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By the numbers
Motorcycle (in some cases moped) fatalities in Allen County for the last five years
Source: NIRCC
Motorcycle fatalities in the state of Indiana for 2007-11
Source: Indiana Criminal Justice Institute
ISP Motorcycle Safety

Indiana State Police Sgt. Luke NaThalang shares safety tips for motorcyclists and motorists as motorcycles season shifts into full gear.

Photo courtesy of Joyce McCartney
Joyce McCartney and Tom Witmer stand with the motorcycle on which Witmer was killed in a Fulton County accident on Oct. 4, 2012.
Journal Entry

Safety’s incalculable value

May is Motorcycle Awareness Month, when highway safety officials hope to make the public aware of the presence of motorcycles and stress safety on behalf of motorists and motorcyclists.

In Allen County last year, there were 11 people killed in nine crashes involving motorcycles. In six of those crashes, the motorcyclists were at fault and in three of those, alcohol was a factor. The other three crashes were the fault of a motor vehicle driver, according to Jerry Foust of the Northeast Indiana Regional Coordinating Council.

Not among those stats, because it happened in another county, is the Oct. 4 death of my boyfriend, Tom Witmer. Tom was killed when a woman pulled out in front of him on Indiana 19 at Division Road just north of Akron in Fulton County.

In that instance, the driver of the SUV was clearly to blame. And it was at that point that I made it my mission to spread the word about motorcycle safety to anyone who would listen.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a huge responsibility to decide to get on a two-wheeled vehicle with little around you to protect you and to drive it around vehicles weighing in at thousands of pounds. It was a responsibility my Tom did not take lightly; we did not get drunk when out on the bike, he had recently been wearing his helmet more frequently (helmets are a choice in Indiana and he chose not only to wear, we believe he was on his way to purchase a new helmet to go with his brand-new bike the evening he was killed) and he was vigilant about his surroundings.

At 4 p.m. Oct. 4, he was just an engineering manager at Zimmer in Warsaw, who had been itching for several days to take his brand new Harley-Davidson Road Glide out in the waning days of riding season. By 5 p.m., he was a statistic whose family couldn’t be found because he had lock codes on his cell phones.

Safety is not solely the responsibility of the biker, it is also a huge responsibility to get behind the wheel of a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds and, unfortunately, it is a responsibility that so many people are prone to taking too lightly by paying more attention to what is going on inside their car (the radio, the kids, their cellphone).

I have no clue why the woman who pulled out in front of Tom didn’t see his bright, candy-orange motorcycle or hear the loud pipes. I know he had 40 to 50 feet to react and, based on what police and the coroner told us, he tried to avoid the collision.

So, not just this month, but throughout the summer and into the fall, if you ride, or drive, remember that safety should come first. If you’re a driver, pay attention to the two- and three-wheeled vehicles on the road and watch out for them. If you’re a rider (or passenger), be extra careful, watch for inattentive drivers, but, more importantly, don’t add extra challenges to riding a bike by riding drunk or distracted.

Here’s advice from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration:

Share the road

All motorists are reminded to safely “share the road” with motorcycles and to be extra alert to help keep motorcyclists safe. Motorcyclists are reminded to make themselves visible to other motorists.

Ride sober

Statistics show that the percentage of intoxicated motorcycle riders in fatal crashes is greater than the percentage of intoxicated drivers on our roads. This is why NHTSA urges all motorcycle riders to always ride smart and sober.

Joyce McCartney is an assistant metro editor at The Journal Gazette.