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NC- Macon County a safe corridor for motorcyclists‏

October 29, 2009

Lieutenant Kenny Lane of the Macon County Sheriff’s Department, who runs the patrol division, attributed some of the decline in vehicular accidents as a whole, to this year’s greater presence of law enforcement as well as the cooperation of other law enforcement agencies in surrounding counties.

“When it comes to checkpoint times and such, we are constantly doing those checkpoints throughout the community — whether it is a stationary checkpoint or what is called a saturated checkpoint,” Lane explained. A saturated checkpoint is where law enforcement officials will target a particular area, and deploy multiple vehicles in that area to slow down traffic. “Our presence is known, that we are actually out here in the community,” Lane said. “We are going to continue our checkpoints and we are going to continue our saturation patrols. Obviously something is working.”

NOTE: State stats at the end of the article

www.maconnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5770&Itemid=34

Macon County a safe corridor for motorcyclists

Thursday, 29 October 2009

But deadly accidents, injuries have increased across the region

By Davin Eldridge and Tony Wheeler

Staff Writers

The state of North Carolina is witnessing an influx of motorcycle tourism. This particular form of transportation is favored for several reasons. Culturally, motorcycling has adorned the airwaves with programs like American Chopper, Biker Build-Off and CHIPs. Commuters favor the vehicle for its low fuel consumption and ever increasing efficiency. However, the rising popularity of motorcycling can be reflected in accident statistics, which are rising every year nationwide. Last year, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported a total of 5,357 motorcycle-related fatalities.

The Appalachian Mountains are considered one of the most popular destinations for motorcyclists. On either side of any winding road throughout Western North Carolina, a motorcyclist may enjoy the scenic values of the terrain, visit an event catering to bikers, or find a welcoming community of fellow motorcycle enthusiasts. As a result, statistics reveal a substantial increase in motorcycle-related accidents occurring in the state. These reports correspond with national statistics. The majority of these accidents are taking place in Western North Carolina.

“The number of motorcycle accidents is directly proportionate to the number of motorcycles that are here. The volumes of motorcycles that have been in the area this summer appear to be an increase from last year,” First Sergeant Charles McMahan of the State Highway Patrol explained. “I think that motorcyclists come to this area for the type of terrain and type of roads.” McMahan is in charge of the Highway Patrol’s Troop G District VI division, which serves Swain, Macon, Clay, Cherokee and Graham counties.

Though the region displays high figures of motorcycle related accidents, Macon County stands apart from this grim trend. “Our motorcycle accidents in Macon County actually went down pretty substantially. Injury accidents are down too. And we’ve had no fatalities in Macon County,” continued McMahan. “It’s been fairly uneventful motorcycle-wise in Macon County this year. Across the area, fatalities and injuries and total accidents are up.”

Excluding the natural aesthetic values Macon County has to offer, there are no significant events or destinations sought out by the typical biker. Macon serves as a central scenic passage to other, more biker friendly havens. McMahan explained that many of the destinations motorcyclists travel to include the Cherohala Skyway, which acts as a scenic corridor to other states throughout the mountains.

“A lot of what happens in Macon, Cherokee and the surrounding counties is that traffic is traveling through to get to those locations,” he said, adding that historically most motorcycle incidents have been reported on 28 North. This road provides expedient passage to the more renowned biker destinations. “We’ve had a good year, motorcycle-wise here in Macon County. We’ve had an increase of motorcycle accidents in the area and a significant increase in the fatalities of the region. But it’s not been specific to Macon County. They have sort of dodged that bullet this year.”

Across the region there has been a 600 percent increase in motorcycle related fatalities. Macon County however, has had a 2.9 percent decrease in fatalities and a 26.7 percent decrease in accident injuries. Lieutenant Kenny Lane of the Macon County Sheriff’s Department, who runs the patrol division, attributed some of the decline in vehicular accidents as a whole, to this year’s greater presence of law enforcement as well as the cooperation of other law enforcement agencies in surrounding counties.

“When it comes to checkpoint times and such, we are constantly doing those checkpoints throughout the community — whether it is a stationary checkpoint or what is called a saturated checkpoint,” Lane explained. A saturated checkpoint is where law enforcement officials will target a particular area, and deploy multiple vehicles in that area to slow down traffic. “Our presence is known, that we are actually out here in the community,” Lane said. “We are going to continue our checkpoints and we are going to continue our saturation patrols. Obviously something is working.”

