Like the freedom of riding without a helmet? Think hard about whether it’s worth it: Helmet use by all Colorado riders could have saved the lives of 22 people in 2014!

Colorado motorcyclists wait each winter for the snow to melt, the rainfall to dry, and clear skies to call them back to the road. They should be warned, though, the open road is more dangerous than ever.

In 2016, 125 motorcyclists died in Colorado crashes, according to new data from the Colorado Department of Transportation, making it the most deadly year for the state’s motorcyclists since at least 2002. And while motorcycles account for only about 3 percent of the state’s traffic, motorcyclists made up more than 20 percent of the state’s 606 road deaths in 2016. Motorcycle fatalities in 2016 were 50 percent higher than in 2012, when 79 cyclists died.

Wearing helmets and promoting awareness among other drivers can help motorcyclists live to see riding seasons for years to come. Wearing helmets is a matter of choice in the mountainous state, which requires only minors to wear them while riding motorcycles. Statistics, though, invariably show that wearing the headgear saves lives.

Motorcycle Safety Campaigns

CDOT will spend $390,000 in fiscal year 2017 on motorcycle safety campaigns targeting both drivers and motorcycle riders.

CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt said of the increase in deaths:

There are several possible reasons for the uptick, such as more people on Colorado’s roadways. The new data is troubling and represents a call to action for all our traffic safety partners in Colorado because the loss of even one life is one too many.

Colorado State Patrol Chief Scott Hernandez added:

Fatal crashes continue to be a tragic ending for hundreds of people in Colorado each year. Every life matters. They matter to me, my troopers and the families suffering from these preventable tragedies. We encourage drivers to make good decisions, avoid distractions, and drive sober.

The Importance of Wearing a Helmet

Helmet use by all Colorado riders could have saved the lives of 22 people in 2014, according to research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s statistical analysis center. Of the 94 people who lost their lives in Colorado motorcycle accidents that year, 33 were wearing helmets and 61 were not. The researchers estimate that helmets did save the lives of 19 people in the state.

At about 35 percent, Colorado’s helmet usage rate is one of the lowest in the United States. Some states with mandatory helmet laws have a 95 percent usage rate.

Across the country, 4,586 people died in motorcycle accidents in 2014, according to an earlier federal study. Of those, 2,728, (65 percent) were wearing helmets and 1,716 were not. The researchers estimated that helmet usage saved the lives of 1,669 people and could have saved the lives of 660 more people if they had chosen to strap one on.

Who Is Dying?

CDOT did a trend study on motorcycle ridership over the years 2003-07 and found that of the 402 riders killed during that time period:

  • 88 percent were men
  • 30 percent were 18-34 years old, 24 percent were 35-44 years old, and 44 percent were 45 years old or older
  • 80 percent of the riders were not wearing helmets or were using them improperly
  • Alcohol was a factor in 35 percent of the deaths

The study also found that motorcycle ownership is concentrated in a few regions of the state: More than a quarter of Colorado’s motorcycles were in Jefferson and El Paso counties. About half of the state’s motorcycles were in those two counties plus Arapahoe, Adams, and Larimer counties.

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