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Keven Moore on Insurance: Live to ride your motorcycle, but remember to ride to live

Warmer weather usually means more motorcycles on the roads. (Photo by Keven Moore)


Like bears coming out of hibernation, motorcyclists can now be found crisscrossing our streets and roads enjoying the spring weather and freedom that a motorcycle provides. Unfortunately, spring season is always the most dangerous time of the year to ride because most haven’t ridden in months and their riding skills may be a little bit rusty. Plus, drivers of vehicles haven’t had to contend with them for the last several months and their eyes aren’t as trained to be looking for them.

Even though I’m a safety professional, Ihave experienced my share of accidents over the years, and I can still remember my very first workplace accident at the age of 13 on a bike, which left me emotionally scared and terrified of ice ever since. It happened while I was a newspaper boy. My route consisted of the former Turfland Apartments and a couple of surrounding nearby streets, but I happened to live some six blocks away and the paper had to be delivered in the rain, snow and, yes, even the ice.

As I tried to navigate my sister’s commandeered bike on this particular subzero January day a couple of days after the great Kentucky blizzard of 1977-1978, it was extremely difficult to steer because of the accumulated snow and the weight of the front and side baskets filled with newspapers. Luckily, it was mostly downhill and I could let gravity do most of the hard work; all I had to do was keep it straight, pray and just stay of the path of cars.

As I turned into the front entrance to the apartment complex, I suddenly found myself riding on a solid sheet of ice. Being young and fearless, I proceeded forward only to find myself suddenly laying on my back, spread-eagle in the middle of the parking lot bruised, confused, battered and bloodied wondering. I never lost consciousness that afternoon, but I sure learned the importance of an athletic cup and bike helmet, which may explain my fondness for wearing personal protective safety equipment in my professional career.

Back in that day, nobody wore bike helmets and we were all taught to rub dirt into any wounds. But I can still remember lying there for a good 15 to 20 minutes trying to recover. I also learned that there weren’t that many Good Samaritans back then either, as I would occasionally raise my dazed and confused head up from underneath the bike, only to watch several cars drive by dodging me and those 200-plus newspapers spread across that parking lot.

Today as a proud owner of a Yamaha V-Star Cruiser motorcycle, I still found myself wrestling with the very lesson that I learn that cold January afternoon. For those of you who own and ride a motorcycle, you can attest to the sense of freedom that a bike ride gives you after a hard or stressful day at work.

Some will say that four wheels move the body, but two wheels move the soul. and I would have to agree. Trust me there is nothing more relaxing than riding the back roads amongst some of the most gorgeous horse farms in the world here in the Horse Capital of the USA, as new foals and yearlings go galloping across these Kentucky hillsides. Life is too short for traffic, and when I ride it’s never about the destination, it’s always about the journey. Many times when I take off, I never know where I am going, and as long as I have fuel in the tank I am still not lost yet.

When I first bought my motorcycle four years ago, like any good safety professional, I purchased a full-faced helmet, but quickly learned how hot and annoying such helmets can become in the heat of the summer. Then one afternoon in the early fall after forgoing the opportunity to wear a helmet for a quick trip up to store in my neighborhood, like an addictive drug, I became hooked on the feeling of the freedom of not wearing a helmet.

Being a safety professional I felt a bit ashamed, but I tried to justify my actions by believing I actually wasn’t breaking any laws and I was perfectly within my legal rights to ride without a helmet in the state of Kentucky. Thankfully, winter was upon us and after a bit of soul searching and detoxing over those winter months, I eventually compromised with my conscious by purchasing a half face helmet before that next spring.

A motorcycle helmet offers protection for the most vital of body parts – your head. According to the most recent stats available from the Kentucky State of police report in 2011, there were 1,839 motorcycle accidents involving other vehicles, with a total of 99 fatalities, of which 69 of those individuals were not wearing a helmet.

But many motorcyclists still protest to being forced to wear a helmet. Some even claim that the negative aspect associated with wearing a helmet outweigh the benefits of wearing a helmet. When you put on a helmet, you do lose that sense of freedom that a motorcycle offers you, as it gives you a sense of confinement that enclosed vehicle would.

Some motorcyclists would even argue that helmets actually pose a safety risk. According to some the weight and shape of a helmet may actually contribute to a motorcyclist’s breaking their neck during an accident. Others argue that they may actually be a distraction, which could lead to an accident. Then other opponents say the sides of the face shield block their peripheral vision and that the helmet’s thick shell and inner liner impair their ability to hear.

However a certified helmet does reduce the amount of kinetic energy transmitted to the brain in an impact by spreading that force across the helmet’s rigid shell. The remaining force is then absorbed by the helmet’s inner liner. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, along with various helmet manufacturers, claim that a helmet can reduce brain injury by as much as 69 percent.

It’s difficult to argue with that fact that, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

• Motorcyclists are 35 times more likely to experience a deadly accident on the road than those in passenger cars.
• 11 percent of all roadway accidents that occur in the United States involve motorcycles.
• Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes.
• A motorcyclist not wearing a helmet is 40 percent more likely to die of a head injury than one who wears a helmet.
• It is estimated that helmets reduce the likelihood of a crash fatality by 37 percent.
• Seven states have repealed the universal helmet law since 1997: Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Michigan, and helmet use dropped significantly and fatalities increased in all seven states that repealed helmets laws, with Louisiana coming in first with a fatality increase of 108 person.
• In 2010, the federal government estimated that the number of deaths on motorcycles was about 30 times the number of deaths in cars, on a per miles traveled basis.

Many motorcyclists believe that wearing a helmet should be a matter of choice and I would have to agree as a safety professional, but it’s a dumb choice. But a motorcyclist who doesn’t a wear a helmet should also be referred to as an organ donor.

Believe me, I get why riders like that sense of freedom. But logical riders need to come to their senses as I did, and realize that even if you are an occasional rider on the back roads at 35-45 MPH, you have to wear a helmet, especially if you have people at home counting on you. As I have learned there are two types of husbands in this world, those that ride motorcycles and those that wish they could ride motorcycles. I ride less that 1000 miles a year, but my wife still refuses to ride with me when I ask, not because of my riding skills, but because she tells me somebody has to survive to take care of the kids.

I have learned that you have to ride as if you are invisible and as if nobody sees you when you approach any vehicle, or intersection. Midnight bugs might taste better, but I try to optimize my chance for survival by riding during the bright sunny hours, during non-peak traffic periods and on less traveled roads and I never ride like I stole it either.

The unique thing about any kind of accident, it allows you the opportunity to learn from those mistakes to remind yourself to never repeat such decisions. As I approach 50 this year, I have learned that wise old men don’t become wise from making all the right decision, but from learning from theirs and others idiotic decision, thus allowing them to become old.

As a safety professional who likes to ride occasionally, I always try to remember that “safety” is the cheapest and most effective insurance policy. As motorcycling is not of itself inherently dangerous, crashing is. However, riding a motorcycle is extremely unforgiving of inattention, ignorance, incompetence, stupidity; so remember – live to ride, but always ride to live!

Be safe, my friends.

Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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