Although it is difficult to trace the first motorcycle back to its origins, the first prototype motorcycle came into being in Paris in 1867. It was little more than a steam-powered bicycle called a Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede. Then in 1884, the first commercial design of a motorcycle appeared in England. This was a full two years before Karl Benz, of Mercedes-Benz fame, was credited with creating the first automobile that was powered by an internal combustion engine. It wasn’t until 1894, however, that Heinrich and Wilhelm Hildebran partnered with Alois Wolfmuller to create the first mass-produced motorcycle. It would not be until more than a decade later that the mass production of automobiles began.
There is a lot of information to be found about the development of the various types of engines that were tried before the internal combustion engine met with such great success. It’s a lot more difficult to track exactly how and why contention exists between many motorcyclists and automobile drivers. Even with well over a century of traveling the roadways together, there still seems to be those bikers who think that drivers needlessly endanger them, and there are those drivers who seem to think that bikers behave irresponsibly, not following the same rules of the road that apply to everyone else.
I have been riding a motorcycle for more than 15 years, and I have never had an accident. I understand the risks that I face when on a motorcycle, as well as the potential risk that my actions can pose to others on the road. Unfortunately, there is a small segment of motorcyclists who don’t take these things into account, and an equal number of drivers who consistently fail to provide motorcycles the latitude needed to remain safe.
Typically, motorcycles are faster than cars. This coupled with the sense of freedom that motorcycles afford make them inherently more dangerous than cars. Put someone with an invincibility complex on a bike, stir in a measure of the motorcycle’s added maneuverability, and you often end up with a jackass who weaves in and out of traffic, tailgates, or otherwise engages in reckless behavior.
Then you have to factor in the jackass drivers who often think that anyone on a motorcycle is an irresponsible jerk. This can be especially true for those judgmental drivers who have a skewed perception of motorcyclists who choose to adopt a “biker look.” Sadly, in this day and age of social diversity, there are still those who see some guy on a motorcycle with long hair and tattoos and automatically think, “Criminal!”
The responsibility for accidents that involve motorcycle is probably somewhere in between the two camps. The University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research conducted a 10-year study that found that 60% of accidents that involve a motorcycle and a vehicle were the result of the other vehicle failing to yield the right-of-way. Before you motorcyclists do a little victory dance in your living room, you should keep a couple of things in mind. First, the same study showed that motorcycles have a much higher single-vehicle incident rate. Thirty-four percent of accidents that involve motorcycles occur with no interference from other vehicles. Secondly, a motorcycle doesn’t provide nearly as much protection to its operator as a car or truck offers. A motorcycle accident is 35 times more likely to result in a fatality, and nearly 90 percent of all motorcycle accidents result in injuries. This is 30 percent higher than the amount of injuries sustained in a car accident. Consequently, it doesn’t matter if you are right if you are seriously injured or dead.
These figures exist in spite of rigorous advertising through the use of billboards and bumper stickers to “Look Twice Save a Life – Motorcycles Are Everywhere.” They strongly caution us to watch out for motorcycles, and there is a good reason for that. The State of Florida bears the dubious distinction of having the greatest number of motorcycle fatalities. In fact, of the top seven Florida counties where motorcycle fatalities occur, three of them are right here in South Florida. This is in spite of the fact that State of Florida requires every motorcyclist to take a motorcycle safety course.
Those number aren’t, however, terribly surprising. There are more than a 500,000 motorcycles registered Florida, and thousands more who flock to the state to attend the multiple annual motorcycle enthusiast events held here. With wildly popular state-sponsored events like Biketoberfest@ and Daytona Bike Week, the number of motorcycles in South Florida can increase to astounding numbers thereby increasing the number of motorcycle-related accidents, yet more than 90 percent of motorcycle injuries that occur here involve Florida riders. Although the reasons for this fact are unknown, the message is abundantly clear. Both motorcyclists and those operating cars in Florida need to be more aware of, and more courteous to, each other.
For the record, it is illegal to weave in and out of traffic in every single state, with the exception of California. It may be tempting to try to negotiate through traffic when roasting in the South Florida sun, but keep in mind that if a police officer sees you, you will probably get a ticket for reckless driving which can be a third degree misdemeanor. Likewise, popping a wheelie, which every motorcyclist has done, will also result in a stiff traffic citation and four points against your license. In fact, the consequence of the first offense of popping a wheelie will result in a fine of $1,141 and a second offense will result in a fine that more than doubles that amount. Do it a third time, and you may very well lose your driver’s license.
I am a firm believer in police officers trying to protect John Q. Public, but like those drivers that I mentioned earlier who have a distorted opinion of most motorcyclists, I think that cops and legislators may perceive them in a particular light. These penalties seem excessive, especially when it comes down to just a matter of a bike losing traction. This is not always a matter of showing off just because you are on a motorcycle. There are certain things that a motorcyclist can do to reduce the possibility of getting a traffic ticket or worse yet, being injured. There are also steps that driver can implement to avoid being the cause of injuries or deaths to motorcyclists. First of all, watch out for motorcyclists and bear in mind that they are in a much more vulnerable position than someone in another vehicle. Also don’t forget that whatever your perception may be, that is another human being on the motorcycle next to you and no one wants to live with the knowledge that they have hurt or killed someone else, even if you have the right-of-way.