In wake of deadly year, Colorado state officials launch motorcycle safety campaign

Last year was the deadliest on record for motorcycle riders in Colorado and the state Department of Transportation is kicking off a campaign to encourage people to wear helmets.

In 2020, 137 motorcyclists died on Colorado roads, a 33% jump from 2019. The next highest number of fatalities was 125 in 2016.

Although motorcycles are only 3% of the registered vehicles in the state, they accounted for 22% of the traffic fatalities in 2020, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The safety campaign, called Aftermath, will include billboards across the state and social media messages during May that will encourage riders to wear helmets to reduce deaths and injuries.

“The research and data show helmet use as the most important factor in the survivability of a motorcycle crash,” CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said in a statement. “Head injuries are common in these crashes.”

Adult motorcyclists aren’t required to wear helmets in Colorado, but people under 18 years old are.

The latest data available show that 52% of motorcycle riders killed in 2019 were not wearing helmets. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 83 motorcyclists’ lives could have been saved in Colorado between 2015-2017 if all riders had worn helmets, CDOT said.

Riders without helmets who survive a crash often suffer debilitating head injuries, CDOT spokesman Sam Cole said.

“The campaign is focused squarely on helmets because we know that the major injury to people who aren’t wearing a helmet and get into a crash is a severe head trauma. A  head trauma can leave you disabled for life,” Cole said.

Motorcycle riders joined CDOT and  Colorado State Patrol officials Thursday at CDOT headquarters to announce the campaign, which will take on arguments about helmets being too restrictive or uncomfortable by showing the possible consequences of not wearing one.

Col. Matthew Packard, CSP chief, said his agency can help riders hone their skills through the Motorcycle Operator Safety Training, or MOST.

Cole said the number of motorcycle deaths started rising last spring, around the height of the COVID-19 outbreak and restrictions to slow the spread of the disease.

“I think motorcyclists took advantage of the open roads and took their bikes out to blow off some steam,” Cole said. “And they’d get outside and they exceeded the speed limit. Most of the crashes were single-vehicle crashes.

“So far, the good news is that this year we’re starting to trend lower than we were at this time last year,” Cole added.

The overwhelming majority of people killed in motorcycle crashes are men, Cole said. The ages vary. The latest data available show that 56 of the 103 people killed in 2019 were 40 and older.Only one was under 20 years old.

Besides a helmet, state officials recommend that riders wear boots that cover the ankles, riding pants and jacket, gloves and eye protection. They also said drivers of cars and trucks should be cautious around motorcycles, check blind spots, don’t follow a motorcycle closely and be careful at intersections because motorcycles can be hard to see.

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