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State reminds isle motorists to watch out for motorcycles

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Wisconsin native Brenda Anderson, 26, died tragically near Waialua in a motorcycle accident Saturday, the day before Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month began.

Anderson was traveling on her motorcycle on Kaukonahua Road at high speed when she lost control and collided with a Jeep. She was the eighth motorcycle fatality so far this year, and the state Department of Transportation is mounting a public campaign to prevent more of them.

The campaign is especially near and dear to the heart of state transportation spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.

It was 1988, a few years after Meisenzahl graduated from Kalani High School.

"We were living like there was no tomorrow," he says. But then one of his closest friends died in a motorcycle crash. His group of friends was changed forever.

"To this day we still talk about how it changed us," he says. "For anybody who’s lost anybody when they’re young, it just feels so senseless."

The state will air TV, radio and movie theater ads to remind drivers to keep an eye out for motorcycles.

In addition, Leeward Community College will offer free Experienced Rider Courses from May 28 through August. You must have a motorcycle license and a motorcycle to take the course. To register, call 455-0479. The five-hour course usually costs $50, but the fee is being waived during that time.

In 2010 the state saw a drop in motorcycle fatalities. There were 18 last year, compared with 27, 23 and 30 during 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Meisenzahl said a little less than half of the accidents involve another vehicle. And about 20 percent of the accidents occur with another vehicle taking a left-hand turn.

"If all drivers would make a conscious effort to look twice before turning left across the oncoming lane of traffic at an intersection, lives would be saved," said Rob Dingman, president and chief executive officer of the American Motorcycle Association.

In its campaign the state reminds drivers: 

» Allow a motorcyclist the full lane width, because they’re afforded the same rights as any other motor vehicle. And allow for more following distance, because motorcycles can stop more quickly than cars.

» Don’t be fooled by a flashing turn signal on a motorcycle, because the lights often do not self-cancel, and riders sometimes forget to turn them off.

Motorcyclists are also reminded to make themselves visible and to wear protective gear, especially helmets, estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries.

"You could be the best motorcyclist in the world, but you come up against one distracted driver, and your whole world can change," Meisenzahl says.

Gene Park can be reached at gpark@staradvertiser.com or on Twitter as @GenePark.

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