Distracted Driving Uptick Takes Toll on Wisconsin Motorcyclists

Wisconsin’s roads have been getting less safe for motorcyclists, reports the Journal Sentinel. According to a recent estimate from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, close to 40 percent of all motorcycle crashes involved an inattentive or distracted driver. According to legal crash investigator Tony Sanfelipo, distracted drivers have been popping up more and more in the accident reports he reviews daily for work. He’s even had close calls himself with drivers who are not paying attention, so he now has a siren and air horn on his own bike that he uses to warn motorists who appear ready to drift into his spot in traffic.

The problem of drivers not seeing motorcyclists has existed for decades, but it appears to be getting worse with more cars on the road and more gadgets competing for drivers’ attention. Andria Yu of the California-based Motorcycle Safety Foundation said that distracted drivers are a hazard to everyone on the road, with motorcycles being in an even tougher spot because they are smaller in size and more easily cloaked by a vehicle’s blind spot. Distracted driving covers a wide range of behaviors that take a driver’s attention off of the road, including eating, talking, playing with car displays, grooming and using mobile devices.

According to data from Wisconsin’s transportation department, five passengers and 52 motorcyclists have been killed in crashes so far this year, and many investigations into those incidents pointed to distracted vehicle drivers as a possible cause or contributing factor. Tom Tomann, a director with the Wisconsin chapter of the bike right and safety organization ABATE, added some detail to these statistics, saying there have been a large number of “right of way” bike crashes in the state this year. In those types of crashes, the accident happens when a vehicle driver fails to yield the right of way to the motorcyclists. For example, cars turning left and right into a bike’s path were the cause of the crash in some of those cases. The director noted that loud motorcycle exhaust pipes can help grab the attention of distracted drivers, and he also urged motorcyclists to stay vigilant and keep their skills sharp by taking safety and defensive driving classes designed specially for motorcycle riding.

Michael Casey, who is with a local firm that teaches people how to ride and race motorcycles, also advised motorcyclists to keep their cool even if they are upset or angry because they were off in traffic or run off the road by vehicle drivers who weren’t paying proper attention. According to Casey, motorcyclists don’t have the same level of physical protection that car drivers do, so road rage cases involving motorcyclists and vehicle drivers often turn out to be far worse for the bike rider.

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