Being a motorcycle officer with the Pennsylvania State Police carries a unique set of demands.
You have to answer the police radio and keep an eye out for lawbreakers while also staying safe on the road, just like any other motorcyclist.
“It was an additional challenge being a motorcycle officer looking for enforcement activity and still maintaining rider safety,” said Jim Gregg, a retired state police corporal and motorcycle officer. “It was very taxing emotionally, but fun.”
It also comes with some police-related perks. Getting through traffic backlogs to a crash scene is much easier, said Trooper Steven Ledwich, who is a motorcycle officer on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset.
“I have a unique ability — I can pull up beside a car and they don’t see me,” he said. “I look in their driver’s side window and I get a lot of cars as well as trucks, commercial vehicles, that are on their cellphones.”
The state police and PennDOT on Thursday encouraged drivers to keep an eye out for all motorcycles on the road and asked motorcyclists to keep themselves safe by wearing protective clothing, helmets and eye protection.
There are 850,000 licensed motorcycles in Pennsylvania, said Jaci Brice, community traffic safety project coordinator with Highway Safety Network.
“As the summer months end, it is important to remind drivers that motorcycle travel is still heavily present on our roads,” she said.
Motorcycles were involved in 19.5% of crashes statewide in 2022, which was a 6% decrease from 2021, according to PennDOT data. There were 213 motorcycle crashes that involved a fatality in 2022, compared to 223 in 2021.
“Even as a vehicle driver, when you see these motorcycles, give them proper distance to brake and change lanes and do what they have to do because you do have to remember motorcycle drivers are completely exposed to the roadway,” said Trooper Tristan Tappe. “So if they wreck, they’re a little more susceptible to serious injuries.”
Ledwich said the state’s 21 motorcycle officers generally are assigned to areas around major cities, the turnpike and other locations with a major highway. They must complete an 80-hour motorcycle safety course, Gregg said.
He still rides his personal motorcycle for enjoyment but tries to stay off the roads once the sun goes down.
“I ride specifically in a lime green vest, and it’s really, I think in my mind, pretty helpful to be seen,” he said. “I do my best to be visible. I don’t take chances, and I assume that that car is always going to pull out in front of me.”
Gregg, who retired from Troop A in Greensburg, encouraged new riders to enroll in a motorcycle safety program.
”Many people think you just buy the Harley, get all the gear and jump on,” he said. “And it’s really quite opposite of that.”