What Can We Learn From the New Hampshire Tragedy?

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A tragic motorcycle accident last weekend took seven lives. Let’s do what we can to avoid losing any more.

By now, you’ve likely heard about the tragic motorcycle accident in New Hampshire that took seven lives. We recently wrote about it on H-D Forums. Since then, we’ve learned that the driver of the pickup truck that drove into the group of motorcyclists has been arrested. Today, he was arraigned on seven counts of negligent homicide.

The driver, 23-year-old Volodoymyr Zhukovskyy of West Springfield, Massachusetts, entered pleas of “not guilty” for each of the seven counts, according to WMUR Channel 9 News in Manchester, New Hampshire. He is held without bail, as the court determined that he would be a threat to the safety of himself or others due to his driving history.

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While we’re sure that the sordid details of his driving record will come out in time, what we do know now is that, back in February, Zhukovskyy was arrested in Baytown, Texas, for possession of drug paraphernalia. According to Travis Hood, a witness to the recent motorcycle tragedy, “[Zhukovskyy’s] truck pretty much was like in the middle of the yellow line, and the guy pretty much cleaned out the whole – the bikes were riding side-by-side, and the guy cleaned out pretty much every bike that was there besides one of them.”

This accident has rocked the motorcycle world and is one of the worst tragedies to ever befall our two-wheeled community. In the face of such a horrific event, we’re inclined to look for answers that may never come. Instead, we should look for lessons to keep ourselves from suffering a similar fate.

 

Riding motorcycles is dangerous, and each time we swing a leg over the saddle, we take a calculated risk. The best solution is to do what we can to mitigate those risks. 

 

The loss of those seven motorcyclists should not be in vain. We should all take a moment to honor their memory by trying to learn from what happened.

Riding motorcycles is inherently dangerous, and each time we swing a leg over the saddle, we take a calculated risk. It’s not a fun thought, but the best solution is to do what we can to mitigate those risks. So, in addition to reputable resources like the Harley Riding Academy and the invaluable advice that you can always find in the H-D Forumslike this “How Safe or Dangerous is It?” thread, and this one about helmet safety, and this one about the importance of ABS brakes–I think now is as good a time as any to review riding safety tips and protocol for making your road experiences the safest possible.

Stay Alert and Trust Your Instincts

Never let your guard down. In a world of increasingly distracted drivers, you should expect the absolute worst from the cars, trucks, and SUVs you share the road with, and prepare accordingly. It sounds cliche to say “expect the unexpected,” but that’s the best advice we can give. Don’t ride like you’re invisible — ride like every car is a two-ton, 60-mile-per-hour death missile that has you in its sights.

Just yesterday, I made eye contact (or thought I did) with a woman in a grey Audi sedan in a parking lot who proceeded to cross four lanes of traffic, get in my lane, and slam on her brakes almost directly in front of me for no apparent reason. I was riding my new-to-me naked bike back from the DMV to get plates. I had less than 10 miles on the trip odometer, and it was the first time I got to experience just how great my brakes are on this new machine. That’s not exactly how I wanted to test the limits of my new mount. I’m still trying to figure out what happened there.

My point is, stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. If you think someone in a car is going to do something stupid, they probably will. If you’ve spent enough time behind the wheel and/or your handlebars, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s surprisingly easy to tell when a driver is about to do something crazy, especially when you’ve already programmed your brain to expect the worst. You’re better at this than you think — just listen to what your brain is trying to tell you. Trust your instincts.

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Protect Yourself

Practice defensive-riding techniques whenever it’s possible (and safe) to do so. Take a class, and when you arrive, surrender yourself fully to the whims of the instructor. Don’t be Mr. Know-It-All. Even if you’ve been riding for 20 years, it’s entirely possible that you’ve merely repeated your first year of riding 20 times.

Not all accidents are avoidable, but you can prepare for that, too. Buy the right safety gear, and wear it every single time you go out on your bike. If the hardcore sportbike guys have anything right, it’s riding attire. No, we’re not talking about the punks who ride in flip-flops and t-shirts — those guys are total squids. Instead, we’re talking about the guys who ride exotic, high-horsepower machines that cost more than your first home. These guys wear race leathers, armored gloves, and full-face helmets every single time they get on the bike.

Of course, you don’t have to go to these extremes if you don’t want to — again, it’s all about that concept of calculated risk I mentioned above. Find what works for you. I personally wear a helmet, gloves, boots, and jacket every time I get on the bike. At the very least, wearing a helmet is a no-brainer any way you look at it.

 

‘Stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. If you think someone in a car is going to do something stupid, they probably will.’

 

Of course, we still have little to no idea what caused the horrible accident in New Hampshire. We may never really know. It’s entirely possible that, from the motorcyclists’ point of view, there was nothing that they could have been done to prevent this. From the details we know now, it certainly sounds that way.

The sad truth is that every day, skilled, safe, and experienced motorcyclists die in accidents. While the tips we’ve shared in this article can help keep you safe in avoidable accidents, we cannot avoid every possible incident. It’s a statistical impossibility. When those accidents do inevitably happen, there are some road mishaps that even the best gear in the world cannot save us from — but don’t use that as an excuse to suit up in a do-rag and sunglasses.

So what can you do? Treat every day as a blessing. Tell your family and friends that you care about them. Stop putting off those things that you’ll get to “someday,” because tomorrow isn’t a guarantee. And whatever you do, get out and ride as much as you can. Do it for those fellow riders that we have lost, like those in New Hampshire. It’s what they would have wanted.

Photo: The Boston Globe; WMUR Channel 9 News; Harley-Davidson

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Longtime motorcyclist and automotive journalist Cam Vanderhorst is a regular contributor to Harley-Davidson Forums, Ford Truck Enthusiasts, Corvette Forum and MB World, among others.

When he's not busy working on his Harley-Davidson bike, the vastly experienced writer has covered an array of features, reviews, how-tos, op-eds and news stories for Internet Brands' Auto Group and is also a co-founder and co-host of the popular podcast Cammed & Tubbed.

Check him out on Instagram at: Camvanderhorst.

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