Now distracted riding has become a real thing

  • Years ago, Ken "Hawkeye" Glassman had special license plate holders made up for his motorcycles.

    Years ago, Ken "Hawkeye" Glassman had special license plate holders made up for his motorcycles.

Posted7/30/2017 6:00 AM

In mid-February, the Daily Herald had a brief report on a tragic motorcycle accident in the Northern suburbs. The rider was killed. His passenger, fortunately, was not seriously injured.

I immediately thought about what could have caused this accident. Some knucklehead turned left into his path? Maybe some driver spilled hot coffee in his lap, or was reaching into the back seat to attend to a child, and drifted into his lane? Or, more likely, some moron was playing with his phone or texting while driving. If I had a buck for every time a driver has put my life in danger because they were looking at their phone instead of looking at the road, I'd be able to retire to a villa in Tuscany. It's called "distracted driving," and it makes me livid.


Years ago, I made up license plate holders for my motorcycles that read: "Put the phone down and DRIVE!"

A brief follow-up story appeared the following day in the newspaper. Apparently, the rider was trying to pass his cellphone back to his passenger when he lost control of the bike, hit a curb and went down. He died at the scene. He wasn't wearing a helmet. What makes this all the more tragic, was this is a totally preventable accident. He had no business fumbling with a cellphone while riding his motorcycle.

If we as motorcyclists rant and rave about drivers who are distracted by their phones or fiddling with their sophisticated in-car infotainment systems -- putting our lives in danger every time we ride, we can't be doing the same things on our motorcycles.

We've got to be totally focused on the road and our surroundings in order to stay as safe as possible. We can't decry a driver's behavior, but think it's OK for us to act the same way.

A few years ago I was product testing a Bluetooth helmet communication system, and I paired it with my cellphone. I placed a call to my brother to see how it worked and its clarity through the helmet speakers, etc. I was riding on familiar roads to a lunch spot I frequent. Within 10 minutes, I realized I missed my turn while chatting away, and almost ran into the back of a car that was stopping in front of me. Then, I pulled out into traffic to make a left turn, and was almost broadsided by a car traveling in the other direction. I was dangerously distracted.

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Talking on the phone while riding is not the same as communicating with a car passenger, with brief comments about the ride you're both on, or talking to a riding buddy who's a few hundred yards in front or behind you. Those are not running conversations, but short comments back and forth.

Now my helmet communicator is only paired to my GPS so I can hear driving directions (and I never need to look at the screen), and it has stored music that I sometimes listen to when I'm out in the country in light traffic. I keep the volume low enough that I can hear traffic around me.

In the last several years, all the big touring bikes, from Honda Gold Wings to Harleys and Indians, now come with sophisticated infotainment systems, with integrated GPS, satellite radios, passenger communications, bike-to-bike communications and access to all your telephone apps, just like they have in cars. But using all these features while riding is dangerous, and can be deadly.

Riding a motorcycle requires attention and laserlike focus. Distracted driving in a car can often result in only bent sheet metal. On a motorcycle, it can mean a trip to the morgue and a funeral parlor full of devastated family and friends. Is it worth it? I don't think so.


So turn off your phone when riding and keep the use of sophisticated electronic systems on your bike to a bare minimum. If you need to make a call, or check messages and texts, pull over and do your business. Being alert and aware of your surroundings and dangers while riding is all the multi-tasking you need to do.

Riding should be the opportunity to take in the sights, sounds and smells of your surroundings, and to feel the wind in your face. It should be how you get away from your devices and stresses of being plugged in all the time. Be smart, be safe, and live to ride another day.

• Email Glassman at

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