RECORD-high gasoline prices are encouraging many Americans to abandon their love affair with sport-utility vehicles, pickups, sports cars, and the like, jilting them for more dainty models that sip rather than guzzle precious fuel.
Some drivers have gone a step further, leaving their four-wheeler parked in the driveway and jumping instead onto bicycles, mopeds, motor scooters, and motorcycles to go to work, school, or even a night on the town.
But as the recent accident involving the daughter and son-in-law of Ohio State University President Gordon Gee makes clear, travel at the rate of 100 miles per gallon - or even free - can be dangerous.
Dr. Rebekah Gee and her husband, Dr. Allan Moore, were injured a week ago when the Vespa motor scooter they were riding collided with a Land Rover in suburban Philadelphia. Police have not indicated who was at fault in the accident but that hardly matters. With ever-higher fuel prices likely to be the norm, more and more scooters, mopeds, motorcycles, and bikes are going to be sharing the road with cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans, meaning that two-wheel and four-wheel drivers need to be aware and wary of each other's presence.
The current fuel crisis, while bad for the price of almost everything and devastating on sales of new and used SUVs, pickups, and other low-mpg vehicles, has a number of positive results, not the least of which is that more people (and especially teenagers) are driving fewer miles and, according to reports, dying less frequently on the nation's roads and highways.
At the same time, more bicycles, mopeds, scooters and motorcycles on the road will undoubtedly mean a surge in the number of injuries and fatalities involving two-wheeled vehicles, injuries and deaths that often could be prevented by a little heightened awareness on the part of drivers of cars, vans, and trucks.
The problem, as every bike, moped, scooter, and motorcycle rider knows, is that they're essentially invisible. Drivers often just don't see people on two wheels - even when they're looking right at them - and therefore turn in front of them, cut them off, move into their lane, or pass too close.
The resulting accident seldom injures anyone encased in the passenger compartment of a Chrysler, Jeep, or Toyota but can be devastating for the bike rider who has nothing between himself and the road except a helmet and a pair of jeans.
The solution is greater attention to safety by the drivers of both vehicles. Two-wheel operators have to be acutely aware of their vulnerability and drive as if they really can't be seen. Four-wheeled vehicles must tune their awareness to register the presence of two-wheelers.
Certainly, a generation or two ago, when every kid under the age of 16 owned a bike and rode it everywhere, drivers were more attuned to the fact that they were sharing the roads. With bicycles, mopeds, and motor scooters selling like hotcakes, those days have returned, and we are all responsible for making sure that saving gas does not cost lives.