South Florida motorcycle riders urged to wear helmets
10 years after helmet law repealed
From the Palm Beach Post
A man was thrown 50 feet from his motorcycle after being
rear-ended Thursday. Earlier last week, another man was killed when
his motorcycle collided with a car. Increasingly, Palm Beach County roadways are
dangerous for motorcyclists. In the past five years, the number of motorcycle
fatalities in Palm Beach County had risen more than 60 percent, a trend that is
mirrored throughout the state.
That's why in July 2008 the Florida Legislature began mandating that motorcycle
riders attend a safety course to obtain a license and register their vehicles, a
move that safety experts say will make the roadways safer for everyone.
"I've heard cases of people going to a dealership, buying a motorcycle, getting
on it and injuring themselves or killing themselves on the way home because they
don't know what they are doing," said Ray Vega, a motorcycle instructor and the
Palm Beach County Safety Council.
In 2004, Palm Beach County had 21 motorcycle-related deaths, but that number has
increased gradually to 34 in 2008, when Palm Beach County roadways became the
third most dangerous in the state for motorcycle riders. Statewide
motorcycle-related accidents accounted for 502 deaths in 2008, according to the
Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Accidents involving motorcycles cause more injuries. Nearly 90 percent of
motorcycle accidents result in injuries compared to about 60 percent of car
accidents. Last year in Palm Beach County, 359 people were injured in motorcycle
accidents. It's not clear if the new requirement is making an impact, and
troopers are still seeing plenty of speeding motorcyclists and filling out
reports for those involved in accidents. But law enforcement said the more
educated drivers are the safer the roads will be.
motorcycle enthusiasts that are out there are very well educated and they are
good drivers," said Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Tim Frith. "The problem is the
small number of inexperienced drivers, the ones we see every weekend driving in
a reckless manner. That's the type of motorcyclist we are trying to target.
Without this law, the numbers are certainly not going to improve."
Twice a month Vega and other instructors from the Safety Council of Palm Beach
teach a three-day course on riding a motorcycle. The first day of class reviews
the basics of the motorcycle. The two other days are spent riding them in the
parking lots of Wellington and Boca High schools. Especially for novice riders
who are used to driving a car and just got their bike, the class is crucial.
About 360 students have taken the safety course this year. The course costs
"It's a lot more involved than riding a car," Vega said. "In a car you sit, give
it gas and steer. In a motorcycle you have to balance. Every part of your body
is doing something different." Many veteran motorcyclists, though, roll their
eyes at the prospect of "learning" how to ride a motorcycle. Vega was one of
them. But after taking the course he, like many students, realize that they
didn't know it all. "I get guys out there that have been riding for 50 years and
they come with an attitude, but once they take the course, they tell me how much
they learned." South Florida is particularly dangerous for motorcyclists. "We
have so many elderly people and the bikes are hard to see anyhow," Vega said.
"We have such an influx of different types of people from all over, and it makes
it a little more difficult ... to survive."