A northern Pennsylvania county analyzing its rate of fatal motorcycle crashes reports an increase in 2012, though statewide, the numbers have been falling in recent years. Erie County’s motorcycle accident report offers a snapshot of the primary causes of accidents across Pennsylvania and the reasons many of them are fatal.

So far in 2012, Erie County has had seven fatal motorcycle crashes, up from six in all of 2011. Statewide statistics for this year are not yet available, but according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, fatal crashes decreased by 6.5 percent from 2010 to 2011. The total number of crashes, fatal or otherwise, went down by 9.4 percent.

According to Erie County’s coroner, speed is the biggest cause of fatal motorcycle accidents, though collisions between motorcycles and other vehicles run a close second. Because too many drivers of passenger cars, trucks and other four-wheeled vehicles fail to see motorcyclists, the coroner recommends that bikers always use their headlights for better visibility, no matter what time of day.

The coroner also noted that while wearing a helmet does decrease the risk of some injuries, it by no means guarantees that a driver or passenger will survive a crash. This is largely because in almost every reported death, the victim was thrown from the bike. Ejection typically results in broken necks, broken backs and other fractures, injuries that may not be prevented with helmet use.

Most injuries that occur in a motorcycle crash involve broken bones. And while fractures may not be fatal, the medical complications that arise — including blood clots and sepsis — can be.

One somewhat surprising fact is that only one of the fatal accidents that occurred in Erie County involved alcohol (though it’s not clear which driver was under the influence). In 2011, 3,746 motorcycle drivers were involved in alcohol-related crashes across Pennsylvania, though just 8.5 percent of those crashes involved an intoxicated motorcycle driver.

How can these numbers help motorcyclists, who by the laws of physics are at higher risk of death from a traffic accident? Crashes can be impossible to avoid sometimes, especially when they involve other drivers. But bikers who take safety precautions — including adequate training, helmet use and adherence to all traffic laws — may increase their chances of survival.

Source: GoErie.com, “Motorcycle fatalities up in Erie County in 2012,” Ron Leonardi, Oct. 25, 2012