Ohio’s roads can be deadly, particularly this time of year when motorcyclists are most vulnerable. Motorcyclist deaths in the U.S. occur 27 times more frequently than fatalities in other vehicles, and local law enforcement agencies are urging drivers to pay extra attention for motorcycles and urging motorcyclists to obey the laws and monitor road conditions.
There have been several fatal motorcycle accidents in the region recently.
MORE: Butler County officer dies after motorcycle accident
The number of fatal motorcycle crashes in Ohio rose 50 percent from 2013 to 2016, then declined last year.
There were 133 motorcycle fatalities in 2013 and 200 deaths in 2016, but that number fell to 157 last year, according to the State Highway Patrol crash statistics.
Sgt. Tom Bloomberg from the Hamilton Post of the Highway Patrol said motorcyclists frequently tell troopers that they have to “dodge cars” because drivers are distracted and they don’t see the motorcycles. To reduce accidents, Bloomberg said drivers need to come to a complete stop and make sure the intersection is clear.
“If you don’t,” he said, “a motorcycle can be there in a second and you will never see them.”
Hamilton Police Sgt. Brian Robinson has been riding motorcycles since he was 9 or 10 when he was on dirt bikes. He obtained his motorcycle license in his teens and today rides a 2014 Harley Davidson Ultra to work and across country.
Robinson said motorcycle riders must be more aware of traffic and never assume other drivers see them.
“I am always scanning traffic not only in front of me but several feet ahead,” Robinson said. He added motorcyclists have to be vigilant, especially on country roads, for dogs, deer and other animals that can dart into their path.
While it is not required by law, Robinson does recommend wearing a helmet.
“And I do at times, but I admit, probably not as often as I should,” he said. In a serious crash, the head hitting the pavement can lead to disastrous consequences that a helmet could have prevented, he said.
“You can recover from broken arms, broken legs and road rash, but a brain injury can result in death or seriously diminish your quality of life,” Robinson said.
Fred Geldrich, 59 of Middletown, has been riding a motorcycle for 40 years. He has been in one major wreck when he accidentally left his kick stand down, and when he went to turn his motorcycle about 100 yards later, the stand caught the road and he crashed into a guardrail in California.
His leg, which caught on the wood post, was mangled in the accident. He said his boot came off and his left leg “swung like a propeller.”
“It’s etched in your mind when stuff like that happens,” he said.
There have been what he other “close calls” too.
“Watch out for the other guys,” Geldrich said while standing next to his 2003 100th anniversary Harley-Davidson in his driveway. “Watch out for the vehicles coming in from the side, who’s coming up behind you. They will pull right out in front of you. I don’t know what’s going through their mind.”
While on a bike, you’re “totally unprotected,” he said.
Despite the dangers, Geldrich doesn’t wear a safety helmet unless he’s riding through a state where that’s a law. Along with nearly half of the states in the U.S., Ohio does not require its riders to wear helmets with few exceptions. You must wear a helmet in Ohio if you are under the age of 18 as a driver or passenger on a bike, or if you are a novice rider with a temporary valid instruction permit.
Rick Pearce, president of the Chamber serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton, enjoys riding his Harley Davidson with his wife, Saundra. Since obtaining his motorcycle license six years ago, Pearce has ridden about 60,000 miles, he said.
When he’s riding, Pearce constantly is thinking about how to avoid potential dangerous situations. He tries to always anticipate traffic flow and the actions of other motorists.
“If I get surprised, I’m not doing my job,” he said.
So when Pearce is riding on a highway, he stays in the left or right lane, avoiding the middle lane. The middle lane, he said, is more dangerous because there are motorists on both sides. He constantly checks for traffic entering and exiting the freeway. Sometimes, he said, distracted drivers don’t see motorcycles.
“Drivers are our enemy,” he said.
Motorcyclist, he said, need to keep a lengthy distance between them and the vehicles in front of them because they have to monitor road conditions. Pot holes, debris and dead animals can create dangerous situations for motorcyclists, he said.
With all the health risks associated with riding a motorcycle Pearce was asked why he rides his Harley-Davidson.
“The experience outweighs all that until the danger happens,” he said. “The sights, sounds, smells, the things you can’t experience in a car.”
As a saleswoman at Sparky’s American Motorcycle, Mary Bull encourages riders to always wear a helmet and other safety gear, including high top boots.
“You can’t preach it,” Bull said about wearing a helmet. “It’s everybody’s choice.”
Bull, 72, has been riding a motorcycle most of her life. When she hears about fatal accidents “it scares you to death.”
She has talked to customers who are riding less because they’re concerned about motorists texting, she said.
“It’s not the motorcycle that’s dangerous,” Bull said. “It’s the person on it and the person beside them, in front of them.”
Some of the blame for accidents — or near crashes — also falls on motorcyclists, Bloomberg said. He said some riders go too fast and the patrol is seeing an increased number of riders who don’t have motorcycle endorsements.
“Without an endorsement, you have no business getting on a motorcycle,” he said.
“A lot of your younger kids … they’re the ones doing all this,” Bull said while weaving her hands. “They go too fast and it’s because they’re young. They see no dangers. ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’”
Clint Ward, 46, of Middletown, said while driving along Interstate 75 between Dayton and Cincinnati, it’s common to see motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic at high rates of speeds.
“Sometimes I get the feeling they think they own the road,” Ward said. “They don’t understand that it’s hard to us to see them, especially when they’re darting through traffic.”
When Terri Back, 33, of West Chester, sees several motorcycles traveling together on the freeway, she drives away from them because of their erratic riding patterns.
“People say, ‘It’s all the drivers’ fault,’” Back said. “That’s probably true most of the time. But I have seen my share of motorcyclists riding their bikes in a dangerous manner. We have to look out for them, and they have to look out for us.”