Motorcycle, auto drivers urged to watch for one another

June was a good month for motorcyclists in the Clark County: There was great weather, smooth roads and no motorcyclists died in crashes.

The rest of the year, they have not been so fortunate.

Since the beginning of 2013, there have been more than 30 fatal motorcycle crashes in the Clark County, which is higher than the average 30 in the past five years, according to Nevada Office of Traffic Safety numbers.

“We’ve had a lot of motorcycle fatalities,” said Las Vegas police Capt. Mark Tavarez from the traffic bureau. “A majority of those motorcyclists, while our hearts go out to their families, they were not obeying the rules of the road.”

Motorcyclists are difficult to see on the road, need to make eye contact and need to anticipate what people are going to do if they want to stay safe, he said. In 2011 and 2012 in Clark County, a significant decline in fatal motorcycle crashes was met with a rise in other traffic fatalities, according to the Nevada Office of Traffic Safety numbers. “If the motorcyclist is obeying the rules of the road, he’s probably going to be OK,” Tavarez said.

For Cycle School instructor Victor “Doc” Moss, it’s drivers of larger vehicles who have to be more aware and pay attention to their surroundings. Moss teaches about six motorcycle safety classes a month. Out of about 4,500 motorcycle safety students a year, Cycle School trains about 1,000 of them, Moss said.

“These are car crashes that are killing us. They are not motorcycle crashes,” he said. “We just happen to be losing the battle.” However, statistics from the Nevada Department of Public Safety show that in about two-thirds of fatal motorcycle crashes, the motorcyclist was at fault.

Speeding, failure to maintain lanes and failure to yield right of way by motorcyclists are the top causes of crashes, Las Vegas police Sgt. Richard Strader said.

Left turns and inattention to the road are also factors of fatal motorcycle crashes, he said.

There are about 135,000 licensed motorcycle drivers in Nevada, 7.5 percent of all Nevada drivers, according to numbers provided by the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles through the end of July. There are also about 37,000 registered motorcycles in Clark County, about 2.7 percent of all registered vehicles in the county.

Most of the fatal motorcycle accidents in 2013 have been during daylight and twilight hours, on clear, sunny days.

“The biggest things are risk management,” said Moss, who has been riding for 42 years and a instructor since 1998. “People come into the classes with preconceived notions of right and wrong. We teach smarter strategies.”

Strader suggests motorcyclists should always assume that someone is going to cut them off and to be alert. Motorcycle crashes tend to be fatal more often than not, and consisted of about one out of every five fatal crashes in Clark County in 2013, according to the Department of Public Safety.

“When you have a collision between a motorcycle and a vehicle, usually the motorcyclist is the one that loses,” Tavarez said.

In the Metropolitan Police Department’s jurisdiction, there were 27 fatal motorcycle crashes by mid-November. Several of those crashes were clustered in the same day or week.

“It’s always bad when a motorcycle collides,” Strader said. “There are thousands of accidents a year in this valley. That’s why speed limits are there.”

Strader, a longtime motorcycle rider himself, said high speed is definitely an issue, and motorcyclists and drivers need to be aware of one another and adjust their driving habits.

“This year, most of the collisions have been sports bikes,” Strader said. “We all see them going through town, Mach 10. You know — way too fast.”

Visibility of the two-wheeled vehicles is key. Turning and changing lanes are problem areas for motorists who do not notice motorcycles.

“If focusing on motorcycle riders, we need to look out for the guys that aren’t looking out for us,” Moss said. “For the general driving public, consciously look for motorcycle drivers.”

Fatal motorcycle crashes also have a long-lasting affect on the occupants of the other vehicle.

“The tragic end to that is we have a family that’s devastated and a vehicle that didn’t do anything wrong that killed someone,” Strader said. “They have to live with that.”

Safety experts all repeat the same message — be aware of your surroundings.

“I’ve been a motorcycle officer for years and I still ride a motorcycle. … You have to be super defensive,” Strader said. “On a motorcycle, make yourself visible. Don’t assume someone sees you.”

Colton Lochhead and Brian Haynes contributed to this article. Contact reporter Rochel Leah Goldblatt at rgoldblatt@reviewjournal.com or 383-0381.

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