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Motorcycle-Riding Secretary of State: Watch Out for Bikes

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson rides in style to Tuesday's Motorcycle Safety Month news conference.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson has been riding motorcycles since she was 12 years old. She may have been the first woman in Oakland County to have received a motorcycle endorsement on her license, when she was a teenager.

Now, Johnson, 56, is the first secretary of state to arrive at a news conference on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. On wheels provided by , Johnson rolled smoothly into Tuesday's Motorcycle Safety Month news  conference at campus in Farmington Hills.

"With the warmer weather coming and much higher gas prices, I think you're going to see a lot more motorcycles on the road this summer," Johnson said, adding that it makes it more important for drivers of four-wheeled vehicles to "share the road" with cyclists. 

Last year, 127 people were killed and many more were injured in car/cycle crashes in Michigan. The average rider killed was 43 years old, and most were men, Johnson said.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said he has been personally touched by those statistics.

In 2003, Deputy Stephen Garfat died while riding his motorcycle on a trip to Canada, and in 2010, retiring Deputy Keith Palmer lost part of his leg as the result of an accident that occurred as he was driving home from his retirement party.

"Most of the time, it's a situation where people aren't paying attention," he said. "Look for the bikes."

Bouchard and Johnson also urged cyclists to keep themselves safe. Johnson noted a half-million riders in the state have a motorcycle endorsement on their licenses, but she suspects many more don't.

The endorsement requires riders to take a written test, and complete a skills test or a certified motorcycle safety course. While rider safety equipment available today ranges from kevlar jackets and pants to air bag technology, "the best thing you can do for rider safety is to get your motorcycle endorsement," Johnson said.

"Getting an endorsement is not just a recommendation from me," she added, "it's the law."

Vince Consiglio, president of ABATE (American Bikers Aiming Toward Education) of Michigan, said 60,000 to 75,000 students from the Detroit area have been trained in motorcycle safety since 1981. He also urged riders to get their endorsement, and noted advanced rider safety courses are available for those who already have it.

"Forty percent of fatalities in Michigan are unlicensed riders," Consiglio said.

Utica resident Jeff Meikle recently took the advanced rider course. He said he took the course because he recently purchased a larger motorcycle.

"It was good to get out there and see what the bike could do, and what it's limits are," he said.

Along with drawing attention to Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, Tuesday's press conference also focused on legislation that would allow motorcyclists to show their support for the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard and Air Force. A military license plate bill passed the state Senate April 14, and is  being considered in the House of Representatives.

Lt. Col. Jerome Hurtgen of the Michigan Army National Guard said five National Guard members have been killed in motorcycle accidents over the past five years.

"It touches us," he said. "Motorcycle safety training is critical, and for those of us in cars, we need to look twice and save a life."

Information about Michigan's 29 public and private motorcycle safety training programs is available on the Secretary of State website, michigan.gov/sos. Secretary of State information is also available on Twitter, twitter.com/michsos, and Facebook, facebook.com/Michigansos

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