AUGUSTA, Maine — May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and Gov. Janet Mills will host members of the United Bikers of Maine to talk about road safety. Last year, 32 motorcyclists died in crashes in Maine, one of the highest numbers in record.
The event will take place from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday. In addition to Mills, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck, a representative from Sen. Angus King's office, and other state officials will be in attendance.
Jim Hanson is the United Bikers of Maine's legislative affairs representative. He said UBM's goal is to educate the public about safe riding while still keeping their motto in mind: "Education Not Legislation".
"We've got 27,000 members, but we represent everybody that rides on two or three wheels," Hanson said.
Lauren Stewart is the director of the Bureau of Highway Safety. She said the newly established Motorcycle Safety Task Force is working on implementing recommendations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's program assessment in February. Recommendations include specific education regarding impaired motorcycle riding and enhancements to the bureau’s motorcycle education curriculum.
There have been no motorcycle deaths in Maine in 2023, compared to four this time last year. However, the state has already received crash reports for 66 crashes this year, resulting in 43 suspected injuries and 15 possible injuries. Stewart said that since riding season pretty much just started, there's been a startling number of crashes involving motorcycles in Maine so far this year.
“We know that those are not just numbers, but represent our family, friends and loved ones. Let’s not lose any more people," Stewart said.
The bureau is asking motorists to be alert for vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists, and to drive with safety in the forefront of your mind.
Since 2017, there has been a rise in motorcycle fatalities and injuries in Maine.
“We’ve been used to seeing larger vehicles on the road all winter, so the much smaller size of motorcycles makes them easier to overlook now that they’re back on the road," Stewart explained. "For this reason, it’s imperative we put forth extra effort in watching for motorcycles. Take a second to take a second look, it just could save a life."
The annual Governor's Tea is a tradition that dates back to 1990, aimed at fostering a positive relationship between state officials and bikers.
"You want to be aware of your surroundings, making sure that you are not part of the problem. Quite a few of the fatalities last year had something to do with the operator and motorcycle itself," Hanson said.
Jim Kohler is the Bureau of Motor Vehicles' motorcycle safety program coordinator.
"Motorcyclists are very vulnerable. We don't have bumpers and fenders and roofs and windshields and stuff like that to protect us from other vehicles in the elements, Kohler explained. "You are out there."
He said there are four things factors that can cause motorcycle crashes: lack of training, speed, use of alcohol, and not wearing a helmet. A helmet is only mandatory the first year of your license. After that, it's your choice.
"I wear a helmet all the time. I'm a rarity as far as riding a Harley so to speak," Hanson said.
"I think everybody should wear a helmet," Kohler expressed. When you come off this motorcycle on the highway and you hit your head and you look at your head afterwards, my first thought was for my family. How would I leave my family if I died in this crash today? If I hadn't been wearing a helmet, what would happen to my family?"
Hanson said one of the most recent efforts from the United Bikers of Maine has been reaching out to the younger generation. But he would also like for people who drive cars and trucks to be on the lookout.
"Distracted driving is a big deal right now. People who don't ride motorcycles don't typically look for them. That's why I wear that reflective vest on my jacket, and people started pulling right in front of me once I started doing that," Kohler said. "There is no reason for all these fatalities. If we could just slow it down a little bit and use a little common sense and respect the motorcycles. My dad always told me its not who's right its who's left, and nothing will hurt you quicker than a motorcycle or a chainsaw. And if you don't respect it, it will bite you."
Here are some recent tips from the Bureau of Highway Safety for all road users:
- Leave extra time to get where you’re going, so that you don’t feel the need to speed.
- Watch for roadside activity such as animals, bikers, walkers, and kids playing. Anticipate the unknown and be prepared for it.
- Buckle Up. Every Trip. Every Time. No Excuses!
- Remember, motorcycles are smaller than most vehicles and difficult to see. Their size can also cause other drivers to misjudge their speed and distance.
- When walking or biking, always wear bright reflective clothing and be sure you can see and hear the traffic. Make eye contact with drivers.
- Bicyclists ride with traffic and pedestrians walk against traffic.
- Share the Road. Look, then take a second look before turning left. Many crashes with motorcycles happen when a motorist is turning left.
- Never drive impaired on prescription medications, cannabis, or alcohol. If you see someone driving badly and you think they may be impaired, call 9-1-1.
- Be alert and resist the urge to use that phone when driving. Just Drive. It can Wait.
More information on safe driving can be found here.