DAYTONA BEACH - With more than half a million motorcycles roaring into town later this week, it will be hard to miss Bike Week. But individual motorcycles and their riders may be another story.
A Volusia task force, formed after last year’s event saw a record number of biker deaths, says too many drivers don’t see the motorcycles coming until it’s too late. Of the 21 motorcycle riders who died during last year’s Bike Week, nine were in accidents caused by a car or truck driver.
Five motorcyclists were killed when vehicles turned left in front of them; three bikers were rear-ended; and one died when a van crossed the center line and struck him head-on, the records show.
That’s why the Bike Week Safety Task Force is trying to send a message to everyone who will be on the roads during this year’s Bike Week: "Look twice. Save a life."
"One thing we always hear in these crashes is the motorist telling us, ’I never saw the motorcycle,’ " said Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Kim Miller. "They all assume it was the motorcyclist’s fault, but that’s not always true."
Bike Week, the annual motorcycle rally that started in Daytona in 1937, officially opens Friday and runs through March 11. Assuming the weather is good, more than 500,000 bikers will be cruising local roads and Interstate 4 to venues throughout Central Florida.
The Bike Week Safety Task Force — which includes bikers as well as local police, firefighters and tourism officials — says that sets up the potential to repeat last year’s death toll.
Its campaign — already seen on six billboards, bus advertisements, temporary signs and fliers sent to local churches and homeowners associations — is aimed at local car and truck drivers, telling them what they can do to avoid collisions with bikers.
Their suggestions include double-checking blind spots, avoiding driving distractions such as cell phones or food, and leaving a four-second distance between your car and a motorcycle in front of you. And, of course, paying special attention to oncoming traffic before you turn.
Miller remembered one case in which a driver was preparing to make a left turn and saw a garbage truck coming. Yet, he said, he never saw the motorcycle in front of the garbage truck. He turned left — and the biker smashed into the side of the car. "Your eyes tend to scan for the largest object on the road, so a motorist may miss the motorcycle," Miller said.
Motorists may also be distracted — many bikes are loud and snazzy, with riders in fancy leathers or skimpy attire — or startled by the roar of a loud Harley at a time when they need to focus and take an extra second to look out for motorcycles.
"We hope that it will raise awareness among local drivers that they need to drive with extra caution during Bike Week," said Pat Kuehn, the Volusia County community information specialist who heads the campaign. "Motorcycles are everywhere, and yet they’re hard to see."
Nationwide, she said, motorists cause half of motorcycle fatalities.
The task force originally wanted to target both motorists and motorcyclists, but the group formed too late to organize the kind of public education campaign needed to reach out-of-town Bike Week visitors, Kuehn said.
So this year the campaign is focusing on local drivers.
"Bikers come from all over the country, and they come to ride and party, so they’re a tough group to reach," Kuehn said. "This was the pilot year, and next year we hope to get off to an earlier start and get more funding and reach out to both groups."
Task force members also hope to reach drivers via a tried-and-true advertising technique — the side-of-the-road signs that are a familiar sight during the election campaign season. Volusia County Fire Services Battalion Commander Andrew Millwater said 500 road signs will be posted along several major thoroughfares known for biker accidents.
"The political signs are always a stickler in the local community during election. They’re clutter," Millwater said. "But we know the local motorist pays attention to these signs, and that’s our target audience."
Daytona Beach also has tried to get its own safety message across to bikers. For seven years, Bike Week organizers had worked with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation on promoting that not-for-profit organization’s campaign: "Take It Easy," said Kevin Kilian, vice president of special events and communications for the Chamber, Daytona Beach/Halifax Area.
That message will be repeated again this year at the city venues, and in Bike Week pocket guides. The new campaign is intended to complement them. "It’s all about awareness. Accidents by definition are tough to prevent and it’s a two-sided coin," Kilian said.
"Crazy" Eddie Colosimo, president of the Bikers for First Amendment Rights, sees fault on both sides.
He has one biker friend who was struck in two separate crashes, both caused by a driver talking on a cell phone. On the other hand, another biker buddy died when he drank too much and hit a curb on the ride home.
"All motorcycle riders are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. You’ve got some fools on two wheels," Colosimo said. "But we all need to be more aware and ride with common sense."