Watch for motorcycles as warmer weather arrives

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By Calen McKinney

There are more on the road now than before, thanks to climbing gas prices.

And because drivers are more likely to see them when they get behind the wheel, officials say motorcycle safety is now even more important.

May is recognized as National Motorcycle Safety Month. And with warmer weather comes the probability of seeing riders on the roadway.

David King, owner of Ready to Ride Motorsports, said the key to driving safely around motorcycles is making sure one isn't in a driver's blind spot. It's pretty easy for that to happen, he said.

"Make sure we don't put ourselves in harms way," he said.

Speed and inattention are also two factors that can cause problems for riders, according to Jim Hinton, owners of Mud and Chrome Motorsports.

"A lot of accidents, speed is a factor," he said.

And driving while distracted isn't good for anyone, Hinton said, but consequences for motorcycle riders can be grave.

Also of great importance, according to Kentucky State Police License Examiner Johnnie Tarter, who gives license exams in Taylor County, said, is wearing a helmet. Though it's not a law in Kentucky for drivers 21 and older to wear them, he said, he strongly recommends they do.

And King agrees.

"Your head's just so vulnerable with concrete or asphalt," he said.

Wearing a helmet is required of anyone younger than 21 and when a person only has a motorcycle permit, which Tarter said residents must get before they can legally drive one.

Riders younger than 21 can be cited for not wearing a helmet, Tarter said.

"It's kind of like you're on a motorcycle, your odds aren't as great either way. But if you've got that helmet on, it improves that some.

"It's the same with seat belts," he said. "More often than not, it's gonna save your life."

In order for someone younger than 18 to have motorcycle permit, he said, they must first have an intermediate driver's license. After passing the permit test, which contains 30 questions, those younger than 21 must have it for 180 days before taking the road exam. Those 21 and older have to wait 30 days.

Driving manuals are posted on the KSP website at www.kentuckystatepolice.org.

While the motorcycle permit exam does ask questions about motorcycle and general driving safety, Tarter said, it might be a bit too easy to get.

And the only requirements for motorcycle permit holders, he said, are they must wear a helmet and can't have passengers.

Unlike when someone gets an intermediate driver's license, motorcycle permit holders don't have to have a licensed driver with them and they can ride by themselves.

King said motorists are likely seeing more and more motorcycle riders on the road because of rising gas prices.

"It's hit and miss," he said. "The whole economy has affected it."

Also growing, King and Tarter say, is the number of female motorcycle drivers.

Tarter said the popularity of motorcycles spiked about four years ago. And now, he said, he sees more females and senior residents driving.

"[People] you wouldn't normally think of riding a motorcycle," he said.

Motorcycles don't require as much gas, Tarter said, and get much better mileage than cars.

To make sure they are safe, King said he is in favor of people having to take a road test before getting a motorcycle permit. He said driving a motorcycle is much different than a car.

"It takes a little more skill to drive," he said. "Nobody knows if you can really ride or not."

Braking is much different on motorcycles, King said, and some motorcycles can go much faster than cars.

King also suggests that motorcycle riders keep a safe distance between themselves and cars.

"Be on the defense," he said.

Danny Hudgins, owner of Danny's Motorcycle Sports, said he often sees riders who don't perform routine maintenance on their motorcycles. He said he has also seen some drivers using cell phones while riding, which is very dangerous.

And, Hudgins said, after rain in April, drivers need to be cautious of loose gravel that might cause problems when breaking.

"I've ran into a lot of that myself," he said.

And at night, Hudgins said, deer and other animals can cause problems for riders.

When driving a car or truck, King said, some drivers believe they can turn in front of motorcycles within the same distance they might a larger vehicle. But a bit more room - and time - is needed when turning in front of a motorcycle.

To learn more about riding a motorcycle, Tarter, King and Hudgins suggest riders attend a safety class. The closest is in Elizabethtown.

"They teach you from scratch," Tarter said.

Those who complete the class, he said, can get a discount on their insurance costs and bypass the road test to be a legal motorcycle driver.

Tarter, King and Hudgins agree that drivers of cars and motorcycles can share the road safely.

"It's feasible," King said. "It's give and take. Both need to be a little more respectful of each other. And give each other more room."

When helping people get motorcycle permits, Tarter says he tells them to keep their eyes open for motorcycles.

Most motorcycle crashes happen at intersections, he said, because it can be hard to see a motorcycle. That's why Tarter recommends drivers make sure they aren't distracted.

"You can look straight at a motorcycle and not even see it," he said. "Take that extra second and make sure there's not a motorcycle there."

Most collisions, of any type, Tarter said, can be prevented if drivers are paying attention.

"You don't have to a 100-mph joy rider," he said. "It's too easy to go too fast. Slow down. Take your time. Just be observant."

Phone calls to other motorcycle shops in Campbellsville hadn't been returned at press time.

Motorcycle permit tests are given each Thursday from 8 to 10:30 a.m. at the Taylor County Judicial Center. Road tests are Thursday afternoon by appointment. To make an appointment, call Taylor Circuit Clerk Rodney's Office at (270) 465-6686.

For more information about motorcycle safety courses, visit www.rideky.net.