Spring Weather Often Brings String of Accidents

Amanda Cuda, Staff Writer Published 08:05 p.m., Tuesday, April 26, 2011 Every year, the warm weather brings the state’s motorcyclists out of hiding, eager to take to the open road. Unfortunately, this time of year too often brings with it a string of a tragic motorcycle accidents, such as the one that took place Sunday in Stratford, killing two people and injuring two more. The accident is still under investigation, but experts said these and other accidents emphasize the need for motorcyclists, and the drivers who share the roads with them, to exercise caution. As of 2009, there were about 94,000 motorcycles registered in the state, according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation. The DOT also reported a total of 49 motorcycle fatalities in 2010 — an increase from the 41 deaths in 2009, but a decrease from the 63 fatalities in 2008. Nationwide, motorcycle fatalities dipped by 2.4 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to preliminary data released earlier this month by the Governors Highway Association. The data compared the number of fatalities in the first nine months of both years. Connecticut was one of 21 states to show an increase in fatalities. The state also is one of about 25 in the nation to have a partial helmet law, meaning it requires only some of the state’s residents to wear helmets. In Connecticut, the law requires motorcycle riders and passengers younger than 18 years old to wear a helmet while riding. Until 1976, Connecticut had a law requiring all motorcycle riders and passenger to wear helmets. After that law was repealed, there was no helmet law until 1989, when the partial law was instituted. Legislation to re-instate the universal helmet law has been introduced several times in the state Legislature, but has always been defeated. Still, many entities — including DOT and AAA — recommend that all motorcyclists wear helmets. “(The helmet) is a life-saving piece of equipment,” said DOT spokesman Kievin Nursick. It certainly was for Ken Roberts. Roberts, a New Milford resident and director of communications and public affairs for Griffin Hospital in Derby, was in a motorcycle accident in Vermont 27 years ago. A 20-year-old inexperienced rider at the time, Roberts lost control of his bike while riding home from a party. Though he was only going about 30 miles per hour, his bike flipped over and his head hit the ground several times. After the accident, Roberts said, the helmet was covered with gouges, making him grateful he wore the safety gear. He doesn’t have strong feelings about the state’s helmet law and actually thinks it would be hard to force a helmet on riders who don’t want to wear one. But Roberts always wears his helmet while riding and strongly encourages other riders to do likewise. Indeed, a recent study out of the Yale University School of Medicine indicates there might be a link between helmet use and increased chances of surviving a motorcycle accident. The study looked at Connecticut DOT data at more than 9,000 motorcycle, moped and motor scooter crashes from 2001 to 2007 — including 358 fatal accidents. Researchers found that 65 percent of riders involved in fatal accidents weren’t wearing helmets, and that 55 percent of those involved in non-fatal accidents weren’t using the headgear. One of the goals of the study was to demonstrate the need for a universal helmet law and, Dr. Michael Phipps, one of the study’s authors, said he thinks the research accomplished that. “The most important thing for us was to get the idea out there that we want to start a dialogue about this,” said Phipps, a Robert Wood Johnson clinical scholar. Though helmets won’t prevent fatality in every accident, Phipps said they can make a difference in many crashes, including low-impact events like the one sustained by Roberts.

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