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Illinois motorcycle season: Novices, rusty riders, distractions

Spring is a period of adjustment for Cook County drivers. The snow melt gives way to clear roads and the temptation to drive a little faster or spend more time looking at the scenery of the changing season. The pleasant weather also attracts motorcyclists, some riding for the first time and others rusty from a winter away from riding.

Illinois car and truck drivers have had plenty of time alone without having to share the road with motorcycles. Many motorists simply fell out of the habit of watching for bike riders. Mistakes by drivers and motorcyclists in the early season have already taken their toll.

By late March, St. Louis already had recorded a minimum of five motorcycle fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is hoping accident statistics from 2012, when the motorcycle fatality rate shot up nine percent across the country, don't repeat this year. The sooner the weather warms up, the longer the motorcycle riding season becomes. That increases chances for motorcycle accidents.

Driver distractions worry riders. It's just as easy for a motorcyclist to shift focus away from the road as it is for car drivers. In most cases, when there's an accident, riders pay the heavier price.

New riders need time to gain road experience, although other motorists can be unforgiving. Cars and trucks may misjudge a motorcycle's distance or speed; some drivers simply ignore a motorcyclist's road rights and turn or pull out in front of riders. Even roads can be unfriendly for riding - bigger vehicles can navigate winter's leftover potholes but, for motorcyclists, the holes can twist a bike out of control.

Illinois is one of the few states without a helmet law. State officials are still compiling last year's accident figures, but in 2012, those involving motorcycles jumped two percent from the previous year. Some long-time riders say the roads seem more dangerous than ever for motorcyclists.

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Spring's return revs up motorcycle crashes in St. Louis region" Joel Currier, Mar. 22, 2014

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