Report: New Jersey Motorcycle Deaths Drop

November 24, 2010

A new report shows a drop in deaths from motorcycle accidents in New Jersey — a change that’s good news for both riders and safety advocates.

“I think it’s great,” Barbara Borowiec, a South Jersey motorcycle dealer, said of the statistics released last week by New Jersey State Police.

She noted the downturn in deaths has occurred even as more motorcycles and other vehicles take to the state’s crowded roads.

Overall, 68 people died in motorcycle crashes across the Garden State last year, says the State Police report. That death toll, which includes one pedestrian, is down from 82 fatalities in 2008 and 87 in 2007. It’s well below the 103 motorcycle-related deaths recorded in 2006.

The report was released on Wednesday, one day after the National Transportation Safety Board urged all states to adopt “universal” laws that would require anyone riding on a motorcycle to wear a helmet that meets federal standards.

New Jersey already has such a law as part of its motorcycle safety program, noted Mike Horan, a spokesman for the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission.

“I do think it’s working,” Horan said of the state’s safety push. That effort includes a motorcycle-safety website, NJRideSafe.org, as well as heavily promoted safety classes at more than 15 sites like Borowiec’s business, Barb’s Harley-Davidson in West Collingswood Heights.

Also last week, an Assembly committee released a bill that would bolster safety measures for motorcyclists. Among other changes, the measure would require an additional road test before a licensed rider could move up to a much larger motorcycle.

The bill, already approved by the Senate, also would impose new rules for people learning to ride a motorcycle — and would require those under 18 to take a safety course as part of the licensing process.

“There’s no doubt that more people now learn to ride through a motorcycle-safety course,” said Borowiec, whose Black Horse Pike dealership has classroom space and an adjacent training course for motorcycle riders. Her firm employs full-time instructors for two courses _ one for beginners and another to update veteran riders.

“It teaches you a lot about defensive driving,” said Borowiec, noting motorcyclists face a greater risk, in part, because more traditional motorists often overlook them in traffic.

“I’ve had people call back to tell their instructors that something they learned in the course had saved their life,” Borowiec said.

Indeed, 90 percent of motorcycle crashes involve riders with no formal training, according to NJRideSafe.org. The state, with 153,000 registered motorcycles at the end of 2009, has more than 2,500 motorcycle crashes annually, Horan said.

In many cases, motorcyclists can be a threat to themselves. The State Police report says unsafe speed played a role in 22 fatal crashes last year, exceeding all other factors. And of 63 motorcycle drivers who died in 2009 crashes, 18 had blood-alcohol levels above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The report also notes that more than half of the drivers who died, or 45 people, were older than 31 — and 25 of them were older than 40.

The recent improvement might also be seen as relative: Last year’s 68 deaths returned the state to a level last seen in 2005, when 64 people died in motorcycle accidents.

Head injury is the leading cause of death for motorcycle fatalities, said the NTSB, which estimates helmets saved the lives of more than 1,800 motorcyclists in 2008.

The board wants all states to require motorcycle drivers and passengers to wear federally approved helmets — headgear with a hard outer shell, an impact-absorbing liner and a retention system to protect the head, especially the brain.

Currently, 27 states — including Pennsylvania and Delaware — require helmets only for minors and passengers. Three states — Iowa, Illinois and New Hampshire — have no helmet laws. But while New Jersey requires helmets for drivers and passengers, stores often sell novelty helmets that fall short of federal standards.

“They’re just not safe,” the MVC’s Horan said of novelty helmets. “If you show up for a motorcycle test in one of those, you wouldn’t be allowed to take the test.”

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