Bikers drawn to area roads

As more motorcyclists roll in for a rural ride, the FHP wants to raise awareness to prevent crashes.

Published May 12, 2007

Call Hernando County Biker Central.

With the arrival of warmer weather and longer days, motorcyclists from near and far are increasing in numbers on area roads.

And motorists need to pay attention.

"Motorcyclists are much more vulnerable than other motorists in the event of a crash, " said Col. Chris Knight, Florida Highway Patrol director.

The Highway Patrol, in combination with state transportation and local law enforcement officials, is trying to raise awareness of the issue by proclaiming May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.

Riders are often difficult to spot with a quick glance, so drivers in other vehicles need to look carefully for them. Too often with crashes, drivers say they never saw the motorcyclist, authorities said.

Motorcycle injuries and fatalities in Hernando County have increased about 40 percent in the last five calendar years.

The county averages 3.8 motorcycle fatalities a year, in the last five years, far below its larger, neighboring counties.

But already in 2007, officials report three motorcycle deaths. The latest was a 49-year-old Weaverville, N.C., man who lost control of his 1998 Harley Road King while driving on Powell Road south of Brooksville on Sunday night. He was not wearing a helmet and later died at a Tampa hospital.

Rising numbers can be attributed in part to the increasing presence of bikers.

In west-central Florida, Hernando County has the highest concentration of motorcycles per capita with about 4 percent of residents owning a bike, according to state tax data and recent census population estimates.

Pasco County is a close second, followed by Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Registrations in Hernando have increased 118 percent in the last five fiscal years, according to an analysis of state registration data.

Add to those figures the large number of visiting bikers that flock to the county's roadways looking for open air and room to ride.

"It's the rural country roads with not much traffic and the scenery, " said Billy Bott, the sales manager at WFO Kawasaki west of Brooksville. "They come from all over just to ride."

From Tampa, from Orlando, from all over Central Florida, he says.

Bott's sales also reflect the trend. More than 50 bikes a month pass through the glass doors of the warehouse-sized shop of Cortez Boulevard near the Suncoast Parkway.

He said safety comes up in nearly every discussion with potential buyers. He pushes customers to buy the helmets with the highest safety ratings and notes that many riders buy after-market parts, such as a transistor to make headlights strobe, so they stand out to motorists.

"The whole point is to be seen, " he said. "It's more than a sales pitch."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 352 754-6114.

Fast Facts:

Highway Patrol's tips for safe driving

Motorcyclists should:

- Never ride between lanes of slow-moving or stopped traffic.

- Assume they are invisible to other motorists and operate their motorcycles accordingly.

- Know and obey traffic laws and always wear protective gear.

Other drivers should:

- Allow a motorcyclist the full lane width and do not try to share a lane.

- Check for motorcycles by looking in mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes in traffic and at intersections.

- Make room for sufficient following distances so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.