Maui bikers take fatalities hard
With five motorcycle deaths so far this year, more calls are heard for road safety courses
WAILUKU » Brian Vierra recalled the last thing he advised fellow motorcyclist Robert Schuitemaker: "Keep the rubber side down."
"You know me," Schuitemaker told him.
"That's why I'm telling you to keep the rubber side down," said Vierra.
Vierra learned the next morning that Schuitemaker, 39, a friend for 15 years, had died in a motorcycle accident.
"I couldn't say anything. I just hung up the phone and cried."
On the Valley Isle, the friends and families of several motorcyclists have been mourning recently, as the number of motorcycle-related fatalities has jumped.
Four out of the last five traffic fatalities on Maui have been motorcyclists, bringing the total to five for the year, compared with one last year and one in 2003.
"Three of five operators were inexperienced drivers, and that may have been a contributing factor in the crash," said police Lt. Jeffrey Tanoue, head of the traffic section.
Tanoue said police were still investigating the fatal accidents, but in at least two alcohol is suspected as a factor.
Police traffic investigator Duke Pua said Schuitemaker might have survived if he had been wearing a helmet.
The number of motorcycle drivers is increasing in Maui County as well. There were 2,854 motorcycles registered in Maui County in June, compared with 2,568 in 2004, and 2,386 in 2003.
Tanoue said he suspects with the increase in fuel costs, more people are purchasing motorcycles.
New riders mean more inexperienced riders on the road, Tanoue said.
Ken Moskow, a motorcyclist and former Maui police officer, said drivers of motorcycles should be required to take a safety course.
Moskow, who teaches a motorcycle driving safety course at Maui Community College, said he feels it is more important for motorcyclists to take a class in driving safety because of their vulnerability, compared with car drivers.
Moskow said his course, which costs $175, includes instruction in how motorcyclists can sometimes avoid putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations.
Tim Isbell, owner of Lahaina-based Hawaiian Motorcycle Manufacturing, agrees education is the key and that new drivers as well as those starting to be motorcyclists again after a long lull should receive some course training.
"I think it would help," Isbell said. "You have to be defensive. In riding a motorcycle, you have to watch everybody else as well as what you're doing. Cars basically don't see bikes."
John Winslett, general manager of Maui Harley-Davison, Kawasaki, Vespa, said he, too, supports requiring new motorcyclists to take a training course.
"We think it's a phenomenal idea. ... We're absolutely in favor of motorcycle training," Winslett said.
Vierra said he feels taking a motorcycle class would have benefited Schuitemaker and himself.
"It ought to be required. The stats are pretty obvious," he said.
Vierra said Schuitemaker, a carpenter who liked outdoor activities, had been riding motorcycles off and on and had bought a motorcycle about a year ago.
He said in a group of motorcyclists, Schuitemaker had a tendency to drive faster than most and get in front of the pack.
Schuitemaker was in front of two other motorcyclists at a little past 10 p.m. Oct. 25, traveling west along winding Wailea Ike Drive, when he hit a section of road wet from night lawn sprinklers.
His motorcycle struck a curb, throwing him into a tree.
"I was always telling him, 'You got to slow down, man.' He's telling me, 'You got to speed up,'" Vierra said. "If you're speeding all over the place, you're not an educated rider."