Early motorcycle season concerns police

Posted April 26, 2010, at 10:38 p.m.

The motorcycle season in Maine typically starts when the snow melts away, and this year it was gone early.

With more time on the streets, there are more opportunities for people to get into crashes, Stephen McCausland, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman, said recently.

“We’re coming off a very bad year and hope not to repeat it,” he said.

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The number of motorcycle deaths in Maine increased from 18 in 2008 to 22 last year, Michelle Ward, Bureau of Highway Safety fatal accident system analyst, said recently.

The number of motorcycle fatalities in 2007 was 21. In 2006 there were 23 motorcycle deaths, compared with 15 in 2005.

Maine had its first motorcycle death of the year on April 12.

China resident Melinda Paradis, 34, had earned her license the week before her bike crossed the centerline on a road in Albion and struck an oncoming pickup truck, McCausland wrote in his weekly news release, The Communicator.

“This was her first ride,” he said of the mother of three. She was riding with her husband and brother-in-law. All three were wearing helmets. Residents in the area say there was manure from a nearby farm on the roadway, which may have contributed to the collision.

In the years 2005 through 2009 a total of 99 people died on Maine roads in motorcycle-related crashes, and only four were women drivers. All four died in 2008.

Two women died in 2009, but both were passengers, the data show.

The youngest driver to die on a motorcycle in 2009 was 19, and the oldest was 71. The average age of those who died last year was 46, according to Highway Safety data.

Baby boomers, who often have disposable income and can buy bigger, faster bikes, are more likely to die than teenagers on sport bikes, according to police.

“That older trend has been fairly consistent in recent years,” McCausland said. “A lot of baby boomers … [have] decided they want to get back on a bike.”

In Maine, once a person earns a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license, it lasts a lifetime.

McCausland said drivers who have not been on a bike in years might want to practice a little before heading out onto roadways.

“We encourage that older cyclist, who may be getting back on a bike, to take a refresher course,” he said. “And get familiar with your machine before you get on the road.”

Chief Deputy Troy Morton of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department, a 20-year motorcycle enthusiast, said riders should also “buy a motorcycle that fits them.”

A bike that is too big will be hard to control, he said.

In addition to safety gear, “the biggest precaution you need to take is to watch out for other people,” Morton warned motorcycle drivers. “They tend not to see you.”

Morton rides a 2008 Harley-Davidson Street Glide, but started riding dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles in his youth.

High speeds and no helmet use are tied with many of the Maine motorcycle fatalities, and use of alcohol or drugs and inexperienced drivers also are factors, Wade said.

“For 2009, we had 22 fatalities and 17 were not wearing helmets,” she said. “It’s not good. In 2008, we had 18 fatalities, and 14 with no helmets.”

Wearing a motorcycle helmet is not a requirement in Maine, unless you are under 18 or driving on a permit, but it is recommended for safety.

While fatalities have increased over the last year, they have not kept pace with the number of registered motorcycles in Maine, which has doubled in the last decade, from 25,604 in 1998 to 51,414 in 2008, according to figures from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced in June 2009 that “motorcycle deaths increased for the 11th straight year and now account for 14 percent of all highway fatalities” in the nation.

With the warm spring, motorcyclists are already commonplace. Many riders will remain on the street until roadways begin to ice over this fall, McCausland said.

“The season is definitely going to be long [this year] because of the early spring,” he said.

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