The West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program emphasizes that “Motorcycle Safety is Everyone’s Safety.” This messaging is shared in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and Memorial Day weekend ushers in the unofficial start of the summer road travel season. Safe riding and driving practices, and cooperation from all road users, will help reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on our highways.
“We know motorcyclists come to West Virginia to enjoy our scenic motorcycle routes across the state. We want to ensure their safety not only in May, but throughout the riding season,” said Gov. Jim Justice.
In 2022, Justice announced the first in a series of designated tourist routes under the West Virginia Mountain Rides program, a collaborative partnership between the West Virginia Department of Transportation and the West Virginia Department of Tourism to designate and promote the state’s most scenic country roads to drive by car or motorcycle.
“Six years ago, we were so ashamed of our roads. We couldn’t get to the convenience store without destroying our cars,” Justice said. “Now here we are marketing our roads, and it can go on now for decades to come.”
To date, three Mountain Rides routes have been dedicated and opened to the public – Seneca Skyway, Capitol Circle, and Cranberry Corridor. The routes offer safe, smooth travel through some of the Mountain State’s most beautiful countryside.
Unfortunately, data shows that motorcyclists are often overrepresented in traffic crashes and fatalities each year, and that speed and alcohol are large contributing factors. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, there were 5,579 motorcyclists killed nationwide in traffic crashes in 2020, an 11% increase from 2019 (5,044). In West Virginia, 38 motorcyclists were killed in a crash in 2020, accounting for 14% of all statewide traffic fatalities that year.
The GHSP points out that it’s everyone’s responsibility — both the motor vehicle driver and the motorcyclist — to practice safe habits on the road and, ultimately, to share the road.
One of the primary contributing factors to motorcyclist fatalities is speeding. According to NHTSA, 34% of all motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes in 2020 were speeding. Motorcycle riders 25 to 29 years old involved in fatal crashes had the highest speeding involvement at 45%.
Alcohol impairment also plays a significant role in motorcycle-involved crash fatalities: 41% of the 2,158 motorcycle riders who died in single-vehicle crashes in 2020 were alcohol-impaired. In 2020, motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes had higher percentages of alcohol impairment than any other type of motor vehicle driver. Forty-five percent of those killed in single-vehicle crashes on weekends were alcohol-impaired, and those killed were almost three times more frequently found to be alcohol-impaired at night than during the day (40% and 14%, respectively).
Safe driving and riding practices from all road users — drivers and riders alike — will help reduce the number of crashes, fatalities, and injuries on our highways. Motor vehicle drivers and motorcyclists should keep the following in mind when on the road.
Tips for Motorcyclists:
- Always complete rider education courses and ride with a current motorcycle license. According to preliminary data, in 2022, two-thirds of motorcyclists killed on West Virginia roadways did not have their Class F Endorsement. To sign up for a class, visit msf-usa.org.
- Drive and ride defensively.
- Never ride while impaired or distracted. It is not worth the risk of killing or injuring oneself or someone else. A DUI costs $10,000 on average, and can lead to jail time, loss of one’s operator’s license, and higher insurance rates.
- Obey the speed limit.
- Observe all traffic laws and always obey the speed limit.
- Wear personal protective gear and a DOT-compliant helmet with a “FMVSS No. 218 Certified” label. NHTSA estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,872 motorcyclists in 2017. An additional 749 lives could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn their helmets. Learn how to identify a safe, DOT-compliant helmet at nhtsa.gov/motorcycle-safety/choose-right-motorcycle-helmet.
Tips for Motorists:
- Allow more follow distance — beyond three to four seconds — when behind a motorcycle. This gives them more time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.
- Always use a turn signal when changing lanes or merging with traffic.
- Check all mirrors and blind spots for motorcycles before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
- Drive alcohol- and drug-free.
- Drive defensively.
- Obey the speed limit.
- Remember, motorcycles are smaller than most vehicles and difficult to see. Their size can also cause other drivers to misjudge their speed and distance.
- Though a motorcycle is a small vehicle, its operator still has the same rights of the road as any other motorist. Allow the motorcycle the full width of a lane at all times.
- When driving, avoid distractions that place motorcyclists and other road users at risk.
- Yield to motorcyclists, especially while turning at intersections.
“Motorcyclists should always be aware of their surroundings,” said Mary Jarrell, GHSP motorcycle safety training coordinator. “It is imperative that you have the correct license to ride a motorcycle in West Virginia. Always wear your DOT-approved helmet. Make sure you dress for the slide, not just for the ride.”
Jarrell continued, “Motorists need to look out for motorcycles since they are small and harder to see.”
“Since it is grass cutting season, please do not blow grass clippings onto the roads and streets because it is dangerous for motorcyclists. Driving on grass clippings is very slick, like driving on ice,” Jarrell concluded.
For more information about the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program, visit highwaysafety.wv.gov or call 304-926-2509.