Another deadly motorcycle season in the North Country

I know, I know.  This is one of those perennial threads that I keep foisting on In Box readers.  I keep dragging it out because the news reports — scattered across the region over weeks and months — don’t convey the full, deadly weight of this story.

All summer long, every summer, people die or are gravely injured on motorcycles in the North Country, a steady drumbeat of life-changing tragedy.  Here’s a quick survey from just the last few weeks:

A June crash in Washington County left two Vermonters dead.  In July, a Central New York man died in a motorcycle crash while riding helmetless, as part of an anti-helmet law protest.

In mid-July, a Pennsylvania man was critically injured in a motorcycle crash in the Adirondack town of Wilmington.  About the same time, a Glens Falls man was seriously injured after being thrown from his Harley.

Another Glens Falls man was hospitalized a few days later after losing control and running his motorcycle off the road.

A Chazy woman was killed in late July after she and her husband were broadsided on their Harly by a pick-up truck.

Sometimes these accidents take on a flavor of the absurd.  Last month, a Canadian couple crashed their three-wheeled motorcycle into a black bear while riding near Tupper Lake.  This from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

State troopers tell the Post-Star of Glens Falls that 69-year-old Robert MacIntyre of Orangeville, Ontario, was traveling on state Route 30 in the town of Tupper Lake near the line between Hamilton and Franklin counties when he struck the bear Thursday afternoon.

MacIntyre was able to slow down before striking the bear on its side. He and his passenger, 63-year-old Mary DeVries, were both thrown from the vehicle.

But really, there’s nothing funny about this.  Climbing on big road cycles is one of those things we Americans do because we’ve been told it’s romantic, or carefree, or family-friendly.

It’s especially popular among aging baby boomers, who are often physically incapable of managing these big machines.

Too often, people take up the hobby without assessing the risks, all too often the consequences are disastrous.

Over the weekend, two Fort Drum soldiers were killed in New Hampshire on their motorcycles, while allegedly playing cat and mouse with police.  (Motorcycle fatalities have emerged as a serious concern for the US military.)

I wonder if it’s not time to consider additional steps to make this hobby safer.  How about mandatory rider training courses — similar to hunter safety programs — that emphasize the incredible risks that cyclists take every time they climb on a machine?

Or how about a warning label on every new motorcycle that reads something like this (taken from the MassGeneral Hospital for Children website):

While five percent of all highway fatalities involve a motorcycle, only two percent of all registered vehicles are motorcycles. In a crash, motorcycles offer no protection. There is nothing between the driver and the crash. No door. No hood. No trunk. No engine. Certainly no airbag.

About twenty percent of all reported automobile accidents involve injury or death; that figure is eighty percent for motorcycle crashes. When calculated per mile traveled, the risk of dying in a motorcycle crash is sixteen times that of dying in a car crash.

What do you think?  Motorcycle tourism is a huge business in our region.  Can we make it safer?

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11 Comments on “Another deadly motorcycle season in the North Country”

  1. Jim Bullard says:

    “Can we make it safer?”

    No! As you note it is inherently dangerous. Yes, there should be mandatory training and yes the training should emphasize the risk. It might discourage a few potential riders but people choose to do risky things all the time even though they know the risks.

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  2. Gary says:

    This past weekend I noticed several motorcycles on the road. What I noticed was that many helmets and bikes was painted in bright visible colors. I will say it was much easier to see them.

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    Every time or most every time I get in a car, I know I could die before reaching my destination. That is the simple reality of moving down the road no matter what kind of vehicle you are driving or riding in.
    Factually, every day could be you last day alive, even if you don’t leave the house.
    Yes, be as safe as possible and some things are riskier than others but there is always the fickle finger of fate.
    Sometimes we act, talk and think as though no one should every die from anything.

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  4. The problem with motorcycle-riding, as Brian points out, is that, unlike, say, rock-climbing, the inherent risk is not obvious to many who choose to do it. You can’t make motorcycles safe. Riding without a helmet (speaking as one who has done it) is foolish. So is riding without protective clothing, driving too fast, going out in bad conditions and on and on. Motorcycle-riding offers a great, thrilling experience and I do think people should be allowed to do it. But they also should have a clear-eyed view of the risks, which is why pieces like this one by Brian are a public service.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  5. mary says:

    The solution to the problem cannot be more laws… and then nothing changes but the law itself. That is the legislative solution to everything and look how well we are doing with that.

    You are citing more than one state — are you saying that it should not be just a New York State issue?

    Most of the motorcycle deadly accidents are still with cars or trucks statistically. Black bears we can’t do much about. I like the signs on the 4 lane highways that warn motorists to be aware of motorcycles. We need these reminders while we are driving as motorcycles are harder to see. We need a little creative thought on how to get this message out to the drivers on the road — especially the high speed roads.

    Reckless driving is another issue entirely but is just more deadly on a motorcycles. Fort Drum probably will do something on their end since they just lost two of their own. It would be interesting to find out more about how they are handling this and what they plan on doing for soldier education.

    One last observation — why just keep track of the deaths? I would guess that th e injuries suffered in motorcycles accidents are more severe — head and spinal injuries. Maybe a little followup about what happens to the survivors would help educate people. I would bet some of the injured would be willing to help with the effort of education.

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  6. Two Cents says:

    One only need to look at Gary Busy for non-fatal, but totaly injured brain from sliding into a curb. Don’t know if he was wearing a helmet.
    As far as a “Motorcycle Training/Safety Course” like the hunter’s safety course, please no.
    Just for fun, google how many hunter’s safety instructors have shot, killed, severly injured themselves, never mind others —while GIVING the course.

    Laws do not inherently save people from themselves, or others.
    Laws set themselves up to be broken, as if a challenge.
    Even the law of gravity.

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  7. Pete Klein says:

    I guess it bugs some people when I point out people do die – eventually – of something.
    Not saying you shouldn’t take precautions. Just saying there is more to life than always worrying about death.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  8. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    I think that people should be able to live the lives (or shorten them) as they see fit. I seriously doubt any additional laws or training will change the outcome. We should respect people’s right to choose.

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  9. Sharon Wise says:

    Surely you can’t protect your children, or other people’s all the time. My son recently bought a motorcycle, much to my dismay. However he is “of age” and I really don’t have the right to instruct him any more. He is also an EMT and has “scraped” some of these victims off the pavement. He knows my concerns and he knows there are other stupid people on the road whether it be on a bike or in a car. Frankly, I think the cars are more of a hazard to motorcycles. Those who don’t stop completely at an intersection or check for oncoming traffic are sometimes the reason a biker gets hurt. There is a Motorcycle safety class given at SUNY Canton just about every weekend from the spring right through fall. My son signed up for the course before he bought his bike. It’s too bad that others don’t take the suggestion and take it too. For their safety as well as others. We shouldn’t be in so much of a hurry that we throw all our common sense to the wind.

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  10. Rich says:

    While motorcycle riding is lots of fun I gave it up not to long ago. After witnessing so many acts of stupidity by drivers of all ages and gender. I figured its just a matter of time before I ended up covered in road rash or lots worse through no fault of my own. ( kamakazee deer also scared the crap out of me more than once). Drivers in general just seem to be getting worse all the time, Cell phones, texting, whatever. Had a good run, quit biking while I,m ahead.

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  11. Phil says:

    I’m 57 and I’ve been riding since I was 21. I believe we should have graduated licenses for anyone, regardless of age, and that they be tied to engine size (like in Europe). Seems ridiculous for a first time rider to go out and get a 1200 cc bike and think they can handle it! Not only are they a danger to themselves but to anyone else on the road.

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