WASHINGTON, DC – This week, Pete Pettalia, a lawmaker who served in the Michigan State Legislature was fatally injured when a pickup truck turned directly into his lane. It is important to note that, Pettalia, was wearing a helmet at the time of the incident.
State Representative Pettalia was an avid motorcyclist rights defender and advocate playing a key role in what would eventually become the repeal of the helmet law in Michigan state in 2012. News sources like CNN quickly tried to appeal to the irony that a critic of a universal helmet law was killed in a motorcycle accident. CNN’s headline read, “Lawmaker Who Opposed Universal Helmet Law Dies in Motorcycle Crash.” You would expect CNN to be more professional, the headline infers that the lack of a helmet was the reason for the fatality. This biased headline and notion is completely false as reports confirmed that the lawmaker was wearing a helmet at the time of the incident.
This particular occurrence is, very unfortunately, one that has been repeated in the past. Despite helmet use, drivers of the four-wheeled variety often fail to see motorcyclists for a multitude of reasons that can include distracted or reckless driving, or simply the failure to be aware of their surroundings. It is for reasons like what caused the crash involving Mr. Pettalia and others like him, that groups such as the Motorcycle Riders Foundation emphasize the concept of crash prevention rather than safer crashing. The reality is, even if riders choose to wear and helmet and all the protective gear available, it is often not enough to stand up to reckless and distracted driving by motorists who fail to adhere to the oft-repeated biker adage. “Look Twice, Save a Life.”
Biker Rights’ activists including SMROs (State Motorcyclist Rights Organizations) are doing their part to emphasize rider education for motorcyclists and driver awareness for the majority of the population behind the wheel. The battle is likely to mount, as referenced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recent Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) report which showed that crashes due to ‘human choice’ errors, specifically distracted driving, increased in 2015 by almost nine percent.
Though it’s not clear what caused the pickup truck driver to drive into Mr. Petallia’s lane, a safe assumption is that it could have been prevented and that, in this instance, a helmet did not make any difference in keeping the lawmaker safe. Yet, there are many, many groups across the nation that point to helmet use as the ‘cure all’ problems. However, the tragedy that occurred this week speaks to what many bikers have been saying for years; let’s work together on a meaningful campaign to enhance motorcycle safety to adopt a strategy that focuses on avoiding motorcycle crashes and not merely surviving them.