Published 9:46 am Saturday, July 12, 2008

By Staff
in area
Region’s flat,
straight roads
drawing riders
Staff Writer
Beaufort, Hyde and Washington counties are among the safest counties for motorcycle riders in North Carolina, even as motorcycle-rider fatalities rise along with the number of motorcycle riders, according to AAA of the Carolinas.
Two of the biggest factors in motorcycle fatalities — and the safety of the Washington area for bikers — are topography and congestion, said Tom Crosby, vice president of communication for AAA of the Carolinas.
Lots of other people on the road and short-sight distances make driving in places like Charlotte and Raleigh dangerous, Crosby said.
In contrast, Beaufort County and many surrounding counties have flat, straight roads with little or no traffic, particularly away from main arteries.
Joe Stringer, another experienced Washington biker, said he avoids traffic whenever he can.
Crosby attributed much of the increase in motorcycle ridership to the superior gas mileage the vehicles get. Other factors in the ridership increase include lower prices for the bikes, interest from middle-aged riders and “stylish designs,” according to AAA of the Carolinas.
In 2003, 97 motorcycle riders were killed in North Carolina. In 2007, 190 were killed.
Defensive driving is key to safety on motorcycles, Stringer said. The former police chief said he makes an effort to make eye contact with other motorists, particularly those he fears are about to put him in danger.
St. Clair also attributed his years of survival atop his bike to a highly defensive mind set, but he said that many new riders, including those who take up the habit in their later years, drive as though they’re still protected by thousands of pounds of metal.
A tractor-trailer in a collision with a car will usually protect its driver better, just like a car will be more protective than any motorcycle it collides with, Crosby said.
North Carolina is the eighth-worst in terms of biker safety, according to AAA of the Carolinas. Crosby gave tempered praise to the state’s helmet law — a feature not all states have and that some states have recently repealed.
He urged motorcyclists to don helmets that are certified as having passed National Highway Safety Administration safety tests.
But AAA of the Carolinas claims that another facet of state law is a huge problem.
Drivers who want to start riding motorcycles don’t need a new license. Instead, they have to apply for a permit, which doesn’t require a skills test. The permits expire, but there’s no limit to how many times a rider may renew a permit.
There’s even less supervision for a scooter, which doesn’t require any sort of a license to drive, Crosby said.
Scooters can be dangerous because the same lack of speed that keeps them from accelerating into trouble keeps them from accelerating out of it, he said.
In accidents, scooters don’t offer much protection, either, he said.