Stressing importance of motorcycle safety

Less than 2 percent of all crashes annually in Chautauqua County involve motorcycles.

For state and local police, that’s still too many.

According to a report by the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, there were 69 motorcycle crashes in 2011. The report, sponsored by the state Department of Motor Vehicles and released in December, tracked countywide driving statistics from 2009-2011.

The number of crashes in Chautauqua County was slightly more than 1 percent of all reported incidents involving a motorcycle in the state.

“It’s definitely an area of concern,” said Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace. “Motorcycles are popular in good weather and in the summer. There is a high probability of collisions when people aren’t paying attention.”

Gerace said the Sheriff’s Office analyzes all crash data in the county, and noted, “We routinely look at the causation and try to get the message out about motorcycles.

“Motorcycles are popular in good weather and in the summer. There is a high probability of collisions when people aren’t paying attention.

“There can be some dangers, and people just need to pay attention.”

Sgt. Gary Segrue, station commander for the State Police in Jamestown, said, “Except for crashes that involve an animal’s action, almost all motorcycle crashes are avoidable.

“Although we have seen improvements in many areas of traffic safety, such as speeding and seat belt usage, similar improvements in motorcycle safety have not been achieved.”

Segrue said more motorcycles are on the road as fuel prices have jumped in the last five years. The data seems to back that up. According to the driving report, 832 more motorcycles have been registered in Chautauqua County since 2007. More than 450 new licenses have been issued during that time as well.

“Since we expect the popularity of motorcycles for both recreation and transportation to continue to grow, there is certainly a need for us to provide enforcement and motorcycle safety education in the areas we serve,” Segrue said.

FATALITIES AND ENFORCEMENT

Three motorcycle fatalities were reported in 2011, the driving report stated. The last fatal crash before that occurred in 2009. Data for 2012 was not immediately available by the state or Sheriff’s Office.

On April 27, 2011, sheriff’s deputies were summoned to Interstate 86 in Sherman for a crash. According to a police report, a 39-year-old Panama resident had been riding his motorcycle when a gust of wind caused him to lose control, forcing him off the road.

The driver, who police said was inexperienced and riding closely to another motorcyclist, was taken to an Erie, Pa., hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

“When you look at fatalities, there a lot of factors,” Gerace said. “Sometimes a driver doesn’t see the motorcycle coming. At other times it’s high rates of speed. Alcohol can be involved, too.”

State Police conduct motorcycle enforcement and education campaigns, Segrue said. Trooper Timothy Kachelmeyer, a member of the State Police Motorcycle Unit since 2000, often is sent to large gatherings where motorcycles are expected. This includes Sunset Bay in Hanover on the weekends in the summer.

“The main thing is just safety,” said Kachelmeyer, who also serves as a state motorcycle safety instructor. “We go out there and make sure people have their driver’s license and are using the right helmet.”

Kachelmeyer estimates half of all drivers on a motorcycle do not have the proper license to ride. A lack of formal training, he added, contributes to many crashes each year.

“Before someone gets on a motorcycle, they need to get the training,” he said.