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Western Pennsylvania Sees Upsurge in Motorcycle Accidents

It has been a bad year for motorcyclists in Erie County, Penn. As of September 12th, nine motorcycle riders have died in Erie County, tying the unwelcome record set in 2008, with three months still remaining. Medical care providers report admitting more motorcycle accident victims for treatment so far this year than ever before.

The injuries include broken bones, lacerated spleens and livers, and head injuries. Of the 95 admissions so far at one trauma center, 32 spent time in intensive care, demonstrating the severity of these injuries.

Contributing Factors

The cause? The increased popularity of motorcycling, as well as fair spring and summer weather are factors, according to the Pennsylvania State Police. Almost 12,000 more people obtained motorcycle licenses in 2009 than the prior year. And this year's dry weather enticed them onto the roads.

But one factor involved is more critical than these: failure to wear a helmet. Eight of the 12 Erie County fatalities involved riders without helmets. Motorcycle deaths have steadily increased since 2003, when Pennsylvania repealed its universal helmet law. Today, only operators under age 21 or those that have not completed an approved motorcycle course are required by law to wear helmets. Motorcycle fatalities this year in Erie County have doubled since 2003. Statewide, the trend is the same. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported 156 motorcycle deaths in 2003 compared to 207 in 2009, and a high of 237 in 2008.

Heated Debate

Despite statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that show that helmets reduce the likelihood of a fatal accident by 37 percent, many motorcycle advocates are not convinced. They point to weather conditions and increased ridership as causes, while defending their personal freedom as to whether or not to wear a helmet. Biker groups like the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education contend that fatality statistics are skewed because they do not distinguish fatalities that would have occurred regardless of whether a helmet was worn. They cite increased awareness and education as more important than helmet use in decreasing the number of motorcycle fatalities. They do concede, however, in light of increased motorcycle usage and newer riders, the number of fatal motorcycle accidents will likely continue to increase.

The Erie Times-News