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May is motorcycle safety awareness month. Most people seem unaware of this, with tragic consequences. Two Milwaukee area motorcyclists were killed yesterday in what appear to be preventable motorcycle collisions accidents caused by negligent drivers.

As is often the case, one of the accidents was reportedly caused by a driver making a left turn into the path of a cyclist who had the right of way.

The second accident was a “waving through” collision—where traffic on a through highway is backed up and a polite motorist stops and waves through a car that wishes to cross through from an intersecting street. The motorist interprets the “waving through” signal as an indication that it is safe to cross through and fails to see cross-traffic, in this case a motorcyclist. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel described the accident in just this manner:

The motorcyclist was westbound on Mitchell, and traffic in the eastbound lane was backed up…A motorist in the eastbound lane made way for a northbound van to get through on 17th St., but the van was struck by the motorcycle as the bike continued west…

Motorcyclists are vulnerable; there are no fender benders when it comes to a collision with a motorcyclist. With motorcycles coming out of the garages in the warm weather that has at last arrived, we all need to adhere to safe practices on the roadway.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle has issued a proclamation that May, 2009 is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, declaring: "Motorcyclists have the right by law to the safe enjoyment of their vehicles, including the full and equal use of the roadway without encroachment by other vehicles, whether it be on city streets or rural and urban highways." Wisconsin’s motorcycle safety program includes a “Share the Road” initiative to reinforce the obligations of motorists to look for motorcyclists at all times and emphasizes the equal rights and responsibilties that motorists and cyclists share.

Missouri’s highway safety patrol recommends the following safe practices for car and truck drivers to help avoid motorcycle collisions:

-Drivers should actively watch for motorcyclists. Motorcycles may look farther away than they are due to their smaller size. It is also difficult to judge the speed at which a motorcycle is traveling as it approaches.

-Thoroughly check traffic before changing lanes. Motorcycles are hidden easily in a vehicle’s blind spots, or masked by objects or backgrounds.

-Allow extra distance between you and a motorcycle. Motorcyclists may slow down by downshifting or easing off the throttle, so you may not see a brake light.

-A motorcycle’s turn signal does not cancel after the turn like a vehicle’s signal does, so pay attention because the motorcycle may not be turning.

-A motorcyclist will often adjust his or her position in the lane in order to be seen more easily and to avoid debris, wind, or passing vehicles. Allow the motorcyclist to share the lane — don’t assume they are being reckless.

-Allow more distance behind a motorcycle when roads are wet and slippery. Stopping distance for motorcycles is similar to that of cars, but slippery pavement can make stopping quickly difficult.

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