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Motorcyclists seek change amid high fatalities over past 2 years

Updated December 2, 2022 - 4:48 pm

Members of the motorcycle community are supporting each other and calling for change as motorcycle deaths in Las Vegas have become more common in the past two years.

One person asking for change is Josh Talpas, 41, of Las Vegas, who started a petition on Change.org calling for increased punishment for distracted driving. The petition suggests charging distracted drivers who cause crashes that result in death with reckless driving or vehicular manslaughter. The petition had over 1,500 signatures as of Thursday.

“It’s an epidemic out here; people don’t see motorcycles,” said Talpas. “They don’t care.”

Talpas said he’s almost entirely stopped riding his motorcycle on the streets, only occasionally using it to get to and from work. Though he’s limited his riding, Talpas said he has friends who still frequently ride their motorcycles, and he is concerned for their safety.

“I am very worried,” said Talpas, “worried for all of them. It’s going to happen again and again unless something changes.”

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, 35 people have died this year while riding a motorcycle or moped just in Las Vegas as of Nov. 25.

That is fewer than last year’s total of 39 in the same time period, but Lt. Bret Ficklin said the past two years have seen a “substantial jump” in motorcyclist deaths compared with years prior.

‘Epidemic of motorcycle deaths’

Laurie Montoya, 59-year-old founder of the BikerDown nonprofit organization, said that the “epidemic of motorcycle deaths” expands beyond Nevada.

The nationwide organization provides emotional assistance, medical equipment, legal advice and fundraising for motorcyclists involved in crashes. The fundraisers organized by BikerDown charge significantly lower fees than GoFundMe, according to Montoya.

BikerDown’s Nevada chapter also loans medical equipment to help riders who can’t stay in hospitals between surgeries but still need the equipment to recover, according to Montoya.

Montoya said she also uses her years of previous experience as a paralegal to help riders navigate lawsuits and insurance after their crashes.

The Colorado native started BikerDown after she saw several of her friends go down while riding together 12 years ago. Montoya said that she saw a need in Colorado to help riders find resources for motorcycle crashes.

Montoya agreed that police need to crack down on distracted drivers.

“Nobody wants to hit a motorcycle rider or another car,” said Montoya. “It’s happening because of distracted driving.”

Montoya and Talpas said that left turns across traffic are especially dangerous for motorcyclists, and particularly common in Las Vegas.

Ficklin also emphasized the importance of paying attention while on the road, for both motorcyclists and car drivers.

“I always tell people the most important thing you can be doing, whether you’re on a motorcycle or in a car, is being in the moment,” said Ficklin. “That’s not a time to be on your phone. It’s not a time to be doing your makeup. It’s not a time to be eating your chicken sandwich. It’s a time to be concentrating on the road.”

He said that it’s about “half and half” whether the car or motorcycle involved in a crash in Las Vegas is at fault.

3 main causes of fatal accidents

However, distracted driving is a crime that’s notably tough to police, according to Ficklin. He said that seeing drivers while they’re distracted is the only way to prove and track offenders.

Ficklin said the three main causes of most fatal traffic accidents in Las Vegas, both involving motorcycles and not, are speeding, failing to yield right of way and impairment.

Proper training and understanding of a motorcycle can prevent many fatal crashes, according to Ficklin. He said that some motorcyclists involved in crashes don’t even have the class “M” endorsement on their licenses, which is what qualifies someone to legally operate a motorcycle.

“I love to ride,” said Ficklin, “and the reason I ride is because I’ve been trained to ride safely.”

Montoya agreed that more training for motorcyclists would reduce fatal crashes, but she also suggested that car drivers should undergo regular training and testing to make sure that they’re capable of driving safely. She said that police should have checkpoints that ensure that drivers have valid licenses and insurance, similar to DUI checkpoints.

She emphasized that while some motorcyclists ride carelessly, vehicle drivers need to always be mindful of them because they are much more vulnerable on the road.

“We don’t have six airbags like you do in a car,” said Montoya.

That vulnerability is why Ficklin recommended that all motorcyclists wear as much protective gear as possible when on the road. He said that while it won’t prevent riders from getting injured at all, protective gear at least reduces some injuries caused by the initial point of contact with the street.

Both Montoya and Talpas agree that the current amount of motorcycle deaths is unacceptable.

“I don’t know what the answer is, but we as a community need to do something,” said Montoya.

Contact Mark Credico at mcredico@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCredicoII.

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