CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 BRIAN K. GAGE
Company B, 834th Aviation Support Battalion
Oklahoma Army National Guard
Several years ago, I experienced an event that altered my family’s life. While riding my Harley-Davidson Road King, I was struck head-on by a pickup truck. From my perspective, there was nothing I could have done to prevent this accident. On the other hand, the young man driving the pickup could have done several things differently, most notably, recognizing the right of way.
I was on my way home from work in my uniform, bright-green reflective safety vest, helmet, gloves and other personal protective equipment, doing everything required by the Army and local laws. Traveling northbound on the outside lane of a four-lane city street, I approached the intersection at 40 mph. I believe I made eye contact with the pickup driver as I passed through the crosswalk area and entered the intersection, but when I noticed he was not slowing, I covered my controls.
Without stopping, the driver began a left-hand turn in front of me. I immediately applied my rear brake and downshifted two gears. While all over the front brake and solid on the rear, I then released the clutch, producing a rear-wheel skid. I then eased off the rear brake and upshifted a gear, releasing the clutch once again.
Realizing a collision was imminent, I began to stand, figuring going over the top of the pickup would be better than becoming a hood ornament. Just before impact, I attempted to leap and make myself as small as possible. Witnesses stated I flew over the pickup like a cannonball, flipping in the air and contacting the ground slightly with my helmet as I rolled onto my back. I imagine I looked like a starfish spinning on the ground like a top. Fortunately, I survived with minimal injuries, which included a broken right kneecap and stitches in my right elbow.
I never found out whether the driver of the pickup was intoxicated, texting or distracted by something else, but I did learn this was the first day of a new traffic light system on that street. The city was conducting a trial run of a signal with a flashing yellow arrow in hopes of thinning traffic waiting in the turn lanes at busy intersections. I was unaware of the changes in our local streetlights. Even though it did not change any of our right-of-way laws, being aware of the changes in the traffic lights may have provided me more time to observe and react to the situation. Regardless, the pickup driver was responsible for ensuring it was safe to turn on the flashing yellow arrow.
At the time of this accident, I had an above-average amount of riding experience, accumulating more than 250,000 miles on three different Harley-Davidsons. I’d earned my Iron Butt Association membership by riding 1,000 miles in 24 hours. I’d also ridden to Sturgis and back. In addition to my riding experience, I had just completed my third year as a motorcycle safety instructor for the Army National Guard. I was certified to teach the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse, Advanced RiderCourse and SportBike RiderCourse.
Unfortunately, all the training and experience in the world may not have prevented this accident. Since we can’t control the actions of others on the roadway, our training and preparation is all we have. I believe those two things were responsible for my survival. That’s why I recommend other riders get all the training they can. Take the MSF programs for example. I believe that training is phenomenal. From April or May through September and sometimes October, we pump out safe riders in multiple cities at National Guard and Air Force bases throughout our state. The goal is to give riders the tools they need to reduce their risk on the road. That training might just save your life like it did mine.