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Getting Schooled on Two Wheels or Four

When was the last time you brushed up your driving skills? A two and half day motorcycle rider course opened this driver’s eyes to the importance of lifelong learning.

Did you know May is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month?  It’s also Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.  What do the two have in common?  Obviously, safety.  But many teen drivers share the road with motorcyclists as well as ride motorcycles.  Additionally, while novice drivers get their first dose of driver education in their teenage years, many motorcyclists recognize the importance of getting trained, too.

Three years ago, I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s basic rider course.  No I don’t own a motorcycle or even ride on one as a passenger, nor do I have dreams of cruising the open road on a Harley (my dream bike has seat belts, a steel reinforced safety cage, crumple zones, airbags... I think you get the picture!).  As a car driver who shares the road with motorcycles, I simply wanted to expand my knowledge.  The two and a half day course certainly tested my endurance (who knew handling a motorcycle was such hard work) and patience (I had never ridden before), but it also reinforced how important it is to be 100  percent focused on what you’re doing.  Take your eyes off the road or let your mind wander for just one second and the results can be catastrophic.

If you’re thinking about learning to ride a motorcycle, have been riding for sometime but never secured any formal training, or simply want to expand your driving skills, I encourage you to enroll in a basic rider program.  If your teen is hankering to ride, successful completion of the basic rider course is mandatory for anyone under 18 seeking a motorcycle endorsement in New Jersey.   I can assure you it’s time and money well spent.  What I learned about scanning the road is worth its weight in gold.  Plus when I’m driving, I’m now more aware of motorcycles and give them additional space. 

If the thought of climbing on a motorcycle doesn’t get your engines revving, I can appreciate that -- it took me several years of talking with rider education coaches to get up the nerve to take the course.  But if you haven’t made time in the past  decade (or two or three) to brush up your driving skills, perhaps it’s time to do so.  Many local organizations including AAA, the National Safety Council (NSC) and AARP offer defensive driving courses that not only cover tips and techniques for safe vehicle operation, but recent changes to New Jersey’s motor vehicle laws.  These courses also entitle you to a discount on your insurance as well as point reduction. 

Participation in a driver education program demonstrates to teens and younger children the importance of ongoing training.  As I’ve written repeatedly in past posts, if we want our kids to do the right thing, we have to model that behavior.  When it comes to reinforcing the importance of being a lifelong learner, it’s up to us to lead the way. 

To commemorate Global Youth Traffic Safety (car crashes are the leading killer of children and teens worldwide) and Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month (despite motor vehicle fatalities declining in 2010, the latest year for which complete statistics are available, fatalities involving motorcyclists increased and represented 13.6 percent all deaths on our nation’s roadways), I encourage you to get schooled.  At the very least, spend time talking with the novice drivers in your family about sharing the road with motorcycles (you’ll be learning, too).  If your teen rides, discuss and continue to reinforce the importance of being safe on the road.  Here are a few driver and rider tips courtesy of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and NSC:

For Drivers

  • Don’t be distracted by texting or talking on a mobile device.  Remember, passengers, food, pets, grooming (the list is endless) can also prompt you to take your hands off the wheel and your eyes and mind off the road.
  • Look for motorcycles, they’re smaller than other vehicles and often harder to see.  Be extra alert when you’re driving in a mix of traffic.
  • Keep a safe following distance and don’t change lanes too close in front of a motorcyclist. 
  • Always use your turn signal (it’s the law), so motorcycles can react accordingly.
  • Keep trash, including cigarette butts, in the car.  Road debris can killer a rider.  Be sure that heavier items are well secured or stowed inside your vehicle.


For Riders

  • Get properly trained and licensed.  Studies show that trained and licensed riders are safer.  Regardless of how long you’ve been riding, take refresher courses to improve your skills.
  • Use turn signals and position yourself outside a motorist’s blind spot.
  • Always wear an approved motorcycle helmet (it’s the law in New Jersey) and other protective gear (i.e., long pants and sleeves, sturdy shoes, gloves). 
  • Never ride after drinking or taking any drugs.  Nearly half of all riders killed in motorcycle crashes had been drinking.
  • Respect your limits and the law; don’t ride faster or farther than your abilities can handle.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Moses Lonn May 07, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Strongly agree with recurrent driver training. I learned more in a 'street driving' course at Pocono Raceway than I ever thought possible. EVERYONE should know and understand what car control is all about. Ditto motorcycle control. Perhaps the best thing we can do to improve driver and passenger safety is recurrent TESTING. Right now there are far too many people out there who seem to have absolutely no clue that they are driving a 3500 pound projectile that can do real damage if their aim goes bad. I'll admit to being over 65 and I wouldn't mind having my driving skills checked out by my friendly local police officer every few years. Especially if I knew everyone else went through the same routine. Driving is a privilege - not a right.
Pam Fischer May 07, 2012 at 11:50 PM
I concur with your suggestion about retesting, but doubt that it will happen in NJ unless it applies to all drivers. As for your last statement, absolutely!
Moses Lonn May 08, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Pilots have to demonstrate proficiency to a qualified examiner every two years to retain their license. That has proven to be a good program on many levels. A re-test of driving skills every five years would be one way to keep folks 'current' with their driving skills. But as you say, it will never happen unless the Feds decide to implement a rule. And if that happens, people will scream bloddy murder. We are far too permissive a society to let facts get in the way. And the fact is that some people really cannot drive safely. Or choose not to.
Pam Fischer May 08, 2012 at 12:50 AM
So many professionals must recertify every view years, so why not drivers who are operating a machine that has the potential to hurt and kill others. As for the feds stepping in, licensing is a state issue so unlikely. A few states retest, but they're the exception not the norm
Moses Lonn May 08, 2012 at 03:06 AM
So the only thing to do is make it happen... It all starts with a dialog and goes from there to raising public awareness. The Feds set standards all the time. That's their job. Look at emission and fuel economy standards. They might be so bold as to withhold highway safety dollars in return for basic regulatory compliance. They do stuff like that all the time. Let the states make rules that achieve a national standard of competence that is in our mutual best interest. But common sense seems to be out of fashion these days. Any Congressional attempt to adopt rational minimum driver qualifications would be DOA.


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