State

Motorcycle fatalities have increased in Missouri and Kansas

Wichita Police officers look at one of the 2 motorcycles involved in a fatal crash in December 2013.
Wichita Police officers look at one of the 2 motorcycles involved in a fatal crash in December 2013.

Roger D. Chapman’s visit to see a friend wasn’t going to be long.

The 59-year-old Independence resident had just fired up his competition-grade barbecue smoker. While waiting for the charcoal to smolder, he climbed onto his 2001 Harley-Davidson Road King to make a brief trip to Kansas City, Kan.

But his return trip ended tragically.

As Chapman idled at a red light that Sunday morning in May, a motorist crested a hill and plowed into him from behind at 63rd Street and Leavenworth Road.

“He was a good, hardworking man,” said his son Kenneth Chapman. “His death has been really hard on everyone.”

He is one of 19 motorcycle riders to die this year in Kansas from crashes involving a second vehicle. That’s four more biker fatalities than Kansas recorded in all of 2013 in wrecks involving a second vehicle.

In addition, Kansas is on pace to have more bikers die this year in crashes not involving a second vehicle.

Missouri already has surpassed last year’s motorcyclist fatalities in wrecks involving second vehicles and in wrecks involving only the motorcycle.

Authorities in both states say there is no clear explanation for the increase.

“Motorcyclists make mistakes, but the drivers who drive around motorcyclists also make mistakes,” said Leanna Depue, highway safety director with the Missouri Department of Transportation. “There are many circumstances where they don’t see or they overlook the motorcyclist.

“Motorcyclists are much smaller objects, and they are much more difficult to see.”

Some fatalities involved bikers not properly licensed or trained to ride. Other crash factors included speeding, impaired riding and failure to correctly change lanes.

In April, a motorcyclist eastbound on 31st Street near Van Brunt Boulevard was killed after sliding under and being run over by a tractor-trailer. In September, a vehicle struck and killed a motorcyclist traveling east on Gregory Boulevard toward Manchester Avenue. And last month, a car and a motorcycle collided along Santa Fe Trail Drive in Lenexa, killing the motorcyclist.

So far this year, Missouri has reported 82 motorcyclist fatalities, 10 more than all of 2013. About half involved crashes with another vehicle.

As of Oct. 16, Kansas had 33 motorcycle fatalities, just three fewer than all of 2013. Four in seven wrecks involved a second vehicle.

The Kansas City area mourns a large share of those killed. Last year, Jackson County experienced nine fatalities and Johnson County logged seven. Wyandotte, Leavenworth, Douglas, Clay, Platte and Cass counties also reported deaths.

Missouri has 363,000 drivers licensed to operate motorcycles. Kansas has 219,000.

One thing that concerns traffic safety officials is the number of fatal motorcycle crashes in which the operator was unlicensed or improperly licensed. Operators are required to have an endorsement on their driver’s license for motorcycles, said Chris Bortz with the Kansas Bureau of Transportation and Technology.

Motorcyclists need to pass a written test and a riding test. Training academies in both states help riders meet the requirements to obtain motorcycle endorsements.

Safety officials in both states have launched extensive public awareness campaigns to stress the importance of motorcyclists wearing appropriate helmets and other safety gear as well as receiving training and the correct licenses.

Proper training is essential to rider safety, experts say.

Many unlicensed motorcyclists are self-taught and received instruction from a friend or loved one. That is usually a deadly mix, said Jerry White, who is a certified rider coach through the Missouri Motorcycle Safety Program on the campus of the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

“They get out there and start riding and it works for them so they think it must be right, and they get into a situation where they have to respond very quickly, they don’t know what to do and it turns out poorly,” White said.

That wasn’t an issue in Roger Chapman’s case. The U.S. Navy veteran and General Motors worker was waiting at a stoplight when a motorist plowed into him.

As long as Kenneth Chapman can remember, his dad had a passion for riding motorcycles. He shared that passion with his boys when Kenneth Chapman and his older brother were young. He took them to the levee along the Kaw River to teach them how to ride.

He also made motorcycle safety a priority.

“He always wore a helmet. It was never an issue with my dad,” Kenneth Chapman said. “He pounded into our heads: Put on your helmet.”

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send e-mail to grice@kcstar.com.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

  Comments