Fatal motorcycle crashes in Maine reached their highest level in at least a decade last year, according to new federal data.
In 2015, motorcycle crashes killed 33 people in the state, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show. That’s triple the number of deaths from 2014, when the state recorded a recent low of 10 motorcycle fatalities.
Fatal crashes among riders not wearing helmets hit an all-time high, making up about 80 percent of all motorcycle deaths.
Seeing a national uptick in motorcycle crashes in 2012, the Federal Highway Administration began to study the issue. It found a sharp increase in motorcycle ownership, particularly by riders over age 40, along with changes in motorcycle size and rider experience that make traveling on them less safe.
The trend of increasing motorcycle crashes in Maine was apparent by mid-2015. In August of that year, some riders complained of perceived threats beyond their control, including drivers texting or generally not paying attention.
John Kohler, coordinator of the Motorcycle Safety Program for the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, told the Bangor Daily News at the time that those riders often don’t have hands-on training.
So far in 2016, motorcycle fatalities appear more in line with the five-year average of 19 per year, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. But with plenty of good riding weather still to come, it’s difficult to predict whether that will hold true.
In fact, all of the crashes in 2015 happened with dry road conditions and clear or cloudy skies.
Crashes generally involved larger motorcycles, with about half on bikes with engines of at least 750 cubic centimeters.
Only two riders licensed out of state — from New Hampshire and Massachusetts — died while riding Maine roads last year. Neither of those riders was wearing a helmet.
In all cases, men overwhelmingly were the victims of fatal motorcycle crashes in 2015.
Overall, traffic deaths in the state rose 19 percent last year to 156.
Maine’s increase was higher than even the 7.2 percent rise nationwide, which marked the first increase in traffic fatalities in 50 years. Percent changes at the state level are generally more dramatic year to year than the national rate.
In the annual report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said fatalities increased across the board, from passenger vehicles to large trucks, pedestrians and across different times of day.
In Maine, alcohol was a factor in about one-third of all crashes, but the rate was higher for motorcycle crashes, in which about half of all crashes involved alcohol.
Alcohol-impaired crashes involve a driver with a blood-alcohol concentration over the legal limit of 0.08 grams per deciliter.