Road savvy

Idaho motorcycle deaths more than double from 2011

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Dave Cazel has ridden a motorcycle for more than 30 years, but he still considers himself a student on two wheels.

"Every time I take a class I learn something new," the Coeur d'Alene man said. "There's always room for education. Motorcycles are a pleasurable activity, but you've got to be on your toes for automobiles, construction, individuals, animals and just the lay of the road."

Idaho motorcycle fatalities are up more than double from last year through the end of July from six to 13, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Six of this year's deaths occurred in July, which tied for the fourth-highest month in the past six years.

A NHTSA report indicates that the warmer weather this year may be playing a part in the increased numbers.

"Certainly, nicer weather means more riders on the road," said Stacey "Ax" Axmaker, Idaho STAR (Skills Training Advantage for Riders) Motorcycle Safety Program director.

The recent spike in motorcycle fatalities has prompted safety groups to issue warnings.

However, this year's total is still lower than the 16 in 2010 at this time, 17 in 2009, 19 in 2008 and 14 in 2007.

"Last year may have been an anomaly, but we hope it wasn't," Cazel said.

The average number of motorcycle fatalities per year for Idaho during the past five years is 27.4.

Last month's motorcycle fatalities included Kurt Henson, a 47-year-old from Post Falls who was a Spokane police officer and formerly worked at the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department.

Henson died in an accident on Highway 200 near Clark Fork on July 24. Police said the motorcycle struck an abrupt lane in a construction zone, throwing Henson and his passenger, Kimberly Lennox, 43, also of Post Falls, from the motorcycle. Lennox was treated and released from Bonner General Hospital.

Police said a pickup driven by Brianna Knapp, 28, struck Henson and the motorcycle. Knapp was later arrested for leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

Idaho State Police on Thursday said the case is still being investigated, there's no new information to be released and it remains unclear if alcohol was a factor.

About 70 percent of the fatal motorcycle crashes in Idaho from 2009 to 2011 were associated with driver error, according to NHTSA.

Cazel, a leader in the Kootenai Chapter of ABATE (American Bikers Aiming Toward Education) of North Idaho and STAR advisory committee member, said ABATE estimates that about 40 percent of motorcycle fatalities are due to failure to negotiate curves because of inattentive driving, speeding and other factors.

"When a crash does happen, good quality riding gear - a jacket, pants, gloves and helmet - can make a huge difference in injury and even survival," Axmaker said. "If you are a rider, please gear up. If you have a rider in your life that you care about, ask them to gear up."

Cazel said the motorcycle world has come a long way toward educating riders about safety in recent years, and statistics show it. But there's always room for improvement and there's going to be some who don't believe they need training.

"Encouraging riders to take education safety courses is the best thing we can do to alleviate problems," Cazel said.

According to an Idaho Transportation Department report, there were 489 motorcycle crashes in 2011. It was the lowest number in the past five years and a 7.4 percent drop from 528 in 2010.

Of all motorcyclists involved in crashes in 2011, 85 percent resulted in injuries.

Ten percent of all motorcycle crashes involved impaired motorcyclists, while 35 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes involved impaired motorcyclists.

Nearly half of all motorcycle crashes were single-vehicle crashes and 65 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes involved only a single motorcycle.

Of the motorcyclists killed in 2011, 65 percent were over the age of 40. The report states a motorcyclist was injured in a crash every 20 hours.

Fifty-five percent of riders involved in crashes in 2011 were wearing a helmet.

The report states there were 56,643 registered motorcycles in the state in 2011, a 4.3 percent increase from 2010.

Post Falls' Sam Martin is considering buying a motorcycle because he enjoyed riding as a teen.

The 54-year-old said he understands there are risks, but, just like driving a car, that risk can greatly be reduced by paying attention to the road and not getting sidetracked.

"Riding offers the freedom of being outdoors, but it probably pays to be a little more cautious than even being in a car," he said. "I believe in being protected (with riding gear) and my wife makes sure that I am. Education also helps, even for us older folks who believe we've been down the road before."

Motorcycle safety

Idaho STAR (Skills Training Advantage for Riders) will put on three Basic I courses in September. They run from Sept. 7-9 in both Sandpoint and Hayden and Sept. 21-23 in Hayden. Basic II classes will be held Aug. 17 in Sandpoint and Aug. 24, Sept. 22 and Sept. 23 in Hayden. Both Basic classes cost $105. STAR also puts on an Experienced course that will be scheduled later. For more information, visit www.idahostar.org or call (888) 280-7827.

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