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Among the 35 new state laws that went into effect in North Carolina on December 1, 2011, is a new statute that establishes penalties for putting motorcycle riders in danger. It’s called The Motorcycle Safety Act, and it is my hope that drivers will become aware of this law and be more alert to the hazards that face motorcyclists.

When a driver forces a motorcycle to change lanes unsafely or run off the road, the driver will be cited with an infraction and fined $200. If the movement causes a crash that causes property damage or personal injury to the biker or a passenger, the fine will be $500.

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Motorcycle riders are at a higher risk on the road for a number of reasons. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers information for car and truck drivers, including this list of 10 tips to avoid crashes with bikes.

Ten Things All Car & Truck Drivers Should Know About Motorcycles

  1. There are a lot more cars and trucks than motorcycles on the road, and some drivers don't "recognize" a motorcycle; they ignore it (usually unintentionally). Look for motorcycles, especially when checking traffic at an intersection.
  2. Because of its small size, a motorcycle may look farther away than it is. It may also be difficult to judge a motorcycle’s speed. When checking traffic to turn at an intersection or into (or out of) a driveway, predict a motorcycle is closer than it looks.
  3. Because of its small size, a motorcycle can be easily hidden in a car’s blind spots (door/roof pillars) or masked by objects or backgrounds outside a car (bushes, fences, bridges, etc). Take an extra moment to thoroughly check traffic, whether you're changing lanes or turning at intersections.
  4. Because of its small size a motorcycle may seem to be moving faster than it really is. Don't assume all motorcyclists are speed demons.
  5. Motorcyclists often slow by downshifting or merely rolling off the throttle, thus not activating the brake light. Allow more following distance, say 3 or 4 seconds. At intersections, predict a motorcyclist may slow down without visual warning.
  6. Turn signals on a motorcycle usually are not self-canceling, thus some riders, (especially beginners) sometimes forget to turn them off after a turn or lane change. Make sure a motorcycle's signal is for real.
  7. Motorcyclists often adjust position within a lane to be seen more easily and to minimize the effects of road debris, passing vehicles, and wind. Understand that motorcyclists adjust lane position for a purpose, not to be reckless or show off or to allow you to share the lane with them.
  8. Maneuverability is one of a motorcycle's better characteristics, especially at slower speeds and with good road conditions, but don't expect a motorcyclist to always be able to dodge out of the way.
  9. Stopping distance for motorcycles is nearly the same as for cars, but slippery pavement makes stopping quickly difficult. Allow more following distance behind a motorcycle because it can't always stop "on a dime."
  10. When a motorcycle is in motion, don't think of it as motorcycle; think of it as a person.

Although data is not complete, motorcyclist fatalities are expected to total 4,376 in 2010 nationwide, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Deaths decreased by just 2 percent – far less than the 16 percent decrease in 2009. Perhaps North Carolina’s Motorcycle Safety Act can help improve that figure.

(For a list of North Carolina’s new laws click here.)

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