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My rules of the road for drivers, motorcyclists

Suffolk County police on scene of a fatal

Suffolk County police on scene of a fatal motorcycle crash at the intersection of Route 25A and Carriage House Road, in Smithtown on Wednesday night. Credit: Christopher Sabella

As a lifelong motorcycle rider, I’m devastated to see the recent rash of fatal motorcycle-car collisions — at least eight on Long Island in the past month. Even more distressing, all appear to have involved car drivers pulling into the path of oncoming motorcyclists.

I spent my early years dreaming of Evel Knievel, ripping around fields and racing off-road motorcycles for a decade before eventually hitting the pavement. I learned in those early days the limitations of both bikes and riders, albeit with my greatest physical adversary being soft, wet dirt and the occasional cow patty. When I applied my two-wheel skills to highways, where adversaries are of the three-ton metal and hard-paved variety, I was shocked at how often a car driver would make eye contact, and then, inexplicably, pull out in front of me anyway.

When I was 16, Martin, a school friend, was riding his motorcycle to work when a driver pulled her car into his path. He had no time to react and was killed instantly.

Traumatized, the driver said she didn’t see him, but based on my own distressing experience with car drivers, she probably wasn’t looking for him. She was likely looking for other cars. I’ve spent years processing that, and have thought of it every time I ride, recognizing that every driver could inadvertently kill me.

Some motorcyclists aren’t blameless, of course. Some enjoy the freedom and romance of their machines a little too much and travel recklessly fast (another column perhaps). In these warm months, motorists should look a little more carefully before making a turn, or pulling out of a parking lot.

You can block out an approaching motorcycle from your peripheral view with just a raised pinkie. Add to that a motorized populace constantly on cellphones, and motorcyclists are practically invisible.

Motorcyclists who are brave enough to take to the wild roads of Long Island should assume every car is planning to pull out in front of them. Then, they’ll be pleasantly surprised when they don’t.

Matt Davies is Newsday’s editorial cartoonist.