As the weather improves, more and more people are pulling their motorcycles out of hibernation and taking to the streets and highways.
But according to state data, more and more motorcycle riders are getting seriously hurt, especially in Jefferson County, which was second only to El Paso County in motorcycle deaths in 2008.
Last year, a record 98 motorcycle riders were killed in accidents on Colorado roads, up from 90 in 2007. Motorcycle deaths accounted for 18 percent of Colorado's traffic deaths in 2008, despite the fact that motorcycles represent only 3 percent of registered vehicles.
"I really enjoy getting out and riding in the mountains," said Mark Weig, a technician with the Colorado State Patrol's motorcycle unit based in Golden. "It relaxes me, and it's just a different feeling from driving in a car constantly." Weig has been riding motorcycles since 1974, and became a state trooper in 1993.
Weig knows the joys and freedom of riding, but he’s also a certified motorcycle safety instructor through the state's Motorcycle Operator Safety Training program. MOST provides low-cost safety training to Colorado residents and active-duty military members in Colorado.
Weig has seen a lot of motorcycle accidents in his years of riding and in law enforcement.
"It's mostly a combination of inexperience and alcohol," Weig said. "Something like 55 percent of all fatal motorcycle accidents in Jefferson County last year were alcohol-involved. It's especially dangerous, because it affects not only your balance, but your perception and reaction time. The least little impairment is magnified that much more on a motorcycle."
Most motorcycle accidents are the motorcycle rider's fault, Weig added. Statewide, riders were found to be at fault in 80 percent of motorcycle crashes, according to state data. Weig said that number jumps to 91 percent in Jeffco.
Many of the 98 deaths in 2008 could have been prevented, according to an analysis of the accident data. More than 66 percent of the riders who died were not wearing helmets, and 34 percent were under the influence of alcohol.
Weig said riding motorcycles is inherently more dangerous than riding in a car.
"On a motorcycle, if you goof up, you have only two wheels to hold you up," he said. "In a car, you're surrounded by metal. On a motorcycle, you are 70 percent more likely to be injured in a crash than in a car."
Weig said helmets and other safety gear — leather jackets, pants and gloves — will go a long way to preventing those injuries.
He knows from personal experience. He once hit a deer while riding his patrol bike in the mountains. He was thrown from the bike at 55 mph.
"I slid 135 feet, but I only had two little spots of road rash on my elbows," Weig said. He also broke his leg in the crash, but his injuries would have been much worse without his leather gear.
Signing up for safety classes is also a good idea, Weig said, and there's also a financial incentive.
Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, said most insurance companies offer a 10 to 15 percent discount on motorcycle insurance if riders take a certified training class.
"(Riders) need to be taking these safety courses," Walker said. "It's an investment in their lives and also a good investment in general."
Walker said she and other safety advocates can talk about the need for safety until they're blue in the face, but most people will listen when it's a matter of money.
"Sometimes when it's a pocketbook motivation, that means more to people than the fact that it's dangerous," Walker said.
Find a class
If you have questions about MOST classes, call Paul Peterson with the Colorado Department of Transportation at 303-757-9069, or e-mail him at: email@example.com. Visit www.dot.state.co.us/TrafficSafety/most to learn about the program, read simple riding tips and to find more contact information.