By on July 28, 2008

A not uncommon tragedy. (courtesy stanleylawoffices.com)A friend of mine killed a motorcyclist Sunday night. He was so out of it, either on beer, vodka, blow, crack, meth or god only knows what, that he simply drove into the young biker from behind on Route 9W, fast enough to squash him dead. Early word was that Jack left the scene, but if so, it was probably only because he was in a stupor, since at least the police don't seem to be charging him with that. He is in the county jail, though. Everybody in our small town knows that Jack is a doper and a drunk. He's the genial alcoholic still drawing from the reservoir of sympathy established when his own 16-year-old son died instantly in a car-versus-tree accident while racing a friend on a dark back road. It was long enough ago that my wife, who biked past the tree yesterday, said the “shrine” is gone— a football, a deflated party balloon, a small white cross, some faded we'll-miss-you-Bobby signs. At least we kicked Jack out of the ambulance corps, where he was one of our drivers. But there was even argument about that. Could we do it without proof, without specific evidence? Well, how about numerous arrests both for DWI and possession? Yeah, but… One of the frequent arguments against permanently suspending a confirmed drunk's license is that you're removing his or her livelihood. You're turning them into a contractor without a pickup, an appliance repairman without a van full of tools, a commuter stranded 30 miles from work. Last week, I watched the cleaning lady from our fancy health club climb wearily into a taxi in front of the gym's big marquee. I barely knew there were cabs in our small town, but the cleaning lady apparently couldn't afford a car and paid fares twice a day to get to and from work. Maybe the suddenly truckless contractor needs to find a new line of work and call a cab. I'm sure at least one 20-year-old motorcyclist would have agreed.

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38 Comments on “Wilkinson: Requiem for A Motorcyclist...”


  • avatar
    AKM

    That’s a sad story, Stephan, and I feel truly sorry for all road accident victims, including this motorcyclist.

    As per your question, a driver’s license is a privilege, not a right. Abuse it, and you should lose it. Endangering others is definitely a reason to lose said driver’s license. Otherwise, would there be no consequences? Or should one lose a right to operate a high-velocity, 3,000lbs vehicle only after he/she kills someone?

  • avatar
    seoultrain

    I grew up right near 9W, and it’s a pretty dangerous road. When I was younger, the speed limit was 50, which made for some spirited driving around some curves (though I was too young to be doing the driving). Accidents and deaths were rampant. They lowered the limit to 45. Still too many deaths. Brought it down to 40, which is incredibly slow, considering the Palisades Parkway runs parallel to it and is 10 mph faster limit-wise, and 20mph faster in practice.

    But even with the speed limit, you’ll get some nut going 70+ on a single lane road. It’s an affluent area, so you get a lot of high-powered cars and unskilled drivers. Add alcohol to that mix, and you’ve got a road that I’d never ride a motorcycle on.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    We’re north of where you grew up, seoultrain, and the speeds between Fort Montgomery and Newburgh frequently run at up to 80 when the West Point cadre people are on their way home at 1600. It’s a _huge_ motorcycling road. We (the ambulance corps) cart away bodies all summer long.

  • avatar
    Rix

    I don’t believe in motorcycles. You may be the best rider in the world, but you have nothing protecting you against the drunks of the world. You are better off when your leg is not a crumple zone.

  • avatar
    Busbodger

    I guess your friend will need to ask the cleaning lady for some pointers and job referrals when he gets out of jail. Time for a new life’s plan.

    Sorry to hear about the motorcyclist. I have a motorcycle and don’t think I’d ever ride if we lived in a big city. People are in just too much of a rush and too distracted even sober.

    Having been the officer (military police) at some fatalities I have little sympathy for people who choose to consume any substance that renders them unable to function correctly and then drive – be it medicine or recreational substances. All you need to do is stand on scene and watch their loved ones sob and weep over a lifeless body to be changed forever.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    I can’t imagine having to live with that? Too bad he didn’t consider that before the drugs and the booze. Hell he didn’t kill that motorcyclist, he murdered him. He may have not known his name, but he was looking for him.

    May God be with the victim’s family.

  • avatar
    austinseven

    More of a passing acquaintanceship than a friendship, I trust, otherwise, their’s a serious question about judgment that needs to be asked.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Stephan, my condolences to you.

