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Ask Our Lawyer - November 2002

the other day when a semi came up behind me and passed me a little too close for comfort. The wind blast pushed me off the road onto the shoulder. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, and since I had taken the Motorcycle Safety course, I was ready for the change in pavement. What I wasn’t ready for was the sharp drop-off between the highway and the shoulder. It seems the highway department had been replacing the pavement and had milled off the top layer of the shoulder. As a result, there was a three to four inch drop from the highway surface to the shoulder. When I attempted to climb back onto the roadway, the bike got caught on the lip and spilled me. I’m ok, but I’m mad. What should I do?

A: You’ve already done the best thing possible, which is to take the Motorcycle Safetly course. That doesn’t eliminate the problems, but at least you can be prepared for some of the potential problems.

There’s no doubt that trying to get over a raised pavement is very difficult to do. Often the best thing would be to come to a stop, wait until there’s a break in the traffic, and slowly bring the bike back unto the roadway. The best way is to come at it at as close to a 90E angle as possible. The closer you are to going straight at it, the better the bike will climb the drop-off. Conversely, the closer you are to parallel to the drop-off, the more likely you are to catch the wheel on the drop-off and dump the bike.

Jay Jackson, the Indiana Motorcycle Safety Division Director, also suggests some ways to handle similar situations. He notes that the Motorcycle Safety Foundation recommends a five step process for going over objects that we are unable to avoid by stopping or going around. First, you must determine if it is possible to surmount the obstacle. You should be able to ride over a two by four from a contractor's truck, but I wouldn't suggest it with a sofa that fell off of a furniture truck. We want to approach the object at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible. If you don't have your protractor handy, just try to contact it close to square. Control your path of travel by looking to where you want to go. Look well ahead and toward your escape route, don't look down or at the obstacle. If it is that important, go back and look at it after you've gotten over it and parked.

Jay also says to use a specific method to surmount the obstacles. Rise slightly off the seat. Keep your knees bent and against the tank. Bending your knees has them work like shock absorbers and allows the motorcycle to move beneath you without bouncing your feet off the pegs. Roll on the throttle. A slight bit of acceleration just before the obstacle, combined with shifting your weight to the rear, will lighten the front wheel to provide for more travel in the suspension. When the front tire contacts the obstacle, roll off the throttle. Now you can breathe again.

Once you’ve gotten back on the road, you should do a couple of more things. The first is to contact your ABATE Legal Services team and report the hazard. As you know by know, the Legal Service team maintains a website, www.roadhazard.org, to track these problems and report them to the proper authorities. You can access the site from any web-capable computer and fill out the forms on-line. The Legal Services team gets notified of the hazard, and we notify the proper authorities in order to get the problem fixed.

Many people ask why it is important to report the hazards. The notification provided by the Road Hazard program is important for a couple of reasons. Generally, the problems we run into as we ride are ones that can and should be corrected. However, under most laws, a rider injured by a road hazard can’t sue the government for damages unless the government agency is on notice of the hazard. The Road Hazard program makes sure that the government is on notice of the hazard. Our experience has been that once the government entity is on notice, the hazard gets corrected quickly. Reporting the problems also allows ABATE Legal Services to keep up-to-date on the hazards and their repair. Also, if the road doesn’t get repaired and another rider gets hurt, we have the proof we need to recover damages for that rider’s injuries.

Besides getting your report of the hazard, the Legal Services team can check and see if the hazaed had previously been reported. If it had, then you might be able to recover some of your damages from the government agency responsible.

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: ASK OUR LAWYER, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206_2850, or email to brianshadiow@abatelegal.com.