“The increase comes as total traffic fatalities including DUI deaths fall.”
Traffic fatalities in Orange County fell 16 percent in 2008 but motorcycle deaths rose sharply, according to new federal data.
The number of people killed in Orange County traffic accidents fell to 163 last year from 194 in 2007, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
However, the number of motorcyclists killed rose to 36 in 2008 from 25 a year earlier a jump of 44 percent.
Meanwhile, statewide traffic deaths dropped 14 percent in 2008 partly because drivers traveled fewer miles while motorcycle deaths rose 8.1 percent.
“Motorcycle safety is a rapidly emerging concern,” said Christopher J. Murphy, director of the state’s Office of Traffic Safety, in a written statement. “These bikes are heavier, faster and more difficult to control than ever before. Riders must get proper training, must wear proper protective gear, and must be extremely mindful of safety and avoiding dangerous situations.”
Lower incomes because of the weak economy are “driving people to get out there on two wheels,” said Steve Spernak, a former police officer who has been riding motorcycles for 30 years and now heads the Orange County Traffic Officer’s Association. “A lot of them think they can just go out there and not understand the dangers and the limitations of them as riders in a high-placed traffic environment.”
One-third of motorcyclists involved in crashes statewide don’t have the required Department of Motor Vehicles endorsement on their licenses, said OTS spokesman Chris Cochran.
Cochran said young riders are starting out on bikes that are much more powerful than in past decades. “You throw in a good dose of testosterone on top of that, and these guys are getting into a whole lot of trouble because of speed,” he said.
Also, older “reentry” riders who might not have touched a motorcycle in 30 years reach an age where they “want to make a statement” but don’t get additional training to handle today’s heavier models, Cochran said.
“They don’t have the perception or reaction that they did as younger riders and as such they put themselves in dangerous situations,” Spernak said.
OTS is encouraging motorcyclists to get trained through the California Motorcyclist Safety Program, via the Irvine-based Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Graduates qualify for the DMV motorcycle endorsement without having to take the DMV skills test. On a happier note, alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Orange County fell to 46 in 2008 from 56 a year earlier, a drop of 18 percent. Statewide, DUI deaths fell 9 percent to 1,029, the federal data shows.
Credit for the drop in DUI deaths goes to “law enforcement, state and local agencies, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other safety advocates,” Murphy said. “The people of California have come together to address this deadly problem and are now seeing results. As positive as these figures are, though, we can never let up until we achieve our goal of zero deaths.”
Altogether, California vehicle fatalities fell 14 percent in 2008, to 3,434, and are at their lowest point since 1975, when the federal government began compiling figures, OTS said.
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