State encourages motorcyclists to get training and motorists to be more aware

Traffic safety officials in Colorado are alarmed at the continued rise in motorcycle fatalities in the state, which reached a record high in 2008. Last year, 98 motorcycle riders and passengers died on Colorado roadways, up from 90 in 2007. Motorcycle fatalities represented 18 percent of the 548 traffic deaths in Colorado last year, despite representing only 3 percent of registered vehicles.

“As the weather heats up, and more motorcyclists hit Colorado roadways, we ask motorists to be aware and look out for riders around them,” said Pamela Hutton, Governor’s Representative for Highway Safety at the Colorado Department of Transportation. “We also strongly encourage all motorcyclists — no matter how long they’ve been riding — to take a training course and wear proper gear, including a helmet. ”

Nearly seven out of 10 riders killed in Colorado last year were not wearing a helmet or were wearing it incorrectly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries, meaning 25 Colorado riders could have been saved if they had been wearing one.

Lack of training is also a factor in Colorado’s fatal motorcycle crashes. Motorcycle riders were found to be at fault in 80% of the fatal crashes. Also, 39% of riders killed did not have a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license or no license at all.

Older riders are at highest risk for dying in a motorcycle crash. Riders age 45 and older represented 39 percent of Colorado’s motorcycle fatalities in 2008. But the largest jump in fatalities came in the 18 to 34 age group, comprising 36 percent of motorcycle fatalities, up 40 percent from 2007.

To provide high-quality motorcycle training at a low cost, CDOT oversees a state-funded motorcycle training program called MOST (Motorcycle Operator Safety Training). The MOST program requires trainers to use an approved motorcycle curriculum, and sets standards for proper training facilities and qualified trainers. A list of the state’s MOST-certified trainers can be found at www.CoMotorcycleSafety.com. Colorado residents and active-duty military personnel qualify for MOST. Riders who pass a MOST class can simply take their completion card to a state driver’s license office to get their endorsement with no further testing needed.

To further encourage motorcycle training, the Colorado State Patrol’s Motorcycle Operations Unit will travel to several motorcycle events across the state this summer in a newly designed motorcycle trailer, which will not only act as a mobile billboard to encourage training, but also an informational booth to display at rallies.

Impaired riding is also a major problem. Over one-third of riders killed in motorcycle crashes in 2008 were under the influence of alcohol. “It is extremely dangerous to drive any vehicle while impaired, especially a motorcycle, which requires a great deal of balance and coordination,” said Chief Wolfinbarger.

Safety officials stress the importance of all vehicles sharing the road. Motorists should actively search for motorcyclists at all times. Experts offer the following tips for drivers:

• Always make a visual check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic and at intersections.

• Always allow a motorcyclist the full lane width — never try to share a lane.

• Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.

• Allow more following distance, three or four seconds, when behind a motorcycle, so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency. And don’t tailgate. In dry conditions, motorcycles can stop more quickly than cars.