Macon’s Sheriff’s Office has a reciprocating agreement with all of the Sheriff’s offices in the region. “Anytime we call upon them for their assistance, they come over here, and likewise. If they call us for our assistance, we will go over there,” Lane said, adding that the town Police of Franklin and Highlands, as well as Wild Life officers will come to assist this effort. “It’s like an inter link with all of the agencies working together to utilize resources,” Lane said.

“I think it [motorcycle tourism] has a lot to do with the events we have going on in our region. This is definitely a hot bed for people to come out here and see the mountains. Every year it’s getting more and more populous with motorcycle travel. And I think it has a lot to do with gasoline prices. It is a lot cheaper to just jump on your bike and go ride around,” concluded Lane.

The rise in motorcycle tourism is evident enough to local authorities that they are preparing for this aspect of seasonal traffic. Surrounding county departments are now more conditioned for this type of transportation in the region. “I really think it’s this new attitude that has basically come upon the Sheriff’s offices in these regions. There are a whole lot of new and fresh ideas for these local agencies. We know the Highway patrol can’t be everywhere, and they are really limited on their resources and we will help them out. And they are ready and willing to help us out too.”

North Carolina is now witnessing a new kind of motor trend, reactionary to cultural and economic changes. With these changes come hazards that patrolmen like McMahan would like to spread awareness of. “Overwhelmingly, the motorcycle accidents that we work in this area were the fault of the motorcycle,” he explained.

“It all generally goes back to failure to maintain their lane or exceeding a safe speed. Not necessarily speeding, but speed itself is a factor.” McMahan explained. “The two things I would say to any motorcyclist if they want to stay safe, is to drive at the speed limit and maintain your lane control. If you do those two things your odds of being in a serious accident will go way down.”

In states like Georgia and Tennessee differing experiences toward bike safety and activity may offer Appalachian communities further insights on the matter. Michael Gosnell of Clarkesville, Ga. is an avid biker and works as an EMT for Habersham County. He has been to the scene of approximately 50 accidents involving motorcycles and says around 10 percent of them are fatal. “In a motorcycle accident there are no in-betweens, the rider is either hurt seriously, or walks away with barely a scratch,” he said.

“Most of the time, another driver is at fault, not the motorcyclist,” Gosnell said. “A bike rider has to pay attention to be safe. No matter how well you can drive or how long you’ve been on a bike, it’s everybody else you have to look out for. You can be the best driver in the world and still get in an accident,” he said.

Mike DeRose retired to Franklin after spending 21 years as a sheriff in Central Florida. He’s been riding a motorcycle for 27 years and, like Gosnell, has seen his share of motorcycle wrecks. Also like Gosnell, he’s been fortunate having never experienced an accident while on his bike.

As sheriff, DeRose said most of the scenes he was called to involved fatalities. “In this area, though, people seem to be more cautious around bikers. I think it’s because of the number of bikers. The mountains are a popular destination for motorcycle riders. Some of the problem is people coming here from Florida aren’t used to curves. There are no curves in Florida, everything is flat.”

DeRose said the safest thing a motorcyclist can do is take a driving class, which will allow you to hone your skills in the area you are familiar with. “When riding a bike, you have to constantly anticipate what the other drivers are going to do, especially at lights and stop signs. “‘Is he going to stop?’, and ‘Does he see me?’” DeRose said. Another safety measure is riding in groups, especially on long rides. “People notice a group of riders better than someone riding alone. On long trips, we never take less than 6 bikers,” he said.

Jim Harris, patrol captain with the Rabun County Sheriff’s Office, says the current economy has greatly affected the crash statistics, as more and more people are deciding it is cheaper to drive a bike. “There are a lot more motorcycles on the road now. Their popularity has really taken off in the last few years,” he said.

Harris said there are a lot of variables to motorcycle crashes, such as driver inexperience or lack of ability, difficulty in negotiating mountain roads and the tendency of drivers on the newer and faster high-profile bikes to speed. But the biggest problem, he said, is the lack of enough training to operate a bike before new riders take to the road. “A motorcyclist has to pay attention, moreso than other drivers. Never assume another driver can see you. A driver of a car doesn’t have good depth perception when it comes to motorcycles and they can’t tell how fast you are approaching them,” he said.

Harris also suggests riders always wear protective safety gear including helmets and chaps, and to never drink and drive. “Georgia’s keeping the helmet law has really helped,” he said. “Some surrounding states don’t have a helmet law. Florida recently did away with theirs, and as soon as they did they saw a huge spike in fatalities,” Harris said adding that motorcyclists make up 1 percent of all crashes, but 10 percent of all fatalities.

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