Safety Line Crossed During Deadly N.H. Motorcycle Week

June 22, 2006

It’s just a narrow yellow line, but crossing it has proved deadly for motorcycle riders during this year’s Bike Week in New Hampshire.

Police say bikers crossing the center line into oncoming traffic contributed to six of the nine deaths over the past week and a number of other serious accidents.

“People are crossing over that center line on corners and colliding head-on,” said Peter Thomson, coordinator of the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency.

That was certainly the case in Stoddard on June 10, when a rider crossed the line and collided with a Jeep Cherokee that lost control and rolled over into several other bikers. Three motorcyclists died.

This past Friday, a rider caught his foot peg on the pavement while turning and slid into the path of five other bikes. That rider died and four other bikers were injured, one seriously.

The nine deaths so far this year during Bike Week “are approaching the high side” Thomson said.

Before 2004, Bike Week had only a smattering of fatal accidents, he said. Last year, there were three motorcycle deaths during the same period. In 2004, there were nine and in 2003, there were five.

Thomson said some factors affecting the fatalities include the growing popularity of motorcycles, the number of older riders and the fact that few take motorcycle safety courses.

Thomson said motorcycle registrations in New Hampshire have been growing about 5 percent each year.

A few states require motorcycle education classes before they let riders take the motorcycle drivers test. But Thomson said even if the Legislature supported the change, the state would have a hard time keeping up with demand.

“We already have waiting lists,” he said. “And that is not going to cure the issue with out-of-staters coming in.”

Thomson did not think helmet use was a major issue in this year’s deaths even though most of the fatalities were among bikers who were not wearing them.

“Hitting a tree at 70, (a helmet) is not going to make a difference,” he said.

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