A motorcycle lays in the middle of a road
The scene of a crash involving a motorcycle in Rockport in 2019. Credit: Courtesy of Rockland Fire Department

A collision on Sunday that killed a Baldwin motorcyclist marked the 21st fatal motorcycle crash Maine has seen so far this year. That figure matches the total number of fatal motorcycle crashes in all of 2021.

With the year slightly more than half over, Maine is on pace to exceed the number of fatal motorcycle crashes it has seen annually over the past five years, according to Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson Shannon Moss.

The increase spurred state road safety officials to form a special motorcycle safety task force last week to investigate and address the increase, said Christopher Ireland, director of the driver license services division of the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

State officials haven’t identified a definitive cause for the rise in fatal crashes involving motorcycles. The crashes have involved people of all age groups and riding experience levels, and the fatal crashes are divided about evenly between those involving other vehicles and those in which cyclists have crashed alone, Ireland said.

But the increase has happened amid an uptick of motorcyclists on the road and receiving training to earn their motorcycle endorsements.

The new task force investigating the rise in motorcycle fatalities involves the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Transportation. It’s led by Lauren Stewart, director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.

The group is starting by reviewing various factors that may have contributed to each fatal motorcycle crash and looking for trends, Ireland said. The factors include the time of day when the crashes occurred, road conditions, weather, the drivers’ ages, and whether they were wearing helmets.

Of those who have died in motorcycle crashes so far this year, about two-thirds were not wearing helmets, according to Moss.

Motorcycle riders in Maine are generally not required to wear a helmet, with state law requiring them only for riders who are under 18, those with a learner’s permit and those who have completed their driving test within the last year. Passengers of operators required to wear a helmet also must wear one.

“From a state safety perspective, it’s well understood that wearing a helmet is an important contribution to rider safety,” Ireland said.

While the state works to find possible solutions, Ireland said all drivers should be cautious of motorcycle riders, especially when entering intersections, as they can be difficult to see.

Once the task force collects more data on this year’s motorcycle crashes, it plans to discuss the rise in fatalities with motorcycle groups and those who train riders, Ireland said.

In 2020, Maine had 27 crashes resulting in 29 deaths, according to Moss. The year before, Maine saw 25 crashes resulting in 27 deaths. In 2018, 23 motorcycle crashes resulted in 23 deaths, Moss said.

On Sunday, John Washington, 32, of Baldwin collided with a vehicle driven by Sheila Beal, 70, from Newfield, at the intersection of routes 5 and 25 in Cornish. Washington, who was wearing a helmet and was alone on the motorcycle, was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Last week, Michael Hutchins, 47, of Somerville died from his injuries after he crashed his motorcycle into a grove of trees on Valley Road in Somerville. He was not wearing a helmet, according to police.

On July 2, Merle Page, 60, of Corinna died when he crossed the centerline of Route 7 in Corinna and collided with an oncoming vehicle, police reported. Page wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Last month, another four people in Maine died after crashing their motorcycles.

In addition to more fatal motorcycle crashes, Ireland said state agencies have noticed an uptick in the number of motorcyclists on the road. The pandemic, as well as economic shifts in people’s lives and rising gas prices, may be contributing to this, he said.

About 3,000 people annually took motorcycle safety courses — which people must pass before they can receive a state motorcycle endorsement — in Maine from 2017 to 2020. In 2021, however, more than 4,000 Mainers took a motorcycle safety course, according to Ireland.

“During the pandemic, folks had some time, funds and they were looking for a way to get out of the house,” he said. “Economic factors also tend to drive people toward different modes of transportation. We saw something similar during the recession in 2008.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...