclists do. So it's in the something that we recommend that people do.

CAVANAUGH: What isn't that illegal?

PENNINGS: Well, you got to think of the intent of the legislation. Most motorcycles are air-cooled. And if you are sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the air is not flowing across the engine, you will over heat within a matter of a few minutes. Also, again, you don't have the cushion of space. So some riders will opt to split traffic and to lane share. Now, taking that into consideration, and the intent of the law, you -- that doesn't mean that it's legal for you to split lanes at a speed that I think is unsay. It's what I think is safe. So if traffic is moving and you have no business splitting traffic at all. If traffic is moving and they're doing 25 or 30, and you want to do 45 or 50, that is unsafe. And you have to split lanes legally, that is, at a safe speed. But the intent is that so the air can move over your engine. And if traffic is moving, you have no business splitting lanes.

CAVANAUGH: So that's what driver it is don't like about motorcycles and scooter drivers. But I know that the cyclists have a real problem with the fact that drivers don't look. They don't look for -- out to see if there's a motorcycle or a scooter. They're just kind of geared to see another car. And they're not looking for motorcycles. And I think that's really the hallmark of one of the projects you have under way, isn't it officer Pennings?

PENNINGS: It is. We have a very aggressive ad campaign with commercials right now regarding the observations of drivers and looking for motorcycles. And what you have to realize, as a driver of a vehicle, if you have a passenger in your car or even if you're engaged in conversation on your cellphone, it's been scientifically proven that you only perceive 50% of what's in front of you. So you're driving subconsciously because your primary mental obligation is to your conversation, whether it be with a passenger or on your cellphone. Therefore when you come up to a stop sign, you look, you glance because you're driving subconsciously, and you only perceive 50% of what's in front of you, it's very probable that you will make a right turn or left turn directly into the path of a motorcycle because you're not paying attention because your primary mental obligation is to your conversation. And drivers need it realize that that a lot of times when they we go to these vehicle versus motorcycle collisions at intersections, where motorists did not see the cyclist, they are actively engined in the conversation and did not preserve the motorcycle, which is extremely dangerous. As a required, you have to be aware of that. Look as far down the road as you can possibly see and predict what's in front of you. Just because a driver comes up to a stop sign and makes eye contact with you does not mean they see you. They may be actively engaged in a conversation on their blue tooth and not realize you're there. You have to anticipate as a required and predict whether that driver may make a turning movement directly in front of you or lane change, and so on. You also need to be careful not to ride in people's blind spots, and assume that person does not see you. Don't ride next to other people, as rob will tell you. Those are very important factors. And both on the motorists and the motorcycle required.

CAVANAUGH: Let me get Rob in. All drivers are taught to drive defensively, but this sounds like it kicks up that to a whole different level for motorcycle riders, that they really have to know what's going on and think of the other people on the road as a potential safety risk.

GLADDEN: Yeah. It's up to the motorcyclist to really be in control of their environment and be looking for everybody out there. It's also up to the motorist, though, to be making driving the priority. Put the phone down, put the Hamburger down, put both hands on the wheel and pay attention on to what you're doing. You might be amazed how many motorcycles you see if you make an active effort. A lot of that is electronic devices like phones and MP3 players, so we encourage drivers to really look for motorcyclists when they're out there. Cyclists are not going to spend much time in your blind spot. But at the same time in you're in a car, don't tailgate cyclists. Gave them room when you see them on the road.

CAVANAUGH: Motorcycle riders who are driving what you would -- everyone understands is a really powerful vehicle. But I think sometimes scooter riders take more risks. I know they're not going as fast, but it it's more of a surface street sort of a thing, and I think they feel as if they're more protected. Should they be more -- be driving more defensively?

GLADDEN: I've never seen any research that indicates that asphalt is softer if you're on a scooter rather than a motorcycle. You have all the same risks when you're on two wheels. It's really important that you wear all the same safety gear. You want to wear a high quality helmet. You should be wearing a motorcycle style jacket. Take all the same precautions as a motorcyclist on a full displacement sports bike.

CAVANAUGH: And quickly, if people want to know more about this, more information on safety tips where can they go?

PENNINGS: They can just Google motorcycle safety. And there's a whole bunch of it, not only from us but from other groups as well, the motorcycle safety foundation and so on and so forth. One more thing about the scooters, if I may, you need to watch traffic behind you because you're on the right most portion of the roadway, and you're traveling slower than traffic so make sure you're aware of your surroundings.

CAVANAUGH: We are out of time. I've been speaking with Brian Pennings and Rob Gladden. Thank you both thank you very much.

PENNINGS: Thank you.

GLADDEN: Thank you.