Saturday, March 28, 2015

Local TV, for once, gets a motorcycle fatality right

In the days after Dane Westby's untimely death, local Tulsa television showed conspicuous care and judgement in the way they covered the story. That included balanced, sensitive, and non-sensational coverage of his funeral. - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |
I don't know whether credit for this should go to News on 6 news director (I believe that's Scott Thompson, a much awarded, very experienced journalist) or whether it reflects the fact that the Westby family is long-established and respected in the community—there's a 'Westby Hall' at University of Tulsa.

Whatever the reason, though, I was pleased to see such respectful coverage of an event that would usually have been reported with a macabre, schadenfreude-laden "another motorcycle death" spin.

So thanks, News on 6.

Although I didn't know him, I'd say his death is a large loss to the nascent MotoAmerica series. Not only was he fast and destined for on-track stardom, but he was real person—not a characterless sponsor-thanking robot, raised from birth to be a racer with no other life experience. As such, he was the kind of guy who could appeal to a new generation of fans, who take an ironic view of sponsorship and value authenticity.

There's still no explanation for Westby's street bike crash. It happened on a commercial strip, and there would surely have been witnesses, if he'd been riding like an asshole. So, I think it's safe to assume he was riding responsibly. But something happened, he ended up running up on a curb and hitting a pole.

If there's a lesson in this, it's a lesson for the most skilled street riders who feel that the rest of the motorcycling public desperately need better machine control skills.

The skilled guys, rightly, point out that almost every motorcycle crash—especially single-vehicle crashes, as Westby's may have been—could be avoided if only the (usually) newb/drunk/reckless rider had been able to brake harder or change direction faster. The skilled guys, who are racers and track-day riders, who train on dirt bikes, etc., often derive a sense of security from the knowledge that they're in the skilled minority.

The lesson is: Even Dane Westby—a national-caliber racer at the height of his powers—got into a situation that he couldn't ride out of. If it can happen to him, it can happen to you.

It's spring. In the midwest and across the northern tier, car drivers who don't see us at the best of times are now unused to seeing us at all. And the sides of the road are still covered with gravel, salt dust, and a winter's worth of detritus. You're almost certainly a little rusty, too. If you have to take evasive action out of the main travel lane, there's a good chance you will not be able to make that second change of direction that will keep you on the road.

So pay extra attention and increase your following distance. Because if you kill yourself, your local TV station won't pay you the same respect.

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