MUSCLE SHOALS – Police officers are trained to handle different types of situations, from working wrecks with people they know, to making notifications of a death to a family member.
Last week, Muscle Shoals police Lt. Mark Goins was faced with both.
Goins had to tell the wife of a close friend her husband had been killed in a motorcycle wreck.
“It was the hardest notification I have ever made, but it was one I felt I needed to make,” Goins said.
That wreck, which occurred the night of July 21, was the first of three serious wrecks within a wreck in the Shoals that involved motorcycles.
Two of those wrecks were fatalities. The third left the rider in Huntsville Hospital with two broken ribs and two broken bones to his left arm.
“And those (motorcycle) riders were doing nothing wrong,” Goins said.
He said in all three crashes the accidents were caused when the drivers of the cars failed to yield.
“I almost got ran off the road (Wednesday) coming back from the funeral (of one of the motorcyclists killed),” said Lauderdale County Chief Deputy Richard Rickey. “I saw (the car) coming, (the driver) didn’t see me. And then when she did, she put her hand over her mouth (like she was surprised).”
There have been five fatalities involving motorcycles so far this year in northwest Alabama. Last year there were three.
According to state statistics, 105 motorcycles were involved in fatalities last year, and 46 so far this year.
Senior Trooper Johnathan Appling, a public information officer with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, said a major cause of motorcycle crashes is “other motorists’ failure to see motorcyclists in traffic.”
Appling said about half of all motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle.
“Almost 40 percent of those crashes involve a vehicle turning left into the path of a motorcycle,” Appling said.
Police said that was the case in the three latest motorcycle vs. car crashes in the Shoals.
“For whatever reason people have tendency to look past a motorcycle,” said Florence Police Sgt. Chris Ticer, who oversees the department’s Crash Reduction Unit, (motorcycle patrol).
A few years ago, Ticer, while en route to answer a call, was involved in a bad motorcycle crash where he was forced off the road.
“The wreck I had, (the driver) never saw me,” Ticer said. “Anytime you get on a motorcycle, the rider has to pay attention to everything, not only their bike but everything else that is going around them.”
Safety experts call it “inattentive blindness.”
“People are not looking for motorcycles (while they’re driving),” said Rick Randolph, of the Alabama Traffic Safety Center at the University of Montevallo, which specializes in motorcycle safety and training.
“It’s easy to lose a motorcycle (in traffic),” he said. “Motorcycle riders always see motorcycles, but car drivers, they don’t.”
Police say distractions are another reason motorists too often are overlooked.
“They are texting, talking on a cellphone, eating fast food, putting on makeup, fooling with a radio or disciplining children. Anything but focused on driving,” said Florence Police Chief Ron Tyler.
Randolph, a motorcycle rider, said there is between 125,000-130,000 registered motorcycles in the state. “And that doesn’t count the number coming through going to the beach or somewhere else,” Randolph said.
He said drivers have to have more of an awareness of motorcycles.
“At the same time, motorcyclists have to be more aware of their surroundings and what they are doing at all times,” Ticer said. “A motorcycle rider has to pay attention and anticipate the rode and be prepared for the worse.
“You have to be focused and give 100 percent of your attention on the possibility of a threat coming from any angle, and when there is a threat, to have to be ready to react before it’s too late.”
Appling said it’s suggested the motorcycle rider wear high-visibility clothing – especially yellow -- and clothing with reflective material is good for motorcyclists who travel at night.
Randolph said every year motorcycle safety is promoted during motorcycle awareness month.
“Which is a great thing. But we need the person behind the wheel of the automobile to be aware,” he said.
He said he has been in two riding accidents.
“In one, the person was looking right at me, but I could tell by the way they were looking at me, they did not see. They pulled out and I hit them,” Randolph said. “And in the other (accident), the first thing the driver of the vehicle said was they didn’t see me.”
Goins said many riders put LED lights on their motorcycles and have loud mufflers in an effort to be seen and heard.
“You can see a car or a truck and don’t have to hear them,” Goins said. “Get a motorcycle with loud (mufflers) and gets people’s attention to let them know you are coming.
“I hope motorists and motorcyclists will all pay more attention to what’s going on the highway. I hope I never have to make another notification that someone has died in a motorcycle accident.”