The longer days and milder temperatures of April usually herald the arrival of daffodils, songbirds and short-sleeve shirts. But if you’ve been listening lately you’ve heard another sign that spring has finally sprung — the rumble of motorcycles on area roadways and highways.
Motorcycle season has arrived in Rhode Island and riders are hitting the roads after a long, cold winter. It’s a good time, motorcycle safety advocates say, to remind bikers of the importance of getting trained and wearing safety gear, and to urge car drivers to be more aware of motorcyclists.
“A large number of motorcycle accidents are caused by operator error,” says Lou Petrucci, president of the Rhode Island Motorcycle Association. “After a long, hard winter, our riding skills tend to diminish and after being laid up all winter it’s probably a good idea to look at your skills and abilities and consider taking a refresher rider course.
“I’m not putting the blame entirely on the motorcycle rider, but sometimes we tend to forget our skill limits.”
As for car drivers, Petrucci says, they should realize there are more motorcycles on the road and to be aware of their surroundings while behind the wheel.
“These days, everyone seems to be in a hurry and there are so many distractions,” says Petrucci. “I would just ask that everyone – motorcycle and car drivers alike – slow down and pay attention to the road.”
There has already been one fatal motorcycle accident in Rhode Island this spring.
Earlier this month, in Warwick, a motorcycle rider died when his bike collided with a truck on Cowesett Road. According to police, the truck was turning left onto Hardig Road and the motorcycle was traveling in the opposite direction. The operator of the motorcycle, 30-year-old John Barbour of Warwick, was initially transported to Kent County Hospital and later transferred to Rhode Island Hospital where he died. Police say the motorcycle’s speed may have been a factor in the crash.
In March, a man suffered serious head injuries after being thrown from his motorcycle on Interstate 95 in Providence. The driver was merging onto I-95 north from the Charles Street exit when he was thrown from his bike.
According to Petrucci, the majority of motorcycle accidents are single-vehicle accidents involving the motorcycle.
Motorcycle fatalities in the United States declined in 2009 and 2010, which followed 11 prior years of increases in biker deaths.
From 2006 through 2010, motorcycle fatalities in Rhode Island have fluctuated between a low of seven in 2008 to a high of 19 in 2009. Non-helmet motorcycle fatalities are once again on the rise. Nine such fatalities were recorded in 2007, and only two in 2008. There were 12 in 2009, and the trend continued in 2010, with 11 of the 15 motorcycle fatalities involving drivers not wearing a helmet.
According to Debbie Rich, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles, as of April 3, there were 29,881 registered motorcycles in Rhode Island, one of 27 states with a "partial" helmet law. That means that anyone under 21 or who is a first-year rider is required to wear a helmet.
Petrucci, a motorcycle riding instructor, was heading to Chelmsford, Mass. this past Friday to attend a Motorcycle Riders Assoc-iation conference, one of two regional conferences held annually to address national issues facing motorcyclists.
A Cranston resident, Petrucci is serving his second term as president of the Rhode Island Motorcycle Association.
“I guess my general advice is that if you’re traveling on the road, whether on a motorcycle or in a car, be aware of your surroundings,” he said.
Spring is also the time when ATV’s start to re-emerge, often giving local police a lot of headaches.
For example, last year, in an ongoing effort to catch and prosecute dirt bike and ATV riders who disregard traffic laws and ride on posted property, Burrillville Police were given the green light to purchase two duel sport motorcycles with on and off-road capabilities, and one special police mountain bicycle so they can patrol woods, pathways and other areas that squad cars cannot easily access. The department, which has been unable to effectively catch dirt bike and ATV riders who break the law, had asked the Town Council to consider approving a police ATV patrol program, which would allow officers to patrol areas that squad cars cannot access.
Dirt bikes and ATV's on private and town property has been an ongoing problem in town for years, but everything officials have done so far to curb the problem has been ineffective.
In Cumberland, officials have been grappling with ATV riders trespassing on property such as the Diamond Hill Reservoir area.
Earlier this month, state Rep. Karen MacBeth of Cumberland proposed a bill that would require ATVs to the same registration requirements as motorcycles and motorized bicycles.