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'Just be aware': Recent string of Billings motorcycle crashes prompts riders to speak out

Back of a Harley Davidson
Posted at 5:15 PM, Apr 09, 2024

BILLINGS — While many are grateful for the warm weather Billings has seen this year, it can bring problems. Billings police told MTN News when the sun comes out, so do the motorcyclists—and as the number of riders on the road rises, so do the crashes.

Motorcycle
Motorcycle

"There’s plenty of road, there’s plenty of room,” said Tina Gaspar, a motorcyclist in the Billings area, on Friday.

Tina Gaspar
Tina Gaspar

Gaspar said she quickly fell in love with riding on the back of her husband's bike.

"The freedom is amazing,” said Gaspar.

She said riding her motorcycle brings her a sense of freedom.

Gaspar and her husband on a motorcycle
Gaspar and her husband on a motorcycle

But that freedom comes with responsibility.

"There’s riders out there that don’t respect the roads at all,” Gaspar said. "But the thing that we have to remember is that when we’re in a car, we’re completely protected. A little fender bender in a car is not a big deal. But when it comes to a motorcycle, what we’re wearing is basically our protection. And so a little fender bender for a car versus a motorcycle, it can sometimes be a huge deal for the motorcycle."

In Billings, the warm weather is coming out—and so are the motorcyclists.

Back of a Harley Davidson
Back of a Harley Davidson

The recent string of motorcycle-involved crashes is causing concern for motorists. Since the end of March, the area has seen two fatal motorcycle crashes and one with a serious injury. All occurred on sunny days on dry roads.

“There’s a lot of reckless riders. There really are. But there’s also a lot that aren’t," Gaspar said. "And it’s the cars that aren’t paying attention."

Billings police said the fatal accidents are unfortunately nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year.

"We know people like to get out and ride motorcycles. They like to get out and enjoy the weather, get the air, wind blowing in your face," said Jeff Stovall, the public affairs sergeant for the Billings Police Department, on Tuesday. "That comes with high speeds as well."

Jeff Stovall
Jeff Stovall

On March 31, two motorcycles collided on Broadwater Avenue, killing one of the drivers: 32-year-old Eric Osgood.

Then, on April 3, another motorcycle collision at the intersection of State Avenue and Washington Avenue killed one of the drivers.

Another accident on April 4 luckily didn’t claim any lives but left the driver with serious injuries.

This is why Gaspar recently wrote on Facebook, attempting to level with non-riders:

Gaspar's post in Billings Wreckless Drivers
Gaspar's post in Billings Wreckless Drivers

"I was basically reaching out to the parents because it was a new driver, a young kid," Gaspar said. "These new drivers that are out there, make sure they know and that they’re looking for motorcycles."

Stovall fears these accidents are just the start.

"With us having unseasonably warm temperatures, I think it seems like it’s a spike right now but it’s not. It’s just starting the spring season earlier than typically," Stovall said. "We do see fatalities and motorcycle crashes and that as well. So I think we’re just starting earlier this year than we have in years past."

He says the new lane-splitting law, which allows motorcycles to legally filter between vehicles in traffic and took effect in October 2021, does not correlate with the crashes.

"If anything, we’ve seen just your typical low-injury, a bumper-fender-bender type thing. But we haven’t seen significant injury crashes because of the lane splitting," Stovall said. "We actually have a lot of people from the public that have reached out to us to ask if that’s something that’s actually legal. So that tells me that the general public’s actually keeping an eye out for it and they understand that that law is out there."

Stovall said there is no helmet requirement in Montana, but the use of helmets has been proven to bring down fatalities in Montana if used properly.

A motorcycle helmet
A motorcycle helmet

"The majority of our fatality crashes involving motorcycles, they’re not wearing helmets. We had a motorcycle accident earlier this year on Main where the helmet actually lodged underneath a car tire and saved his life," Stovall said. "So in those situations, yeah. Wearing a helmet is something that we stress to our motorcycle riders in town. Obviously, it’s not law, so they adhere to it or not."

Stovall said Billings police has had problems with reckless motorcyclists and asks them to be respectful of their surroundings.

“We see quite a few motorcycles like to run from the police. They like to bait us in, whether they’re doing wheelies past us or you know, flying by us and speeds and that. Trying to provoke us to chase them. That’s an incredibly dangerous situation, not only for the person riding the motorcycle but also, the general public that’s out following and obeying traffic laws," Stovall said. "It’s incredibly irresponsible and that’s just behavior that we won’t tolerate here. We’re not going to engage you in a chase. We’re not going to put the general public at risk because of your irresponsible behavior. Follow the safety laws."

With summer approaching, Stovall and Gaspar have a reminder for both cars and motorcycles:

"Make sure you’re with your surroundings before you change lanes, whether it's a car or a motorcycle. Not excess speeds and that type of thing as well," said Stovall. "So it’s simple following traffic laws is what we ask."

"Just be aware," Gaspar said. "And if you are the rider, be smart, pay attention. If you’re driving a car, be smart, pay attention."