N.H. Safety Officials Looking for Ways to Curb Motorcycle Deaths

May 3, 2006

The last couple of years haven’t been very safe for motorcycle riders in New Hampshire, so with bikes already out of winter storage and even more expected on the road this summer because of high gasoline prices, safety officials want to kickstart the season on the right foot.

They held a rally and reception at the Statehouse last Saturday to help reverse a sobering trend of rising motorcycle deaths by promoting driver training and awareness.

In 2003, nine motorcyclists died on New Hampshire roads. The deaths increased to 27 in 2004, and last year, even with a focus on motorcycle safety, 42 died.

“The results don’t look like we did a very good job last year,” said state Highway Safety Coordinator Peter Thomson. “But who knows what it might have been if we didn’t do anything.”

Thomson blamed the increase in motorcycle deaths last year on several factors: more motorcycles, not enough drivers taking training, good weather that extended the riding season and more baby boomers buying machines they can’t necessarily handle.

“We are redoubling our efforts this year,” he said. ‘”We’ve got a problem and we’ve got to get our hands around it.”

Safety officials hope the statistics will help show driver training helps keep motorcyclists alive. Twenty-six of the 27 people killed in 2004 and 39 of the 42 killed last year had not taken a formal motorcycle riding course, he said.

And they are counting on new laws Gov. John Lynch signed at the rally to help.

Mavis Robinson, of the state Safety Department, said one law is aimed directly at new motorcyclists who can’t handle their machines. Currently, anyone, even someone who has never driven a motorcycle, can get a 30-day driving permit and keep taking and failing the state licensing driver test as long as it take for them to pass.

The new law, going into effect in 60 days, says would-be motorcyclists who fail twice can’t get their license without taking a motorcycle training program.

“It goes from unlimited tries on the motorcycle road test to limiting it to two,” she said.

The three-day state class includes 5-6 hours of classroom instruction and 10-15 hours on the road. “It’s not just sitting in a classroom,” Robinson said. “If you like to ride, you’ll love the class, riding around all weekend with other people who like motorcycles.”

A second new law going into effect Jan. 1 says anyone applying for a temporary motorcycle permit must first pass a written test.

Robinson and Thomson said a major focus will be the thousands of licensed motorcyclists in the state who may not have ridden for years. About 65,000 motorcycles are registered in the state, but about 141,000 people have motorcycle licenses, they said.

“We are focusing on the people who are licensed but probably have not ridden for years,” Robinson said. “They don’t need the class to get licenses, but they need it to prepare to return to riding.”

Thomson said an ad campaign also will target car drivers.
“Those who don’t ride need to be aware that we have a large amount of motorcycles riding on our highways and much more are going to be on highways this year because of gas prices. “We have to learn to share the road with motorcyclists,” he said.

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