With an increasing number of motorcycle fatalities already this year, Colonel Ann C. Assumpico, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Department of Public Safety, is encouraging motorcycle operators and passengers to use extra caution.
Six people died in motorcycle crashes from January 1 through June 30, which is double the number of motorcycle fatalities for the same period last year, according to statistics compiled by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation's Office on Highway Safety. It also is the highest number of motorcycle fatalities at this point since 2014, when six motorcycle deaths were reported during the same time period.
"We are extremely concerned about this increase in motorcycle fatalities, especially given that we're in the peak season for motorcycle riding," Colonel Assumpico said. "We strongly encourage all motorcycle riders and passengers to wear helmets and protective equipment. We also remind other motorists to be watchful for motorcyclists."
Fatal motorcycle crashes typically spike from June through September, according to federal highway statistics. Nearly 50 percent of all motorcycle fatalities in 2016 occurred in those four months.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also reports that the number of motorcycle fatalities nationwide increased by nearly 60 percent over the past 20 years, from 2,077 in 1996 to 4,796 in 2016.
Approximately 40 percent of those killed were not wearing helmets. In addition, nearly one-third of those killed were operating without valid motorcycle drivers' licenses.
Men comprise 91 percent of all motorcycle fatalities; only 9 percent of the victims in 2016 were women, according to the NHTSA statistics. Of the women, 69 percent were passengers and 32 percent were drivers. The statistics also show that the number of motorcycle fatalities involving operators over age 50 has nearly tripled over the past 20 years, rising from 13 percent of in 1997 to 36 percent in 2016.
Lt. Ernest McKenney, who commands the State Police Motorcycle Unit, said everyone needs to work together to help keep motorcycle riders and passengers safe. This includes being mindful of all vehicles on the road, and heeding all traffic laws.
"Motorcyclists also need to be aware of changes in weather and road conditions, especially those that could create unsafe conditions," Lieutenant McKenney said. "It is important to be able to maintain control of the motorcycle at all times, for the protection of the operator and any passenger."
Lieutenant McKenney also offers the following safety tips and reminders for motorcycle operators:
• Always wear a helmet and eye protection.
• Wear protective, bright-colored clothing.
• Keep high beams on during the day to improve visibility.
• Avoid distractions, including cell phones and other electronic devices.
• Obey all traffic laws and rules of the road.
• NEVER operate a motorcycle or any motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Ride defensively – don't assume other drivers can see you; be aware of other vehicles nearby; allow extra distance between other vehicles; and be prepared to take evasive action if need be.