While the snow and ice melt has melted from McHenry County streets, area motorcycle riders will begin to fire up their bikes and hit the open road for the first time all year.
But spring is often a dangerous time for motorcycle riders who may have gotten a little rusty after months without riding, according to Scott Haas, project coordinator for the Motorcycle Safety Project at Northern Illinois University.
"In 2012, when we had an early spring, motorcycle riders got out early and there was a spike in fatal crashes," Haas said. "In some cases it's people knocking the rust off. [For other motorists] they're just not used to seeing motorcycles out on the road."
In an effort to reduce motorcycle fatalities, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Motorcycle Dealers Association have partnered to kick off the 2014 "Gear Up-Ride Smart" campaign, which urges cyclists to safety-check their bikes and take advantage of free training classes, and it reminds other drivers to pay attention to bikers on the road.
There were 155 motorcycle fatalities in 2013, up from 148 in 2012, according to provisional data from IDOT. And while motorcycles represent just 3 percent of total vehicle registrations, motorcycle deaths account for more than 15 percent of all vehicle fatalities.
About half of motorcycle rider deaths occur in single-vehicle crashes, and approximately 40 percent of those fatalities involve people who rode after drinking, IDOT said in a news release.
"We want to eliminate fatalities on Illinois roadways, and motorcyclists can help by ensuring they are wearing the proper gear, taking a training course or refresher as needed, and not drinking and driving," Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider said in the release.
The NIU Motorcycle Safety Project offers free training classes across the region, with locations at McHenry County College and the College of Lake County, among other places.
There is a $20 deposit to hold the class, which is later returned after completion, Haas said. Riders can register at http://www.outreach.niu.edu/mcycle
"[The classes] are as needed," Haas said. "Unfortunately, a lot of people don't feel it's necessary. But every few years it doesn't hurt to get the refresher."
The IMDA also stressed the importance of having bikes checked before going on long rides, including checking the tires, fluids and brakes, and ensuring that their riding gear is visible to other motorists.
Riders should also evaluate their medical condition before and during the ride, use proper braking techniques, stay alert during the entire ride, and never assume other motorists can see you.
"Get trained, gear up, and ride smart," Haas said.