After Fatal Crashes, Police to Set Up Motorcycle Checkpoints

Published: June 29, 2008

NORTH SALEM

DRIED roses and a smiling photograph, distortedly reflected in chunks of black plastic motorcycle parts crudely fashioned into a cross, mark the spot where Brian HoSang crashed and died on southbound Interstate-684 two months ago.

Sabrina HoSang, of Pleasantville, hopes the broken pieces of her brother’s 2005 Honda prompt other bikers to slow down. If not, she says, she thinks the new Westchester County police checkpoints singling out motorcyclists will prevent other crashes.

“It’s one step further to making the road a little bit safer,” she said. “Drivers who drive cars can also be dangerous, but if a person driving a car gets into an accident, their chance of surviving is greater than someone on a motorcycle.”

The county police agree and were inspired to begin a motorcycle safety campaign after three fatal crashes on Westchester’s winding parkways last year. The county has already had three motorcycle deaths this year: the 24-year-old HoSang on May 11; Barry Johnson, 42, of New Rochelle, killed on Fifth Avenue and Portman Road on June 6; and Carlos J. Cepeda, 24, of Yonkers, killed on the Bronx River Parkway on June 14.

The police expect serious accidents will keep happening, as ridership rises because of abundant summer sunshine and mounting gas prices.

“A lot of it is fuel prices, and then the more motorcycles people see, the more people want to become a part of it all,” said Bob Simpson, owner of the Smart Rider Motorcycle Safety Program, which offers classes in Poughkeepsie and Suffern.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports the number of registered motorcycles jumped to 6.68 million in 2006 from 3.9 million in 1996, with fatalities climbing from a rate of 55.8 per 100,000 riders to 71.9 per 100,000 riders. In contrast, while the number of registered passenger cars rose to 136.9 million in 2006 from 124.6 million in 1996, the car accident fatality rate dropped from 18.1 per 100,000 occupants to 13.0.

Mr. Simpson’s program teaches riders to avoid crashes by turning properly — 43 percent of fatalities happen on a curve, he said — braking, swerving and making themselves more visible on the road.

“This is one way to prevent problems, to educate yourself rather than just jump on a motorcycle, being taught by a friend or teaching yourself,” Mr. Simpson said, adding that enrollment has doubled this year.

The county police say they hope their parkway checkpoints will motivate more bikers to enroll in such programs, and to ensure they have the proper documentation and equipment.

Of 250 motorcycles stopped on the Hutchinson River, Cross County and Bronx River Parkways on May 25, the police issued 32 summonses and impounded six bikes. Each motorcyclist also got a fact sheet on safety requirements and recommendations, said Sgt. Brian Hess of the county police.

“You can’t make any mistakes on a motorcycle; one mistake can cost you your life,” he said. “In a car, you have built-in safety equipment, like airbags and safety belt. On a motorcycle, the only thing you have is the helmet, and usually it’s too late if it comes to that.”

Sergeant Hess said most riders had no problems with the checkpoints, complaining only that a few irresponsible bikers, especially younger riders who are new to the road, had given all of them a bad name.

Kurt Abisch, 57, founder of the Westchester Beemers Motorcycle Club, whose membership has grown 15 percent to 123 members this year, said he hoped the checkpoints curb reckless riding. But he also said he found it frustrating that his BMW motorcycle, which he uses for commuting and recreation, is perceived as more dangerous than a car.

“We always get harassed and stopped more often than anybody else by the cops,” Mr. Abisch said. Checkpoints “keep away the bad riders with no license, insurance or registration, but I hope they also check the automobile population for the same things.”

Ms. HoSang, who fondly described her younger brother as a daredevil who enjoyed trying stunts on the used bike he bought last summer, said she did not think a checkpoint would have saved his life. The police determined that speed was a factor in his accident, but based on what the friends riding with him described, her family is looking into whether a problem with his front wheel contributed to the crash.

Either way, Ms. HoSang said, her brother’s friends, including the four riding home with him that Sunday afternoon, have taken their own precautions in the wake of Mr. HoSang’s death.

“They all sold their bikes,” she said. “But some people still just take their chances.”

Taken from The New York Times.

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