EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 2, 2013

Life-saving lessons drive home in motorcycle safety

By Alex Lippa

---- — As summertime approaches, state police are reminding the public about the right — and wrong — way to ride a motorcycle.

Police teamed up with the Derryfield School, a prep school in Manchester, to demonstrate the risks faced by motorcyclists who aren’t safety-conscious.

Chris McNeil, a Latin teacher at the school and a professional stunt motorcyclist, performed a controlled crash to show just what can happen when not paying attention on a motorcycle.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this today is educating on the appropriate ways to ride and the right gear to wear,” he said.

McNeil put his motorcycle into a slide as he turned a bend at 35 mph, then allowed himself to lose control of his bike. McNeil was wearing full body gear and a helmet to demonstrate how the right gear and technique can help minimize the risk of injury.

“There’s a proper way to do it so there’s the least amount of injury,” he said. “This will make it less of an impact than it could have been,”

More than 50 Derryfield students watched McNeil’s demonstration and were amazed that McNeil could just walk away unscathed.

“I didn’t think there was a way you could prevent or help your chances of not dying on a bike,” said Lee Sipes, an eighth-grader from Windham.

Following the demonstration, state police Sgt. Joe DiRusso spoke on the importance of wearing a helmet.

“Wearing a helmet not only applies to a motorcycle but to when you’re riding a bicycle as well,” DiRusso told the students. “It makes a difference between a serious injury and walking away without one.”

The police also have classes set up in conjunction with the Department of Motor Vehicles on the proper techniques of handling a motorcycle. Robert Letourneau of Derry has been teaching motorcycle safety courses since 1989 and says being safe makes a huge difference.

“Out of all the motorcycle fatalities in the state since we’ve began, less than 1 percent came from the 44,000 people who have taken our classes,” Letourneau said.

Driver awareness is also something that state police have been emphasizing. Starting this month, signs on electronic billboards have informed motorists to be aware of motorcycles on the road.

“This is the time of the year when motorcycles are coming out,” state police Capt. John LeLacheur said. “It’s hard to see a motorcycle. We advise everyone to take an extra second before pulling out into traffic.”

McNeill wore a bright red and white jumpsuit designed to make him more visible to motorists.

“We want everyone to wear helmets, boots, gloves, full jackets and pants below the ankles,” Letourneau said.

The students also saw a demonstration of how helmet can make a difference. Brian Adie, a sixth-grader from Londonderry, dropped watermelons from a construction lift about 10 feet off the ground, some with helmets strapped on and others without helmets. The watermelons with helmets stayed intact, while the others exploded when they hit the ground.

“I learned that even if I fall off a hill while riding a bike without a helmet, I’m definitely going to get hurt, based on how smashed the helmet was,” Adie said.