By Terry Rogers
On Saturday, September 15, Delaware Department of Transportation’s Office of Highway Safety held a Motorcycle Safety Awareness Event at Grotto Pizza in Milford. The event, scheduled to coincide with Ocean City’s Bike Week, offered information and activities designed to offer information on motorcycle education opportunities, as well as promoting safety awareness for motorcyclists and motorists. Participating agencies included Bayhealth Medical Center, Delaware Department of Motor Vehicles, Delaware State and Milford Police Departments, Dover Air Force Base Green Knights and State Farm Insurance.
Those who attended the event were able to see motorcycle demonstrations by the Green Knights, a military affiliated chartered motorcycle club. The club promotes education of the motorcycling community with a focus on safety, community service, and family values. In addition, there were demonstrations of unbelted crash rollovers presented by the Delaware State Police, police motorcycles and information on motorcycle training classes offered through the Delaware Motorcycle Program.
Jennifer Heulings attended the event in honor of her brother, Robert Heulings, Jr. who died while riding a motorcycle in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Heulings was on his way home from work when he clipped a truck with faulty brake lights and thrown into oncoming traffic. Heulings, who was 34 years old, had four children, ages 12 to 19 and had been riding motorcycles since the age of 15. His sister, a member of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education (ABATE) says that the key to reducing the number of motorcycle fatalities is education for both motorists and motorcycle drivers.
“People tell me all the time ‘I just don’t see those darn motorcycles’,” Jennifer Heuling said. “There needs to be more public awareness about how motorcycles blend into surroundings and getting a motorcycle license should require more education than it does now.” She went on to say people are in too much of a hurry today and less concerned about safety, and that if they simply slowed down, many accidents could be avoided.
Clayton Porter, a Rider Coach with the Delaware Motorcycle Program, agrees. He teaches two and three-day education courses at the beginner and advanced levels. The program also offers a senior riding course for those 40 and over. The two-day course are held on Saturday and Sunday, while the three-day course begins Thursday evening and runs throughout the weekend. Attendees may earn between a 10 and 15 percent deduction on insurance.
“At the end of the first day of class, I always tell students to count how many motorcycles they see on the way home, and report back the next day. They are always amazed at how many they notice now that we have made them aware,” Porter said. “The common statement I hear from people is ‘I didn’t see them.” Porter and Heulings both say that handling a motorcycle is much different than handling a car, and that it takes more strength and balance than most people realize. Because brakes on a motorcycle handle differently, many motorcyclists downshift to slow or drop the bike to avoid being thrown over the handlebars.
Another attendee of the event was Ted Newhouse, who lost his leg and suffered other severe injuries when a drunk driver struck him just one-quarter mile from his home. Newhouse was getting his 1977 Harley Davidson Ironhead Sportster ready for Ocean City’s Bike Week, and on Sunday, August 22, 2010, took it for a test run around noon. Newhouse was approaching the intersection of Fleatown and Clendaniel Pond Road in Lincoln when a car crossed the centerline, striking him in the leg. Newhouse was unable to work until April 2, 2012, almost two years after his accident. He now wears a prosthetic, although it took sometime before his leg had healed enough to allow wearing it.
“I am living proof that determination and sheer bullheadedness can help you overcome anything. I promised my family I would never ride a motorcycle again, however.” Newhouse said. Heulings said her father, who had ridden motorcycles for as long as she remembered, no longer rides one due to her brother’s accident. Heulings also said that she is well aware of the fact that many motorcyclists fail to adhere to safety regulations as well, by weaving in and out of traffic or traveling at high rates of speed. She feels additional educational requirements for obtaining a motorcycle license may reduce some of those actions.
The Office of Highway Safety hopes to hold this event annually. During Ocean City’s Annual Bike Week, thousands of motorcycles travel Delaware highways on the way to the event, and DelDot hopes that events such as these will make motorists more aware of motorcycles on the road.