OCSD offers tips to share the road during Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month


The man in the car sped down Modjeska Grade and blew through the stop sign, making a left toward Cook’s Corner, the motorcycle bar at the northern tip of El Toro Road.

The motorcyclist coming from Cook’s Corner was obeying the law, but couldn’t avoid slamming into the truck.

He died.

In another incident, two brothers were riding their high-performance sport bikes on Lake Forest Drive on a clear afternoon. Near Toledo Way, one of the brothers sped up to catch the light before it turned red, while the other one slowed to stop.

The speeding motorcyclist made it through the intersection after hitting 128 mph, but only managed to slow to 104 mph before slamming into a mid-size SUV driving by a woman turning left into her neighborhood at an uncontrolled intersection.

The impact spun around the SUV, which caught fire. The driver escaped; the motorcyclist died instantly.

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and both of these incidents, recounted by Deputy Kareem Elsemri of the Regional Traffic Office in the OCSD’s substation in Aliso Viejo, illustrate the danger involved in riding them.

OCSD Dep. Kareem Elsemri of the Major Accident Reconstruction Team.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

With the weather set to warm up, the OCSD is reminding everyone to be on the alert and to share the road with motorcyclists.

So far this year, there have been zero fatalities involving a motorcyclist in the jurisdiction of the OCSD’s Major Accident Reconstruction Team (MART), compared to six in 2018 and six in 2017, said Elsemri, a nearly 12-year veteran of the OCSD who has been a member of MART for a little more than three years.

That number – zero deaths — is very likely to change, and soon.

Which is why the OCSD spends a lot of effort, particularly in May, conducting special enforcement operations in areas motorcyclists frequent.

A grant from the state’s Office of Traffic Safety allows the OCSD to conduct about 15 such operations per year, but most are concentrated in May, Elsemri said.

MART gets called out to traffic collisions involving fatalities or major injuries about 40 times a year. About 35 of these collisions involve deaths.

Last week, two whiteboards in MART offices in Aliso Viejo told the grim toll of active investigations: 20 incidents involving fatalities and three involving major injuries.

If there’s a fatality or a major injury, MART, which is comprised of five full-time deputies and other deputies who conduct accident investigations as an ancillary duty, gets called out to the scene.

OCSD Dep. Kareem Elsemri: “The big thing is, no one sees a motorcycle. Keep in mind that you’re not a big car. You have to anticipate what the other cars are going to do.”
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

MART members undergo hundreds of hours of training in reconstructing traffic collisions. Part of the training involves learning how to retrieve and analyze data from event data recorders, the proverbial “black boxes” that now are standard components of air bag control modules in cars.

“You seek the truth,” Elsemri said of his work. “Sometimes you can get criminal charges associated with a collision. To be able to tell a loved one of a victim the details of what happened and why always is nice. They all want answers.”

Elsemri, a former patrol deputy in Lake Forest who also served as a motor deputy in the city on for two years before joining MART, offered some tips for motorcyclists to keep them as safe as possible:

— Ride like no one else can see you

— Ride within your ability/skill level

— Ride while keeping in mind the environment (like a busy city street, freeway, two-lane mountain road, etc.) and different hazards that are possible

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“Typically for motorcycles, speed is a factor (in collisions),” Elsemri said. “Or trying to catch a yellow light.

“The big thing is, no one sees a motorcycle. Keep in mind that you’re not a big car. You have to anticipate what the other cars are going to do.

“Above all, ride defensively.”