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Newton County in top 10 for motorcycle fatalities

COVINGTON — Newton County was among those named to a dubious list of distinction by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety recently. It placed at No. 7 out of 10 as the Georgia county with the most motorcycle fatalities in 2011 and 2012. The county, including those crashes that occurred in the city of Covington, had seven motorcycle deaths during those years. Richmond and Muscogee counties came in just next to Newton with eight and six fatalities respectively. Metro Atlanta counties earned top rankings with 23 deaths in Fulton, 16 in DeKalb and 14 in Gwinnett.

“While Georgia saw slightly fewer motorcyclist fatalities in 2012 than in 2011, more than 130 people died in motorcycle crashes across Georgia last year, largely in urban areas and the foothills,” a press release from the GOHS states. “Georgia motorists must renew their commitment to sharing the road with motorcyclists. Motorcyclists, too, must commit to safe practices on their bikes and acquiring proper training.”

A press conference was held last week at Lake Lanier to kick off this year’s motorcycle safety campaign.

“With its mountains, long summer season and abundance of rural roads, Georgia is one of the best states in the country to ride a motorcycle,” said Harris Blackwood, director of GOHS. “But if you don’t know what you’re doing, a motorcycle is a dangerous, dangerous thing.”

There are more than 200,000 registered motorcycles in Georgia and last year motorcycle deaths comprised 11 percent of all deaths on Georgia roads but only make up 2.3 percent of vehicle registrations across the state.

Motorcyclists are also killed at a disproportionate rate elsewhere in the country, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Nationally, motorcycle registrations represent only about 3 percent of vehicle registrations, but in 2011 motorcycle deaths made up 14 percent of U.S. highway deaths, the NHTSA states.

And while data for 2012 is not yet verified, the Governors Highway Safety Association projects that the death toll for motorcyclists rose again — this time by 9 percent — in 2012. Georgia seemed to buck the national trend last year, however, according to preliminary data compiled by the Georgia Department of Transportation. In 2012 fatality rates for motorcyclists in Georgia dropped to numbers not seen since 2005.

Still, the GOHS states death rates for motorcyclists in urban areas and in Georgia’s mountain counties remained too high, with fatal crashes largely blamed on driver loss of control and illegal speed.

With little to protect them from the road, motorcyclists are 30 times more likely to die in a collision than passengers of any other vehicle, according to the NHTSA.

In a crash, the proper helmet could be the difference between life and death or a debilitating brain injury. During the conference at Lake Lanier, Patrick O’Neal, director of health protections for the Georgia Department of Public Health, urged riders to leave “novelty helmets” home when hitting the road. Only helmets approved by the Department of Transportation can guarantee protection in a crash and O’Neal attributed proper helmets with improving motorcycle crash victims’ survival rate in Georgia trauma centers.

In 2005, O’Neal said 10.1 percent of the 600 motorcycle crash victims who were taken to trauma centers died, but by 2011 only 5.7 percent of the 900 crash victims taken to trauma centers died.

“Hopefully, this is the start of a positive trend,” he said. “DOT-approved helmets make a major improvement in survival rates.”

Proper education and licensing are also factors in motorcycle fatalities nationwide; 22 percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes in 2011 not having valid licensing. A valid motorcycle license includes a rider having a valid driver’s licenses (Non-CDL License Status) with a motorcycle endorsement or a motorcycle only license.

“High fuel prices and the beautiful weather unfortunately bring out a lot of people who may not know how to handle a motorcycle,” said Jim Kelly, coordinator of the Georgia Motorcycle Safety Program for the Georgia Department of Driver Services. He urged new motorcycle owners to take advantage of training programs provided by the agency. Georgia’s Department of Driver Services operates 22 motorcycle safety training sites — one of which is in Conyers at 2201 Eastview Parkway — and certifies 14 private sites across the state.

In an effort to stress that motorcyclists and vehicle drivers must learn to share the road, the following list of tips for both were issued.

For motorcyclists:

• Never ride impaired or distracted.

• Obey traffic laws, wear DOT-compliant helmets and other protective gear.

• Make yourself visible by wearing bright colors and using reflective tape.

• Avoid riding in poor weather conditions.

• Use turn signals for every turn or lane change, even if you think no one will see it.

• Combine hand signals and turn signals to draw more attention to yourself.

• Position yourself in the lane where you will be most visible to other drivers.

For drivers:

• Never drive distracted. Doing so can result in tragic consequences for motorcyclists.

• Allow a motorcyclist a full lane width. Although it may seem that there is enough room in the traffic lane for a motor vehicle and a motorcycle, the motorcycle needs the room to maneuver safely. Do not share the lane.

• Always use turn signals before changing lanes or merging with traffic. This allows motorcyclists to anticipate traffic flow and find a safe lane position.

• Because of its smaller size, a motorcyclist can be hidden in a vehicle’s blind spot. Always check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic and at intersections.

• Motorcycle turn signals are usually not self-canceling and riders sometimes forget to turn them off. Allow enough time to determine the motorcyclist’s intention before you proceed.

• Remember that road conditions that are minor annoyances to motorists can pose major hazards to motorcyclists. Motorcycle riders may change speed or adjust position within a lane suddenly in reaction to road and traffic conditions.

• Allow more following distance, three or four seconds, when following a motorcycle. In dry conditions, motorcycles can stop more quickly than cars.