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Maine is on track to reach another deadly milestone this year: As of this past weekend, there have been as many deaths in motorcycle crashes as occurred in all of last year. Many of these accidents and deaths were likely preventable so state officials are right to look for ways to improve motorcycle safety. At the same time, riders and drivers can do more to keep Maine’s roadways safe for everyone. Step one for motorcyclists is to wear a helmet, which significantly reduces the chance of death and serious injury in an accident.
On Sunday, John Washington of Baldwin was killed in a crash in Cornish. It was the 21st fatal motorcycle crash in Maine so far this year, which is barely half over. There were 21 fatal motorcycle crashes in all of 2021.
Motorcyclists are significantly overrepresented in traffic crashes and fatalities, the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety said in a press release in May, which was Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Nationally in 2020, per vehicle mile traveled, motorcyclists were about 28 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to die in a motor vehicle crash and were four times more likely to be injured, according to the bureau.
The increase in deadly crashes this year 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.
The group will begin 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.
The crashes this year 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, one trend does stand out: Not wearing a helmet can be particularly deadly.
Of those who have died in motorcycle crashes so far this year, about two-thirds were not wearing helmets, according to Shannon Moss, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle can reduce the risk of death in an accident by more than a third for riders and by 41 percent for passengers. Helmets cut the risk of head injury by more than two-thirds.
Yet, helmets are not required for most riders in Maine. State law requires 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.
Efforts to change the law to require helmets for all riders in recent decades have been unsuccessful.
A rider safety course is required to obtain a motorcycle license in Maine. Experienced rider courses are offered in partnership with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
“Taking these courses is no guarantee of survivability and they do cost money. However, the cost of a course is much cheaper than an accident and it may provide that little extra knowledge to keep a rider out of trouble,” Stephen Burciaga of Monroe, a former Motorcycle Safety Foundation-certified and Maine licensed rider coach, wrote in a recent letter to the editor.
There are also steps vehicle drivers can take to make the roads more safe for motorcyclists. Keep an eye out for motorcycles, which are smaller than cars and trucks and can be harder to see. This is especially true when turning left as many vehicle-motorcycle collisions happen when drivers are turning left. Use your turn signals, so motorcycle riders and other motorists know if you are turning. Give motorcycle riders space as they may need to dodge road hazards, such as potholes.
And, put down the phone and pay attention to your driving.