Oklahoma motorcycle crashes on the rise with temperatures
Steve Tellier was just a teenager riding his motorcycle on a warm day in Texas when he found himself glancing off the cab of a pickup and landing on the highway next to the driver, his motorcycle wedged under the wheels.
"I ended up almost adjacent to the driver window, in the lane right next to him, looking at up him in the driver's seat," Tellier said. "Of course he had the deer-in-the-headlights look. I'm sure I did, too."
Motorcycle crashes are a common scene, and one that increases as temperatures rise. In 2016, there were 10 fatal bike crashes each month from April through September, except for July, in which there were five, according to data from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. Authorities warn motorists to keep an eye out for bikers with whom they share the road.
The year was 1973, and Tellier was 16 years old, riding his first street bike on the Central Expressway in Dallas. A dirt bike rider since the age of 14, he hadn't gotten the hang of riding street motorcycles, and found himself leaving about 65 feet of skid on the road before crashing into the rear of the stopped pickup.
"I hit the back of the pickup and my bike was going down, and so when I hit, the bike went under the truck and I went over the tailgate and hit the cab and bounced into the lane next to him, and almost got hit by another truck," Tellier said.
Tellier was wearing a helmet, but only jeans and a T-shirt on that ride. He walked away from the wreck with only bruises and a gashed shin.
More than four decades later, Tellier, 60, now teaches motorcyclists the techniques to avoid the crash he endured.
"I had at least two escape paths: the one ahead of me if I'd just been braking properly or the one to my right on the highway," he said.
"Ninety-nine percent of motorcycle accidents could have been prevented if the rider had really been on top of his game and planned as he should have been. It's not to say that the riders are all at fault, but that (the accidents) could have been preventable," Tellier said.
Other motorists should also take care to keep an eye out for riders and keep a safe distance, Oklahoma Highway Safety Traffic Office spokesman Cody McDonell said — about twice the distance they would give a car or truck.
"It's a little different for them driving, so it might take them a second or two to react," McDonell said. "So giving them plenty of space is really helpful."
One of the key things Tellier teaches his students is to plan 12 seconds ahead for the road conditions.
"The two most likely places crashes happen are curves and intersections, and most often, crashes at curves are single-vehicle accidents," he said. "They're not searching properly, they're not planning ahead."
In 2016, there were a total of 732 motorcycle crashes involving serious injury, and 87 fatal crashes, according to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. Motorcycle registrations in 2016 numbered 135,936, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
Motorcycle crashes in 2016 accounted for 12.8 percent of the 687 total fatal crashes in the state.
In 2016, 25.8 percent of crashes resulting from driving their bikes at an unsafe speed, and 10.7 percent had been drinking at the time of the crash. Of the 88 motorcyclists killed in 2016 crashes, 67 percent were not wearing a helmet.
Wearing a T-shirt like Tellier did isn't recommended on motorcycle rides. Riders taking motorcycle courses are required to wear a helmet, eye protection, full-fingered leather gloves, long pants, long sleeves, and over-the-ankle motorcycle boots.
In motorcycling circles, there's a saying: "all the gear, all the time."
When it comes to clothing, denim is acceptable, but leather or synthetic riding gear is preferable.
"A lot of people don't wear the gear because it's hot, but it's definitely recommended," Tellier said. "If you do happen to have a mishap and you're sliding down the road, would you rather have cotton or leather or Kevlar between you and the road?"
He tells students to "dress for the slide, not the ride."
Despite not wearing the proper clothing or using correct motorcycle techniques, Tellier survived his crash with only minor injuries and was even able to get his bike back on the road immediately after the crash.
"To this day, I don't know how I survived it. Everything happened just right, and I landed just right," Tellier said.
The highway safety office will be hosting a motorcycle safety event at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 9. Rider coaches and additional information will be available, and Edmond police will host a motorcycle rodeo at the event.
For more information on rider safety and courses, visit http://ohso.ok.gov/motorcycle-safety1.