I saw a young man die on Oct. 28, and it did not have to happen. While I was driving home from work, I saw in my rearview mirror a man on a high-performance motorcycle doing a wheelie. While he was passing me on one wheel at more than 60 mph, he came down hard on his front wheel and was catapulted over the handlebars. As I looked to my left, he was no more than 10 feet away, with his body stretched over the handlebars -- feet off the pegs and head over the front wheel -- trying desperately to regain control, but he had no leverage to do so. He veered into the median strip and struck a guard rail, dying instantly.
On my way home, after filling out a witness statement, I thought of a terrible day in April 1982 when my dad called to tell me that my best friend, Timmy, had been killed on his motorcycle. I had met Tim on my first day of kindergarten. He was 20 when his life ended.
A few years later, perhaps to conquer the machine that conquered my friend, I got a motorcycle, too. I was in the Navy and stationed in Japan, but the Navy required me to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's basic rider safety course before I could get a license or be issued a base sticker for my bike. That course saved my life on several occasions.
Riding a motorcycle is significantly different from riding a bicycle. Many things, such as braking-power ratios and counter-steering, are counterintuitive. But learning best practices, riding techniques and the basic physics of motorcycles, riding techniques are lifesaving lessons.
More than 90 percent of motorcyclists who are involved in crashes have had no formal training, according to studies. About 90 percent of all crashes also occur within the first year of riding a motorcycle. Getting people trained and through their first year of motorcycle riding is critical.
Lately, I have seen a rash of young motorcyclists on "crotch rockets" flying past me at speeds in excess of 100 mph. Coming home from Navy Reserve duty in Washington last fall, I was passed by a young man doing a wheelie at 80 mph.
Maybe it is the lingering pain of the loss of my buddy Tim more than 20 years ago, but my greatest fear that day was that I would turn the corner and find a dead motorcyclist. Last month, that fear was realized.
In Maryland, motorcyclists younger than 18 are required to take motorcycle safety training before they can apply for a license. That is a start, but Maryland and other states should follow the course that the Navy set more than 20 years ago and require all first-time license holders, regardless of age, to complete the basic Motorcycle Safety Foundation course or its equivalent before obtaining a license. It may be the course that saves their lives.
-- Mike Collins