SALT LAKE CITY — Two years ago, 45 motorcycle riders died on Utah roads — a record number. Now safety advocates are urging riders and drivers to watch out for each other and save more lives on the road.
"Motorcycles are among the smallest and most vulnerable vehicles on the road, putting riders at greater risk of death and serious injury in a crash," said Utah Highway Patrol Col. Danny Fuhr.
"Every year, we see fatalities that could have been prevented had a driver or rider paid better attention or been more prepared," Fuhr added. "It's important. It's urgent. It's a matter of life and death."
Representatives from the Zero Fatalities Heads Up campaign and motorcycle safety advocates gathered on a driving track Thursday to demonstrate safe riding, evasive maneuvers and protective gear.
Law enforcement officers who patrol on motorcycles say it's up to everyone on the road to be alert to one another. They urge riders and motorists to keep their eyes open for dangerous scenarios.
"In this scenario, we are demonstrating a motorcycle's worst nightmare," said Detective Mike Millet of the West Valley City Police Department's motorcycle squad as he stood at an intersection at the track.
Intersections can be among the most deadly places for motorcycle riders, Millet said. In this scenario, the driver in a pickup truck does not see a rider and turns left in front of him. When Millet is on a motorcycle, he anticipates crashes like this in order to avoid them.
"He's going to turn in front of me, I've got to be prepared," Millet explained. "We cover our clutch, we get ready to break or do any evasive maneuver every time we come to an intersection."
He suggests motorists do the same behind the wheel.
"All too often, (drivers) think they've got enough room, and they turn right in front of you," Millet said.
Over the past decade, 339 motorcycle riders have died on Utah roads. A record 45 fatalities in 2014 was followed by 36 last year. That represented 13 percent of the state's total number of fatalities, despite the fact that motorcycles represent only 3 percent of all registered vehicles in Utah.
"Look twice," said Sgt. Donavan Lucas of the UHP Motor Squad. "Make sure that people are seeing what's going on out there. Everybody makes mistakes. Look out for mistakes of those people."
Lucas showed how easily a rider can end up in the blind spot of a motorist — a mistake that can lead to a serious crash.
His advice for motorcycle riders in that situation: "Approach cautiously. Move maybe a little bit more center, or a little bit more to the right or left, depending on which lane you're in."
Lucas said he trains on safety and evasive maneuvers regularly, even though he rides regularly for work, and offered tips for riders,
"Heads up: that's one of the campaigns we have going on this year," he said referring to the "Heads Up: We're All Responsible" campaign. "Look twice: motorcycles and cars, as well as more training."
Lucas said too many older riders, ages 45 to 70, don't keep up the skills they need, especially if they have not ridden in a number of years or buy a new motorcycle. He said proper training through a qualified course should never be ignored.
The safety advocates and professional riders also recommend riders always wear safety gear. There are many options today, even for hot summer days.
"There is something that fits and is comfortable for everybody," said Scott Rybarik of the Utah Sport Bike Association. "Find that for you, if you're a rider, and make sure you wear it every ride."