Motorcycle fatalities climbed about 30 percent over a five-year period in Colorado, prompting a new public awareness campaign to remind drivers: No matter what motorcyclists are doing, they are less protected than those in a car or truck, and everyone is responsible for limiting risks.
“Crashes can happen in an instant. We all need to be looking out for each other,” said Sam Cole, a spokesman with the Colorado Department of Transportation. “For drivers, that means giving motorcyclists plenty of space and for riders, it means obey the rules of the road.”
Last year, 103 motorcycle riders were killed in Colorado. So far this year, 65 have died; last year by this time, 60 had been killed.
The state released stats from 2012 - 2018, showing last year was tied with 2017 for the third-highest number of fatals during the period. Motorcycle fatalities peaked at 125 in 2016 and stood at 105 in 2015.
The years prior showed 79 for 2012; 87 for 2013 and 94 for 2014.
The most recent available statistics specific to Montrose County, 2017, showed one fatal motorcycle crash and nine injury crashes. Delta County had no fatalities that year, but five injury crashes.
Between 2012 and 2017, the state shows a total of four motorcycle fatalities in Delta County and three in Montrose County.
At least one motorcyclist has died in Montrose County this year. In July, a man apparently went off the side of a remote road, rolled his bike and it landed on top of him. He died before help could arrive.
The state on Monday declared Aug. 12 as Motorcyclist Memorial Day to honor crash victims and also raise awareness about motorcycle safety.
“Colorado State Patrol witnesses motorcycle crashes that could be prevented on our roads every day,” said Col. Matthew Packard, CSP chief, in a provided statement. “With the increasing number of distractions on our roadways, we need each person being safe and looking twice for motorcycles.”
Drivers need to constantly check their blind spots; double check before making lane changes, turns, and merging; use extra caution when turning left; not follow motorcycles too closely and, as general good practice, do not drive distracted.
The average blind spot is several hundred square feet, Cole said.
“That’s enough for a jet plane. A lot can get lost in there, including a motorcycle,” he said.
Several crashes occur because drivers entering a roadway simply do not see the oncoming bike.
“Motorcycles basically have no crash protection. It can be deadly for a motorcycle to hit a vehicle,” Cole added.
“Know you can do a lot of damage to more vulnerable people on a roadway (including bicyclists and pedestrians) and don’t take chances. Even if you are angry, let it go. Don’t put them at risk.”
Motorcyclists also need to obey traffic laws. Colorado is among the states where “lane-splitting” — riding between rows of traffic — is illegal. Cole recommends bikers undergo the Motorcycle Operator Safety Training program, or MOST.
“That enables motorcyclists to get their motorcycle endorsement on their license. Other practical tips are to drive defensively, ride defensively, don’t speed and never ride impaired,” he said.
Although Colorado no longer has a helmet law, wearing one is strongly recommended, as is wearing other protective gear. Cole said national stats show states that have motorcycle helmet laws have lower numbers of fatal crashes involving motorcycles.
“Most of our fatalities do involve riders who are not wearing a helmet,” Cole said.
Last year, 64 of the fatal crashes involved riders without helmets. And, even if a rider who is not wearing a helmet survives a crash, he or she can be severely injured, leading to grossly impaired quality of life, and financial and care burdens, he said.
The biggest issues seen in CSP’s Troop 5C’s jurisdiction arise from motorcyclists themselves, Capt. Laurie Hadley said.
“A lot of crashes we cover are just the motorcyclists driving beyond their capabilities on these mountainous roads. There’s always that issue of people, they don’t pay attention or see the motorcycles, but the crashes we’ve seen are people riding beyond their capabilities,” she said.
Hadley’s troop has two moto-troopers who patrol on cycles. “I always remind them they need to drive defensively. That’s anybody, really. You’ve got to watch out for yourself,” she said.
Hadley reiterated that vehicle drivers need to double check their blind spots and lanes where they are intending to travel; she also said lane-splitting is dangerous, not just illegal.
Cole said there is no single reason why fatal motorcycle crashes have increased 30 percent, but more riders and congestion, coupled with distracted drivers, are among the reasons. He reminded drivers to stay off their phones and focus on the task at hand, which is driving their vehicle safely.
“Any death, I’m concerned about,” Hadley said. “We want to get down as low as we can. In our area, we try to really concentrate in summertime on riders and safety.”
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.