    But not to your friend.

    This may sound harsh, and if it is, I am sorry; maybe I should not speak like this so soon after such a tragedy.

    But as a “disinterested” party (meaning that I don’t know the victim or the perpetrator), I believe that it’s my highest responsibility to speak up on behalf of all innocent members of society.

    So here it goes: Your friend has major problems. Problems that he can not or will not take action to fix. It doesn’t matter which, because now he has killed somebody. The fact is that he won’t do the right thing.

    So now society must have the strength to step in, to protect its other members from him.

    Unfortunately, society does not do enough to protect the innocent. “Numerous DUI” incidents should have been long ago dealt with by a revokation of license. If he still drives, but without a license, then he should have gotten a long-term prison sentence.

    The only way to avoid this tragedy in the future is to keep the tragedy “causer” off the road, to the best of our ability.

    If we can’t keep him from driving, then we have to do EVERYTHING possible to restrict his freedom to move about in society; plain and simple.

    We (society, the law, the justice system, parents, best friends, spouses, whatever you want to call it) failed our responsibility. We failed ourselves. And we failed that motorcyclist, his mother, his girlfriend or wife, and maybe even his children.

    It would be painful to have this happen, but for the safety of other 20-somethings on bikes, infants in carseats, and little old ladies in Buicks, I hope “Jack” goes to jail for a long time for this.

    I’m not calling for the death-penalty in this case, but for the safety of society, I have actually considered it. For people like Jack to have brought me to this possibility, well that’s very very bad; maybe even unforgivable.

    It’s plain to see, at least for me because I am not involved with either party. This man is deadly! I think we must remove him from the roads. All of his vehicles should have been confiscated long ago, for the safety of society; the greater-good, so to speak.

    If he lives with his mom, maybe we should have taken her car, too. Harsh, yes. Cold, most definitely. But it may have prevented this tragedy.

    But now, it’s gone beyond that. Now, we need to remove him from society. He’s dangerous and deadly. I hope the court system where you live has the strength to do this quickly.

    And I hope you have the strength to get through this. If I knew Jack myself, even if he were my best friend, brother, or my father, I honestly don’t think I could forgive him for causing so much pain and suffering.

    I’m so sorry. And I’m sorry if I’ve said too much here.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Having ridden for years the only comfort I take is that I ride carefully to avoid testing the odds. But if your number comes up that is it and if fate puts you in the path of “jack” or someone else out of control then that is it.

    While a motorcycle is definately more dangerous than a car just remember that intoxicated drivers can take lives in any vehicle at any time.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    My younger sister just started riding. Yeah, it makes me nervous. She’s doing all the right things, MSF course, proper gear, used Ninja 250, but that doesn’t bring the overall risk factor down to car-safety levels. I want a bike too, but I couldn’t do it. My dad named me after his best friend who was killed while riding.

    I’m sorry to hear someone was killed, and it’s upsetting that all the usual warning signs were there.

  • avatar
    Rday

    My stepdaughter goes before the judge today to be sentenced for a felony. Her third DUI and this time with the children in the van. I hope they throw the book at here. I hope they take away permanently the licenses of any person that has a track record of repeated offenses due to alcoholism or drug addiction. After 3 offenses, they should never drive again.

  • avatar
    mocktard

    I rode for a few years until the wife became pregnant. As much as I miss the bike, I also understand the odds. Having been hit a few times while in a car, I cannot accept that risk anymore.

    I think everyone should take a MSF course, whether they plan on riding or not. They teach good fundamentals that will improve your chances of avoiding an accident in any vehicle.

  • avatar
    Matthew Neundorf

    As a rider, I am deeply sadened by the loss. As a motorist, its infuriating to read about these tragedies.

    mocktard is right to suggest MSF courses improve a driver’s abilities, not just bikers, but all of the driver training in the world doesn’t make up for poor judgement before turning the key.

    My thoughts and prayers go to the victem and his family

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Like it or not, a significant part of the US economy is based on allowing extremely marginal people to drive.

    One hundred+ deaths per day is the cost we’ve accepted.

