It’s Sturgis Rally time, and the Cody Police Department reminds motorists and motorcyclists to use extra caution when navigating the extra busy streets and highways.
The famed rally in the South Dakota Black Hills draws motorcyclists from across the United States and the world. This year the event runs July 30-Aug. 15. According to Sturgis.com, the Sturgis City Rally Department counted 510,749 riders in 2015.
On the way to and from the rally, many riders drive through Cody as they take scenic routes like Beartooth Pass, Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, the Big Horn Mountain Loop and Wind River Canyon.
As motorcyclists converge to one region, the accident rate increases. In fact, 16 percent of motorcycle fatalities in Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming occur during the three-week time period around the Sturgis Rally in August.
The reality is harsh and it will take efforts by all drivers to reduce the number of motorcycle-related accidents.
That’s why CPD Chief Chuck Baker is urging everyone to drive with caution. He has joined other government leaders and law enforcement officers in sharing that message through a recently-launched motorcycle safety campaign.
“As the chief of police, a citizen of Cody and a motorcycle enthusiast myself, it’s my intention to support this campaign and get the information out to our community,” Baker said.
The message of caution and safety is particularly earnest this summer following the horrific motorcycle wreck in June that happened when a truck driver struck a group of German tourists on the North Fork. The accident resulted in three fatalities and four others injured.
High fatality rates
While motorcycles are the most fuel efficient class of highway vehicle, they are also the most hazardous, says the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
According to information Baker provided from various agencies:
• Motorcycles account for less than 1 percent of registered vehicles in Wyoming, but are represented in 18 percent of fatal crashes.
• If you hit a motorcycle, no matter who is at fault, you are likely to seriously injure or kill someone.
• Motorcyclists in Wyoming are 85 percent more likely to be injured or killed in a crash (vehicle occupants, 23 percent).
• In Wyoming in 2015, 24 people died in motorcycle crashes, making it the third highest fatality year for Wyoming in at least 20 years. Forty-three percent of those 24 riders were impaired.
• Wyoming residents represented 57 percent of those 24 fatalities. The average age of those who died was 54.
Governor weighs in
Last year most motorcycle crashes in Wyoming occurred in August.
This year six lives have already been lost in Wyoming, says a message from Gov. Matt Mead, who has issued “talking points” as part of the campaign.
Mead’s statement reminds all road users to practice safe riding and cooperation.
“It’s especially important for motorists to understand the safety challenges faced by motorcyclists – such as size and visibility, and motorcycle riding practices like downshifting and weaving – to know how to anticipate and respond to them.
“By raising motorists’ awareness, both drivers and riders will be safer sharing the road,” Mead said.
The CPD has posted motorcycle safety tips on Facebook. Additional information is available on the WYDOT website.
Bike accidents complex
To address safety and help reduce the number of fatalities and injuries on Wyoming roadways, Baker stresses three important actions:
• Education and information in promoting safe riding practices,
• Cooperation from all road users
• General awareness.
“While high risk and reckless operation of any motor vehicle will not be tolerated … addressing motorcycle safety [solely] by enforcing existing vehicle and traffic laws is not enough,” the police chief said.
Baker said repercussions reach beyond the immediate loss of life, injury and property damage. There is often long-term economic impacts such as lost household production and earnings and medical costs along with vocational rehabilitation and workplace expenses. Administrative, legal and insurance industries are also effected.
“Share the road,” said the police chief.
Wrecks on Beartooth
Fortunately no vehicles were involved when two bikers lost control June 16 in separate accidents occurring eight miles apart and within a 35-minute time frame.
The bikers were attending the Beartooth Motorcycle Rally that runs through Beartooth Pass in Red Lodge. Both accidents occurred between noon and 1 p.m. on the Beartooth highway switchbacks.
Trooper Brad McConnell investigated the first accident at milepost 31 on WYO 296.
California biker Darcy Rietveld, 48, was with a group of riders when she took one of the curves too fast, lost control and laid the bike down.
McConnell said she and the bike slid into a guardrail.
Rietveld, who was not wearing a helmet, suffered leg injuries. She was taken by ambulance to West Park Hospital.
McConnell said the motorcyclist in the second accident at milepost 39 took a curb too fast and hit a parked vehicle. When the trooper stopped, he saw the biker walking around with a bloody nose and what looked like gravel in the face.
Both accidents occurred along a stretch of highway where bends in the road make it increasingly tighter.
(Rhonda Schulte can be reached at email@example.com.)