Missouri motorcyclists can loose the helmet (copy)

They pop up every year in the spring, just like flowers.

Signs along busy roadways urge drivers to keep an eye out for motorcycles. It’s an important message, but whenever a motorcyclist pops a wheelie or weaves in between cars, one can’t help but think that maybe the four-wheel vehicles aren’t the only the problem out there.

The St. Joseph Police Department understands motorcycle safety is a two-way street.

Last year, police launched high-profile helicopter enforcement operations that target vehicle thefts and other violations. At about the same time, another public safety initiative was unveiled: reckless motorcycle rider operations on St. Joseph streets.

On periodic occasions, usually during summer months, police in unmarked vehicles patrol areas to observe and follow motorcyclists driving in an unsafe manner. Motorcyclists will be pulled over for warnings, tickets or arrests.

Sgt. Chis McBane said police attempt to conduct these enforcement operations a couple times a summer, depending on time and resources. He said those who are stopped tend to be drivers in their late teens and early 20s, although recent data shows aging baby boomers are starting to account for more motorcycle accidents.

Either way, with a few more months of summer remaining and Gov. Mike Parson considering a repeal of Missouri’s motorcycle helmet requirement, it seems this quiet initiative could have a long-term impact on public safety.

Yes, motorcyclists are harder to spot. Other drivers, who may not be used to them, need to be reminded to share the road.

But motorcyclists also share a responsibility for safety.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said speed was a factor in 33 percent of all motorcycle fatalities in 2016, compared to 19 percent for passenger cars. The NHTSA also found that motorcyclists were more likely to strike a fixed object in a fatality crash, compared to a truck or car. Statistically, few motorcycle crashes involve rear-end collisions, according to crash data.

This enforcement effort might provide a lesson in human psychology as much as policing. Asked if it leads to safer habits on the road, McBane said the benefits can be short-lived. “Like anything, over time it wears off,” he said.

We believe that, more than anything, attempts to counter risky motorcycle behavior illustrate a reality of public safety. Police do what they can, and their efforts on motorcycle safety are worthwhile and should continue, but the responsibility often falls on the general public on everything from preventing vehicle thefts to reducing the risk of a serious accident.

So heed the signs, but let’s also show some common sense.