  • avatar
    Keef

    It’s an all too common story. I’m both a motorcyclist and a motorist. Anytime you venture out onto the road there’s risk involved. I remember that every time I put the key into the ignition.

    As a motorcyclist, just pretend that you are invisible to everyone else on the road. I think most motorcycle accidents end up with the cager saying “I never even saw them!”

    As a motorist, be aware of your surroundings. You’re cruising along in 1-2 tons of metal. That’s not a responsibility to take lightly.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Its a rare moment at TTAC when I 100% agree with busbodger,ihatetrees and zoom zoom.But today gentlemen your comments are right on the money.

    My sympathy to the biker

  • avatar
    improvement_needed

    ihatetrees:
    “Like it or not, a significant part of the US economy is based on allowing extremely marginal people to drive.

    One hundred+ deaths per day is the cost we’ve accepted.”

    True, BUT, with significantly improved driver training (with an emphasis on situational awareness), most marginal drivers will become a lot better at operating a motor vehicle…
    I imagine that the number of deaths could be cut by an order of magnitude ‘rather easily’ (in theory)…

  • avatar

    The majority of motorcycle accidents aren’t due to the motorcyclist. They are due to (other) driver inattention. Something to ALWAYS keep in mind when evaluating motorcycle fatalities. In this case it is obvious who is to blame. But placing any emphasis on the rider “taking the risk” to get offed by some drunken SOB is highly insensitive and symptomatic of the level of ignorance displayed by the average person regarding motorcyclists. We want it to be a safe sport and we value our lives and limbs, but it isn’t easy when we get run off the road by distracted/inebriated drivers.

    Jason
    President, Ducati Owner’s Club of Montreal
    Freelance motorcycle mechanic
    Riding enthusiast for life

  • avatar
    westhighgoalie

    That creeps me out… why. I’m a 20 year old motorcyclist… I have all the safety gear. and I wear it. but I have to wonder… If even a $600 Jacket, a $300 helmet, $100 gloves, and $100 Motorcycle boots can protect me… If they do. I don’t care if I have to throw all of those things away. In my mind my life is worth, that 1,100 dollars in equipment.

    I don’t trust other drivers, especially people my own age and the elderly. I have seen people (18 year olds) on the side of the highway having c.p.r performed on them because they were T-boned by an 82 year old. I have seen my friends die. I always look twice in my mirrors when I’m driving my car and I hope everyone does the same.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    Because of the possibility of killing someone while driving, I no longer even listen to the radio and rarely even talk to the wife.

    I started this AFTER I took an MSF course, got my m class and drive both cars and motorcycles.

    My wife says I am too cautious a driver.

    She noticed this morning that when she drives 25 in the city, it feels fast but when I’m driving 25 it feels slow.

    She apologized for asking me to go faster.

    If penalties were handed out more harshly I think people would be more careful.

    I have a friend from Iran who told me robbery used to be very uncommon there when he was a kid. Then again, he did read stories of people getting their hands cut off…..

    As far as motorcycling, I wear no less than full face helmet, jacket (leather or textile, not mesh), gloves (either gp style or “summer” with kevlar), and boots. about 50% of the time I wear leather pants instead of jeans (more comfortable, but hotter)…..

    I just shake my head when I see the guys who are 10 years younger than me ride a litrebike with a girl on the back going 2.5x the speed limit with shorts & sunglasses.

  • avatar
    John The Accountant

    Phew… Good post here. My fiance and I rode for a little while but recently sold our 2008 Ninja 250s. She ended up lowsiding at around 40MPH or so from hitting a block of wood. Thank goodness for her wearing a helmet, jacket, gloves, and boots, or she’d be scarred up with road rash and not the attractive lady she is.

    I’ve been fortunate enough never to go down while owning my bike, but I had full leathers on everytime I rode (including leather pants) for that day when it would probably happen.

    Yet what makes me kind of happy about selling the bike are accidents like these. The motorcyclist wasn’t being a “squid” (not wearing gear, but also riding very recklessly on public roads), but just sitting at a light. Gear, while as helpful as it is, just won’t prevent accidents from others who are unattentive, which is truly unfortunate.

    I hope the rider’s family is okay, I loved riding my bike and may return to doing it one day. It just won’t be anytime soon.

