Crashes put motorcyclists on defensive

By Randy Trick

Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES - Motorcyclists on the North Olympic Peninsula said they take defensive riding very seriously, to the point they consider themselves invisible on the road.

"We share the road, but we're the ones that get the run of accidents," said Monte Cotton, owner of Olympic Powersports in Port Angeles.

"I pretty much pretend I'm invisible. I always leave myself room, never ride alongside anybody, either forward or behind them," said Cotton.

Cotton rides a ST1000 Honda and a 1976 FXE Harley-Davidson.

He has never had a crash or had to lay his bike down, he said.

But three local motorcyclists were not so lucky last week, and two others barely were.

A crash Monday on the Morse Creek curves of U.S Highway 101 east of Port Angeles claimed the life of Donald Niel Davison, 51, of Sequim.

A second crash that day, at Washington and Ninth streets in Port Angeles, sent 25-year old Christian Gentry to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

He was listed in stable condition Saturday after having regained consciousness Friday.

The family has created a Web site about Gentry's condition: www.caringbridge.org/visit/christiangentry.

On Thursday, a pileup involving three cars and one motorcycle closed Highway 101 for 90 minutes near Wal-Mart.

James Charles Hunt, 53, riding his Yamaha, was taken to Harborview, where he was treated until he was discharged on Saturday.

Kenneth Mount, 23, of Port Ludlow, and his female passenger, Melysa Willmon, 22, of Port Hadlock suffered minor injuries when Mount fell trying to make a corner on state Highway 112 on Saturday.

The crashes are a reminder that drivers need to look for motorcycles as well as cars in traffic, said Trooper Brian George, a spokesperson for the State Patrol.

Smarter and safer
But more importantly, said motorcycle journalist David Hough, riders need to ride smarter and safer.

Hough estimates he's ridden a motorcycle more than a million miles across the world and around his home in Agnew.

For 16 years he wrote the "Proficient Motorcycling" column for Motorcycle Consumer News.

In 2000 he published a compendium of his columns under the same name.

Hough has studied collision and fatality statistics from the federal government, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the insurance industry.

While the National Transportation Safety Board reported that the number of motorcycle crashes and fatalities has increased - 4,553 deaths in 2005, twice as many as in 1997 - so has the number of registered motorcycles on the road - 6.5 million in 2005.

Comparing the rate of motorcycle crashes to the number of bikes on the road shows that the crash rate has remained flat for since 2003 years - about 70 deaths per 100,000 motorcycles - and is significantly lower than the crash rate in the 1970s -as high as 94 deaths per 100,000 bikes in 1978.

The summer months are particularly dangerous.

A study by the state Motorcycle Task Force created by Gov. Chris Gregoire found that more than 80 percent of fatalities in the state occur between April and September.

Attitude counts
Experience has less to do with safe riding than attitude does, Hough said.

"It's really got to go between the ears," said Hough, who currently rides a BMW R1150 GS Sport he named "Shadowfax."

"When riding a bike down the road you need to a better motorist than the other motorists on the road," Hough said.

Hough echoed Cotton's thoughts about motorcyclists being invisible to drivers.

As smaller vehicles they fit better in blind spots, don't take up entire lanes and can be harder to see in shady parts of the road, such as where Highway 101 is surrounded by tall trees, he said.

A rider needs to keep these factors in mind, he said, and consider every car on the road one that could made an unexpected lane change, a left turn or pull out into the lane.

"Staying alive in traffic is about controlling the machine and controlling the traffic around you," Hough said.

"Motorcyclists must learn to look ahead to survive."

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Reporter Randy Trick can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at randy.trick@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 13. 2007 9:00PM
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