I’m the Motorcyclist You’re Probably Going to Kill

The 10.4 % increase in traffic fatalities comes at the expense of people on motorcycles—like me.

Motorcycle Deaths
Mallory Short/Getty Images

Just for the sake of clarity, it'll probably be me you kill. Remember the massive uptick in deaths on American roads? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tells us it's come primarily at the expense of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. And around The Drive offices, that's me.

I could almost feel this latest data set in the wind. The roads feel more dangerous. The close calls are more frequent than they used to be—so frequent I hardly even think about them afterwards. My last two came in quick succession. The first was on a highway in Orange County.

It was a badass truck, big Chevy C10, all matte black and lowered, so I admired the thing as it pulled alongside me. And I felt the rumble of its exhaust reverberating off the concrete wall to my right, and took some pleasure in it, then turned my attention back to the traffic ahead of me. I don't know if the driver of the Chevy signaled before he swerved into my lane, but he didn't slow, so when he hit me it was a hard broadside. Some animal instinct and peripheral vision told me he was coming. Nowhere to go. I stood up just a little on the footpegs, the same animal instinct said maybe I'd have a little more control. And I loosened up as best could, the same animal instinct said that any panicked control inputs would only make for more trouble. Then I let the impact just firmly shove me a few lateral feet.

I took most of it on the leg, and the rest went into the bike’s crash bars and saddlebags. If you let them do their work, motorcycles have an amazing knack for straightening themselves out. This one did, and I stayed up. Mostly, I stayed lucky. Luck is important.

The driver was the nicest guy in the world, kinda guy I'd have a beer with. Kinda guy that would have showed up at my funeral. He gave me a giant hug as if to feel that I was still whole and I could feel him shaking from the adrenaline. I'm certain he was as surprised to hit me as I was to be hit. I'm equally certain he was on his phone.

A month later it almost happened again on my walk across Los Angeles. A big, new Ford pickup ran a stop sign as I sauntered through a crosswalk in Los Feliz. I jumped back. The guy missed me by inches. Me and my big straw cowboy hat. Me and a fluorescent yellow backpack. I couldn't have been more visible, but you have to look in order to see, and this asshole was buried in his mobile phone.

Stand at any intersection as cars back up behind a red light. One after the other, necks crane downwards, faces light up in that blue-white glow. Indifference has become our routine. While the head of the NHTSA calls this latest increase in traffic deaths a crisis, I call our lack of attention a pandemic. We have to do better. Better at driving, but better at living too.

Or, in my case, I won't get to do either.

If you feel like you've earned the responsibility of controlling a 4000-lb metal bludgeon at 80 miles an hour. If you give a shit about reading motorcycle stories. If you think it's unfair that the spike in fatalities is coming at the expense of the least protected of us–the pedestrians and the bicyclists and motorcyclists–while modern cars coddle and protect their negligent drivers. If you find 17,775 traffic deaths in the first six months of the year offensive. If you like driving. Get off your motherfucking mobile phone. It's killing people.