  • avatar
    shiney

    Stephan – I offer you my condolences, for both the motorcyclist and your friend. I too have friends whose judgment and behavior I question, but that doesn’t make them bad people or poor company. Knowing your friend is likely to be in prison for a long time for something that, no matter how reprehensible and reckless, was surely not his intention, is part of the overall tragedy. The way we treat drunk driving in this country is completely schizophrenic. This is a crime where punishment should be based on history not consequences. A first time offender is a first time offender – anyone can make that mistake once. But a second or third DUI shows that the person is not learning, or simply cannot control themselves. The severity of the punishment, such as loss of license or jail time, should escalate very quickly in order to keep the public safe. Perhaps if your friend had received more devastating consequences from his previous offences, the motorcyclist might be alive today, and your friend would not be a broken and demonized figure.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    One of the frequent arguments against permanently suspending a confirmed drunk’s license is that you’re removing his or her livelihood.

    As most people realize, that seems pretty small compared to taking away someone’s life itself. I’m sorry that your friend reached the point that he did, but I’m more sorry for the dead motorcyclist and the family that he undoubtedly left behind. Put me in the crowd that considers this murder. It was not premeditated, but certainly foreseeable, none the less. I also blame the court systems for not stopping your friend sooner. I do not blame his friends for not stopping him because I do not know him or his friends. Maybe you did try to stop, I certainly hope so, and trying is all you can do. But, the legal system can and should do a whole lot more to stop habitual drunks or drug users from operating a motor vehicle.

  • avatar
    alanp

    What’s even more frightening is that the use of cell phones results in impairment that is just as bad as being under the influence – and that type of driving distraction is becoming almost normal. That’s one of the reasons I don’t ride anymore – there are just too many idiots who are clueless about the traffic situations.

    Then there’s the idea of using a cell phone while driving drunk. I shudder to think of the results.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    “I have to wonder… If even a $600 Jacket, a $300 helmet, $100 gloves, and $100 Motorcycle boots can protect me…”

    They won’t. At least they won’t protect you against some idiot in a car. What will do the best job of protecting you is constant vigilance. Don’t get me wrong about the importance of gear, yesterday I was riding in 85 degree weather with full leathers, armored boots, full-face helmet and gloves, but your brain and senses are your best defense.

  • avatar
    eh_political

    How sad. An old girlfriend lost her entire family to a drunk driver, mother, father, brother and signed over the organs on her sister as she was circling the drain. The drunk in an F-150 creamed the side of their Corolla on the way home from a wedding they had been attending. His third dui.

    About a year and a half later, (we were just back from a trip through Europe), a friend of hers called to apologize for a dui of her own. Didn’t want my gf to find out through the grapevine. A few years later came dui number four for the trucker, driving without a license this time. While I am sure her friend will never drink and drive again (probably the case with most dui’s), I am equally sure that truck guy won’t ever stop. Killing a family of four is so over the top there is probably a shroud of denial over this event for the man.

    Bottom line, I don’t know if there is a humane way of stopping drunk driving. I imagine the problem will worsen with the economic downturn, perhaps enough to counteract any reduction in the fatality rate based on fewer miles driven at slower speeds by motorists. Perhaps greater awareness, backed by stiffer penalties, underlined by more random spot checks would do the trick. It costs money, but may save lives in the long run.

    Once upon a time, I almost squashed a motorcyclist in the middle of the day on a divided highway. He was traveling well beyond the limit, but my own concentration was also at fault. You risk your life every time you ride a motorcycle, and are at the mercy of every bad or distracted motorist on the road. I love bikes, but it will take a very different world to get me using one for transportation.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    The point of my post was not that bikers should be careful, since my friend could just as easily have wiped out a mother and her three kids in a minivan or another drunk in a pickup–it just happened to be a bike–but that something needs to be done about our national ethos that too-elderly, too-incompetent, too-stupid and too-addicted drivers must be allowed to drive until finally they do something that warrants jail time.

    As an earlier poster put it, a large part of our economy is predicated upon letting very marginal drivers retain their licenses, whether they’re 90-year-olds who can’t see 15 feet or 35-year-olds who can’t stop drinking. My brothers and I had to call the local police chief in her small Cape Cod town when our 94-year-old legally blind mother continued to drive even though we took her keys away, since it turned out we had no legal right to do so and had to give them back. Nor could the cops in Wellfleet do anything…until she did something actionable, like maybe killing a child walking to the school bus.

