MAJ. ARCHIBALD (ARCHIE) F. FORSYTH III
D1, Army National Guard Staff Element
Joint Forces Headquarters-Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
As a sergeant with the Louisiana State Police, I often respond to the scenes of fatal accidents. The hardest part of my job, however, is not seeing these tragic deaths; it’s having to tell loved ones that a family member is not coming home. Recently, I had to make a death notification to a mother whose son was involved in a type of fatal motorcycle accident I see often: a motorist turning left into the path of a rider.
It was just before midnight when I received a call to respond to a motorcycle crash — my second one of the night. When I arrived on scene, paramedics were conducting CPR on the rider. As they were working on him, I noticed a lot of blood running from a laceration on his lower abdomen. I then heard the paramedic say he’d lost the rider’s pulse. The paramedics immediately loaded the rider into the ambulance and headed for the hospital, where he later died.
I met with my trooper who was investigating the crash. As he told me the story, I had a feeling of déjà vu. The details were nearly identical to the fatal crash I’d worked a few hours earlier. According to witnesses, the rider was traveling in the left northbound lane, near the centerline, behind a group of vehicles. Just ahead, a small sedan in the southbound lane was waiting for traffic to clear to make a left turn.
As the group of vehicles passed, the sedan driver thought he was clear to proceed across the northbound lanes. Because the rider was traveling so closely behind the northbound group of vehicles, as well as near the centerline, the sedan driver did not see the motorcycle and started his turn. The motorcycle crashed into the vehicle’s passenger-side fender, throwing the rider over the sedan’s hood before landing on the pavement.
In addition to the circumstances being nearly identical in both crashes, both riders were on black motorcycles and wearing black helmets and dark-colored clothing. Had these two men put more thought into their personal safety regarding how they dressed and rode, they might still be alive today. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers the following advice to help riders stay safe on the road.
Wearing bright-colored clothing increases your chances of being seen by other motorists. Remember, your body is half of the visible surface area of the rider-motorcycle unit. Bright orange, red, yellow or green jackets/vests are your best bets for being seen. In addition, your helmet can do more than protect you in a crash. Brightly colored helmets can also help others see you. Any bright color is better than drab or dark colors. Reflective, bright-colored clothing (helmet and jacket/vest) is best. Reflective material on a vest and on the sides of the helmet will help drivers coming from the side to spot you. Reflective material can also be a big help for drivers coming toward you or from behind.
Riding at Night
At night, it is harder for you to see and be seen. Picking your headlight or taillight out of the car lights around you is not easy for other drivers. To compensate, you should:
- Reduce your speed — Ride even slower than you would during the day — particularly on roads you don’t know well. This will increase your chances of avoiding a hazard.
- Increase distance — Distances are harder to judge at night than during the day. Your eyes rely upon shadows and light contrasts to determine how far away an object is and how fast it is coming. These contrasts are missing or distorted under artificial lights at night. Open up a three-second following distance or more, and allow more distance to pass and be passed.
- Use the car ahead — The headlights of the car ahead can give you a better view of the road than even your high beam can. Taillights bouncing up and down can alert you to bumps or rough pavement.
- Use your high beam — Get all the light you can. Use your high beam whenever you are not following or meeting a car.
- Be flexible about lane position — Change to whatever portion of the lane is best able to help you see and be seen and keep an adequate space cushion.
As a rider, you are already at a disadvantage on the road. Don’t make it any more difficult for other motorists to see you. Always ride and dress properly so someone like me doesn’t have to tell your loved ones you won’t be coming home.