A rash of motorcycle accident fatalities this summer has left area bikers calling for greater vigilance from other motorists as well as better training in their own ranks.
According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, four people on motorcycles have been killed in Sangamon County so far this year. In 2022, no local motorcycle deaths were recorded by the state agency. In 2021 four motorcyclists were killed; in 2020 one died and in 2019 three lost their lives in Sangamon County wrecks.
This reflects a statewide upward trend, said John Anderson, ABATE State Coordinator for Safety and Education.
Although motorcycles represent 3% of total vehicle registrations in Illinois, they accounted for more than 11% of traffic fatalities in 2022, according to IDOT reports.
ABATE, or American Bikers Aiming Towards Education, is an advocacy group best known at the Statehouse for its longstanding opposition to mandatory helmet laws. However, on a local level, the group has developed a reputation for voluntary safety training for bikers.
"I hate to say it, but there is blame on both sides," Anderson said. "The most prominent way (fatal accidents happen) is when someone takes a left in front of somebody and hits a motorcycle. We've had motorcyclists make their own mistakes as well. It's hard to tell people how to ride a motorcycle."
But one of those people who provides opportunities to learn is Springfield resident Don Huckstep, who helps host periodic practice sessions in the parking lot of Halls Harley-Davidson, 2301 N. Dirksen Parkway.
"I'm just a motorcycle enthusiast who likes to get people to be more skillful," he said. "The Illinois State Police have told me the two biggest mistakes motorcyclists make is going too fast and not properly braking to avoid an accident or negotiate a curve."
But motorcycles are particularly vulnerable because of their lower visibility, which is a situation highlighted by IDOT's ubiquitous "Start Seeing Motorcycles" yard signs and banners.
Huckstep said because of their smaller size it is difficult for some drivers to discern the speed of an oncoming bike and this can result in drivers pulling in front of a motorcycle that is closer than it may have appeared.
"There are all kinds of things people should be doing," Anderson said. "Obeying stoplights and stop signs would be a good start. Every time I go into town, I see people driving right through red lights."
Distracted drivers who text or talk on the phone while driving are a particular hazard for motorcyclists, Huckstep said.
"They will change lanes without checking their blind spot," he said. "I would say another reason for more accidents would be the way people are driving more aggressively. People drive with a little bit of road rage – and that's not just cars – I've seen motorcyclists going too fast, too."
Huckstep said he believes motorcyclists should not be compelled by law to wear helmets. But it is something he chooses to do.
'I probably wear my helmet 95% of the time," he said.
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].