    Why? Wish I knew. Calls for decent driver training or stricter licensing standards are like calls for world peace–nice in the abstract–but they have no trouble making three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws about drug dealers, so why do these drivers continue to drive?

    The small weekly local newspaper here publishes a “police blotter,” and in it I read of people stopped for driving without a license that has been suspended nine or 10 times already. They’re given a fine and sent on their merry way.

  • avatar

    i completely agree with ZoomZoom and others who have expressed their condemnation of “jack.” But, Shiney is also correct. we do treat drunk driving differently depending on the consequences. it’s a ridiculous way to judge the action since the whole point is that you are too impaired to make good judgments and therefore are not doing anything different when you makeit home safely and when you run over a motorcyclist.

    however, it’s not just the system that treats it this way. the public also seemingly condones drunk driving when it doesn’t kill, and then promptly calls for the death penalty when it does. we all know people who drive home drunk. we have all let someone drive home drunk when we should have stopped them. i know i have. in addition, if you drink, the chances are probably 100 to 1 that you yourself have driven home impaired. this does not make it ok. it does not mean it should be tolerated. but the fact is that it will not change until we change.

    there needs to be a cultural shift toward community responsibility. too many people feel like somebody’s choice to drive home from a party drunk is just that: their choice. but when something like this happens, it’s all too clear that it was a failure of everyone who did not intervene. unfortunately, despite the fact that the death of that motorcyclist is Jack’s fault; Jack’s degeneration and continuing destructive behavior was everyone’s fault.

  • avatar
    Nemphre

    The self-driving car can’t come soon enough…

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Certainly people who have one drink too many and have a horrible accident on the way home are not to be condoned, but the problem seems to be a system that refuses to deal with multi-repeat offenders. I have absolutely no data with which to support the point, but I suspect that the main drunk-driving problem is caused not by the occasional party-goer who gets a little loose but by constant, night-after-night binge drinkers who get arrested time after time, get their licenses suspended time after time, and continue to drive drunk time after time.

    The end result is inevitable, but how do we deal with them? I think the penalties need to be more severe. Not life in jail when you finally kill a family of five but maybe a year of hard time the second time you’re stopped for driving with a suspended license for DWI.

    I remember being in Finland some years ago and somebody told me that Helsinki Airport had been built by drunk drivers. He was half-joking, but the point was that Finland jails drunk drivers–I think they even snagged the CEO of Nokia at one point–and they do manual labor on public-works projects for a year or two before they’re let back out in public.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Would it really be heartless to go for three strikes and your out when it comes to DUI?

    My dad was a drunk driver that never got caught, and never had an accident (at least to our knowledge). He got drunk everyday, and he drove that way almost everyday for a couple decades until he could afford to stay home all week and drink.

    I wish someone would have caught him, taken his license, and made him prove sobriety to get back and keep his license. Some of the worlds brightest cancer experts were mystified at where the cancer started, or even how he lived for so long with it, but my guess was that it was the liver cancer that spread to most of his body, while the lung cancer was likely a separate issue altogether (he chain smoked as well). Taking his keys might have saved him, even though he did not ever crash.

  • avatar
    Robstar

    shortthrowsixspeed>

    Speak for yourself. I typically drive people home who have only had a FEW drinks. I always volunteer as designated river when I go out with friends because I enjoy drinking the least out of them and they are happy to oblige.

    My brother has been the same since he has been in his mid teens.

  • avatar

    Shephan,

    http://www.alcoholalert.com/drunk-driving-statistics.html has some interesting statistics. among them was this: “Drivers with a BAC level of .08 or higher involved in fatal crashes were eight times more likely to have a prior conviction for driving while impaired (DWI) than were drivers with no alcohol (8% and 1%, respectively).” the info was for 2006, their most recent year with stats.

    though the quote appears to say that 8 times as many drunk drivers that killed people had prior DUI convictions as those that didn’t, in reality it says something else entirely. it really says that if you were driving drunk and involved in a fatal crash, you were 8 times more likely to have had a prior DUI than drivers who were not drunk when they were involved in their fatal crash.

    in reality the 8% and 1% tell the story. only 8% of drunk drivers involved in a fatal crash had a prior DUI. while 1% of sober drivers that killed people had such a DUI. it follows that 92% of drunk drivers involved in a fatal crash in 2006 had never had a prior DUI conviction. they were not “night-after-night binge drinkers who get arrested time after time, get their licenses suspended time after time, and continue to drive drunk time after time.”

