DLA motorcyclists share tips for riders, drivers to keep each other safe on the road

By John Bell DLA Public Affairs

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May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and a few Defense Logistics Agency motorcyclists share their thoughts on what bikers and drivers can do to keep everyone safe on the road.

Randy Taft, a protocol specialist for DLA, has been riding motorcycles for about 40 years. He sometimes rides his Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide, a three-wheeled motorcycle, to work at the McNamara Headquarters Complex at Fort Belvoir.

According to Taft, good equipment is vital for motorcyclists. He prefers a full-face Snell-rated helmet, ankle-high boots and thick gloves. “You see these guys in the ‘peanut’ helmets. You don’t want to be wearing one of those” if you’re in a crash, he said.

He also urges bikers before every ride to perform an inspection that includes the oil level, mirrors and especially tire pressure. Low tire pressure can easily cause loss of control, Taft noted.

In addition, Taft recommends adding flashing LED tail lights that stay on while the bike is stopped. 

Ken Ross, a lead visual information specialist for DLA Installation Support, rides a Harley Road King Classic.

“I urge people to be constantly aware, 360 degrees,” he said. “And I’m always looking ahead for a way out” in case of an accident or other mishap.

Ross cited oncoming cars that turn left as a major danger. “Most bikers are killed by somebody who sees them but turns left in front of them,” he said, even though the motorcycle heading straight has the right of way.

Another DLA biker, Jonathan Stack, echoed that warning. “There’s not a day I ride that a driver doesn’t cut me off, try coming into my lane when I'm next to him or pull out in front of me,” said Stack, the editor for DLA Energy at Fort Belvoir. Stack rides a Ducati Monster 696. 

“Thankfully, with experience comes the ability to anticipate … When I ride, I don't just look at the road; I keep my eyes moving by checking the mirrors and other views frequently,” said Stack.

Elsie Valdes, like Stack, rides a sport bike: a Kawasaki Ninja 500. As a woman, “I always like to ride with other people, in case something happens,” she said. “But when you can’t do that, at least let someone know what route you’re taking,” said Valdes, who works alongside Taft in DLA Protocol.

She wears a protective suit with Kevlar abrasion panels and adds reflective gear on top of it, to make her more visible.

Staying aware of your environment goes for drivers as well as bikers, noted Phil Prater, chief of news and web operations at DLA Public Affairs in the HQC, who rides a Harley-Davidson Softtail Classic.  “The main thing I want drivers to do is see me,” Prater said. “Get off the phone. Stop texting, putting on eyeliner, dealing with your children or messing with your navigation systems while driving. Stay alert and eyes focused on the road and driving.”

According to Distraction.Gov, distracted drivers killed more than 3,000 people in 2014, even though texting while driving is against the law in 46 states and all U.S. territories.

Stack also implored drivers to be vigilant. “It’s important for drivers to not just rely on their mirrors when switching lanes. Drivers need to actually turn their heads and check their blind spots to ensure a motorcyclist isn't in the lane next to them.”

Weather and road conditions pose an increased danger for motorcyclists as well. Although few motorcyclists brave the snow, the fall season is both a scenic and dangerous time to ride. Wet and dry leaves can cause wheels to lose traction, resulting in a crash.  

“Once, I was riding along Skyline Drive on a beautiful, clear fall day and when I came around a curve — wham! I went down and slid several feet down the road. My motorcycle got some road rash on the right side, but I was OK. The lesson learned was to be careful when leaves are on the road,” Prater said.

Ross agreed. “The biggest safety tip I could offer is be aware of your road conditions. … A little bit of gravel, and you’re gone,” he said. “It’s like ball bearings.” Likewise with sand that may remain from winter de-icing.

Additional tips from DLA bikers for their fellow motorcyclists include:  
  • Constantly look around at nearby traffic, not just ahead of you.
  • Wear protective clothing, including a full helmet, boots and thick gloves.
  • Check the bike before you ride, especially the air in the tires.
  • Consider using flashing LED tail lights.
  • Use the turn signal, and don’t be afraid to use the horn.
  • Don’t weave in and out of traffic, and don’t ride between cars (illegal in many states).
  • Assume drivers don’t see you.
  • Ride unimpaired.  
  • Keep the headlight on at all times for greater visibility.
  • Watch out for gravel, sand and wet leaves.
Tips for drivers include:
  • Don’t rely on your mirrors when changing lanes; turn your head to check the blind spot.
  • Give motorcycles extra room. 
  • Stay off the phone, and keep your eyes on the road.
  • Use the turn signals.
  • Know the hand and arm turn signals you may see motorcyclists (and bicyclists) use.
  • Stay in the middle of your lane.
For more on motorcycle safety, see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website.