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'CAGED' DRIVERS WATCH OUT

Col. Dana Morel gets ready for a ride on her 2008 Harley-Davidson Heritage motorcycle in Lorton, Va., December 2008. (Courtesy photo)

Col. Dana Morel gets ready for a ride on her 2008 Harley-Davidson Heritage motorcycle in Lorton, Va. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Col. Dana Morel knows the dangers of motorcycles as well as anyone.

A biker herself, Morel was a lieutenant at Mather Air Force Base, Calif., in 1986 when a young Airman she knew with the base honor guard took off speeding one night. Distraught over the end of a romance, he missed a turn and crashed his motorcycle into a telephone pole. He died at the scene.

As traumatic as that was, nothing could prepare Morel for a crash that happened last July that took the life of her good friend and fellow biker, Tyler Cowherd, and left his wife, Carolyn, and a friend who was riding with them permanently disabled.

The Cowherds on one Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and their friend on another, were traveling westbound on a Springfield, Va., road on the evening of July 17 when an eastbound car turned in front of them, causing both bikes to crash into the side of it.

The motorcycles could not have stopped in time to avoid the collision, and the driver of the car was charged with failing to yield, according to the police report. Morel says she has struggled to accept the fatal crash "that was so avoidable." She now speaks out about the need for "caged" drivers -- those protected by a car or truck chassis -- to be more aware of motorcycles and their vulnerabilities and to slow down and not be distracted drivers.

"I like to think that most motorcyclists are safe [drivers]," she said. "But, you're completely vulnerable, completely exposed. When you get in a car, you don't think that much about it."

While motorcycle courses teach about road conditions and situations hazardous to bikers, regular driving classes rarely mention motorcycles, Morel said.

The colonel commutes by Metro bus each day to the Pentagon where she is a deputy division chief in an Air Force acquisitions office. She says she has been dismayed by the various things people do while driving.

Morel said she's observed drivers texting, talking, tuning the radio, eating and putting on makeup.

"People are so distracted," she said. "I see text messaging [by drivers] every single day when I'm on the bus. They're taking their eyes off the road for things that have absolutely nothing to do with driving."