    Robstar,

    i did not mean to suggest that every single person on the planet is driving home drunk. i did not even say that everyone is letting their friends drive drunk. and i wholeheartedly commend you for your responsibility. but you are, unfortunately, the exception. what i did say is that not everyone is taking responsibility like you are. people (in general) tend to turn a blind eye and rationalize that it is “not their problem.” at least until someone dies.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    shortthrowsixspeed:
    http://www.alcoholalert.com/drunk-driving-statistics.html has some interesting statistics.

    Interesting? Perhaps. I’d also call them unreferenced and disorganized. And of course, the site’s main mission is to pimp bar based BAC machines via DWI hype to reasonable people.

    “Drivers with a BAC level of .08 or higher involved in fatal crashes were eight times more likely to have a prior conviction for driving while impaired (DWI) than were drivers with no alcohol (8% and 1%, respectively).”

    And from that you draw the logical conclusion that 92% of drivers had no priors. OK.

    But I’d wager a paycheck that the site’s 8% figure is crap. Therefore, the 92% number is crap, too.

    Where’s the reference? How do they KNOW there were no priors? In many blue states (like NY), the felon’s wing of the Democratic Partyprogressives have made it kinda tough to get info on anyone’s criminal past.

    My guess – if this site couldn’t get a criminal record, it assumed none. Which would be consistent with the site’s main mission, pimping bar site BAC machines to non-binge drinkers with a conscience.

    And note the words ‘prior conviction for … DWI’. No mention of the number of times pleas were taken to a misdemeanor or lesser charge. Or the number of times the moron was actually pulled over and let go with a warning.

    DWI, like speeding, has become a business. The enforcers know there’s little to be made from the habitual drunk they’ve pulled over 5x before. So they’ve shifted focus to the harmless guy who has 2 drinks over a 2 hour dinner.

    A look at how far these neo-prohibitionists will go to get their way…
    http://www.reason.com/news/show/122456.html

    Based on my anecdotal conversations with NY law enforcement, my gut feeling is that the number of DWI vehicular manslaughter deaths from chronic drunks is about 50%.

  • avatar

    in addition, it may be the idea that the “real” problem are the “night after night” drinkers that partly perpetuates the feeling that the “occasional party-goer who gets a little loose” is harmless. after all, we use such great euphamisms and gentle language when we describe them. they’re not the fall-down, lost-cause alcoholics we need to really worry about. and all the while they account for 92% of the problem.

  • avatar

    ihatetrees:

    i cannot vouch for the websites stats, it was simply the only place i found anything relevant in a quick Google search. i’d love to see some stats with references if you can find any.

  • avatar
    BlisterInTheSun

    I have four drunk driving convictions. The last was in 2005. I still don’t believe that I’m an alcoholic, but because of the objective evidence I reconciled myself to the fact that I can’t trust my own judgement about alcohol. Therefore I have been abstinent since my last arrest. I don’t drink, I don’t have alcohol at home, I stop at a bar with my fiance only to let her have a few cocktails and then we leave. I don’t miss it and I would advise any of you who know someone like me who is still drinking to do everything you can to make them stop if you care about them. I am so ashamed of my past its almost stupefying, and I am just grateful I never hurt anyone.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Blister,

    Stay sober. Even if you did not yet develop into being an alcoholic yet, it sounds like you were well on the way to dependency.

    The first thing alcohol does to many people is numb the part of the brain we use for judgement. Most everyone gets the judgement dulled, but for some it’s a real numb job. If you are one of those people, you are highly at risk. One day you have another drink, and bam, next thing you know you just HAVE to have another drink. Congratulations on finding one of the many paths to being a drunk.

    Don’t have the next drink, it actually CAN HURT. Consider AA or other help.


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