If you're driving anywhere in California this weekend, you might see those electronic highway message signs encouraging you to "Share the road. Look twice for motorcyclists."
It's a reminder the state puts out every year during Motorcycle Awareness Month because "we don't have the metal cage around us that an automobile or a truck driver would have," said Peter Horst, a spokesman with the American Motorcyclist Assn. That's the organization that launched the Awareness Month back in the '80s because drivers of cars and trucks often don't see them.
And the reason they don't see them is because motorcycles are small and easily hidden in a vehicle's blind spots. But there's another problem: distracted driving.
It's already one of the leading causes of crashes between vehicles. Nearly 3,500 lives are lost every year to drivers who divert their attention from the road even for a few seconds. More than half of all motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle, often with dire consequences.
"If you look at collisions involving multiple vehicles, often the other vehicle that strikes a motorcyclist violates the right of way," said Rob Gladden, vice president of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation in Irvine.
Motorcyclists make up just 3 percent of all registered vehicles and less than a single percent of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S., according to the National Safety Council. But motorcyclists accounted for 13% of all traffic fatalities in 2016.
"We anecdotally hear from our members all the time about how much more aware they are of distracted driving taking place around them," said the AMA's terHorst again.
More than two in five drivers reported reading text messages or emails while driving in the past 30 days, and nearly one in three drivers admitted to typing text messages or emails while driving. That's according to the 2016 Traffic Safety Culture Index compiled by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Because of that, terHorst said the AMA supports stricter penalties.
"We support legislation at the state level that would include enhanced penalty options … an enhanced fine, license suspension for the operator, points assessed on an operator's record, community service or even potentially imprisonment."
But good luck proving it. In California, which already has laws banning texting while driving and prohibiting driving while using handheld cell phones, enforcement is a challenge. Because the laws don't prevent distracted driving, per se, but the behaviors it may cause – like speeding, reckless driving or unsafe lane changes.
So how can all road users do what California's electronic billboards will be asking us to do this weekend, to share the road and look for motorcyclists?
Motorcyclists can slow down and wear the right safety gear.
And drivers? They can check their mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes, maintain a safe distance when following motorcycles and pay particular attention when making left turns, according to the AMA.
"Look beyond the motorcycle and look at the human being operating the motorcycle," said Gladden, with the MSF.
"Inside that helmet is somebody's dad, somebody's mom, somebody's brother or sister, their child, maybe their favorite teacher at school."