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June 24, 2013

Editorial: As summer heats up, watch out for motorcycles

Motorcycles are everywhere.

And they are a divisive contraption. People who own them are almost fanatical in their enthusiasm. People who don’t often have a list of annoyances they will eagerly voice.

What almost everyone knows is that the danger of motorcycle accidents increases substantially in the summer, when sunny skies, mild temperatures and dry roads bring out more riders out.

But with the rise in use comes a corresponding increase in danger.

A study cited by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said almost half of all motorcyclist fatalities in 1999 resulted from crashes in just seven states: New York, California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

In most of those states, motorcycle season is year-round. In New England, it’s typically six months but still deadly

In 2011, according to the NHTSA ,14 people were killed in motorcycle accidents in New Hampshire, which does not require bikers to wear helmets. Twelve of the 14 victims were riding helmetless. The number of fatalities doubled last year, to 28, though the number of helmetless victims was not immediately available.

In Massachusetts, 36 people were killed in motorcycle accidents in 2011, only four of whom were riding without a helmet.

According to the national NHTSA study, more motorcyclists were killed on rural roads than urban, reversing a trend from previous years.

A perfunctory glance in the rear-view mirror isn’t a good idea at any time, but it is definitely inadequate to catch sight of a slim, two-wheeled vehicle, as opposed to a car.

But the cause of motorcycle crashes can’t all be linked to other drivers not seeing them. The NHTSA noted that 41 percent of all motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes that year were speeding, which was about twice the rate for drivers of passenger cars or light trucks.

We don’t intend to address the noise issue with motorcycles. The sounds of a revving motorcycle are grating to most everyone but the riders — and you have to wonder how they themselves can stand to be directly on top of the racket. But some studies have shown that louder motorcycles decrease the danger for riders because car drivers are more likely to hear them coming even if they don’t see them.

The most basic safety advice is also common sense: Wear a helmet and don’t speed or drink alcohol if you will be riding a motorcycle.

And drivers of other vehicles should heed the national motorcycle-safety slogan: “Look twice; save a life.”

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