A Scarborough crash on Wednesday marked the 22nd motorcycle fatality of the year, surpassing 2021’s entire tally of 21 fatalities, a trend that is alarming public safety officials.

“That is a lot of people dying from motorcycle crashes,” said Lauren Stewart, director of the state Bureau of Highway Safety. “And there’s still a lot of riding season left.”

Nearly 6 percent of motorcycle crashes have ended in death so far this year, a rate that is far outpacing any year of the past decade. The next worse year for fatalities was 2015, when 4.8 percent of motorcycle crashes ended in fatalities. In 2013 and 2014, the fatality rates were 1.7 percent and 1.6 percent respectively.

Motorcycles only account for 2.9 percent of vehicle registrations, according to data from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, but motorcycle crashes have accounted for 22.7 percent of all fatal crashes this year, according to the highway bureau.

While the percentage of motorcycle crashes ending in death has been higher this year, there seems to be no consensus on why. Stewart speculated that there might be more motorcyclists on the road because of high gas prices, with operators preferring to drive a fuel-efficient motorcycle rather than a car, leading to more crashes.

But, she said, the majority of this year’s crashes appear to be the motorcycle operator’s error, such as crossing the center line, attempting to stand up on the seat, and in one case, entering the highway in the wrong direction.


According to the Bureau of Highway Safety, speed was a possible contributing factor in eight of the deaths and in five cases, the motorcycle operator had a blood alcohol content greater than .08 percent, the legal threshold for operating under the influence in Maine. The victims were all male except one, and on average around 50 years old.

“More often than not, we’ve seen crashes involving another motor vehicle, where the car’s turning and had not seen the motorcyclists,” Stewart said. “But that’s not what we’re seeing this year. We’re just seeing reckless driving on the part of the motorcyclists.”

A motorcyclist passes the American flag and patriotic bunting displayed July 8, 2020, at the Belgrade Historical Building/Old Townhouse in Belgrade. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel, file

John Kohler, motorcycle safety program coordinator for the BMV, said motorcycles accelerate faster than cars do and can more easily drive at higher rates of speed.

“Speed is something that is a trap for motorcyclists because it’s fun,” Kohler said. “But the problem is that now your reaction time is diminished because you’re going to go a greater distance before you can react to a situation.”

Dave Edwards, a technician at a motorcycle repair shop, said motorcycle models are safer than they were 10 to 15 years ago, with better braking systems and tires. He said he thinks crashes are mostly caused by inexperience on the part of the motorcyclists and inattention by other drivers on the road.

“If they’re slightly inexperienced with a slightly heavier bike, a little bit too much power, and you have a distracted driver, it’s a bad combination,” said Edwards, who works at Phoenix Cycle Shop in Westbrook.


Edwards said about 20 years ago, he was riding his motorcycle on Route 1 in Scarborough and got pushed off the road because the dump truck behind him didn’t see him when two lanes were merging into one.

Kohler said he thinks there’s some peer pressure involved with not feeling the need to wear protective gear, but that riding a motorcycle is inherently dangerous and protective gear, such as a helmet, leather jacket, long pants, full-finger gloves and over-the-ankle footwear, could be life-saving.

“When you’re in a crash, it really doesn’t matter whose fault it is,” Kohler said. “The only thing you have going for you at that point is the gear that you have on.”

In 2013, Kohler was thrown off his bike and rolled 100 feet on an interstate in Ohio, suffering a punctured lung, bruised liver, broken shoulder and arm and a concussion. His helmet and leather jacket, he said, saved his life.

Kohler said he doesn’t have any recollection of the event, but learned from witness accounts that he ran over something in the road that cut his front tire and the bike started wobbling, then went hard to the right and hit a car, which spun 180 degrees.

“Once you’ve been in a motorcycle crash, and you see how the gear can protect you, it’s a no brainer,” he said.


Kohler said he has also started wearing a reflective vest to help others see him on the road.

“I’m riding a giant big white motorcycle … couldn’t be any more visible, (but) people were pulling out in front of me left and right,” Kohler said. “I started wearing this high visibility vest and that stopped. So I’ve had guys tell me, ‘Hey, that doesn’t look cool.’ … I’m trying to get home alive, not look cool.”

Kohler said a big part of it is adjusting your attitude to be more safety-minded and making responsible choices; for example, planning ahead when alcohol is involved. Alcohol, he said, affects balance in a big way.

“People don’t want to hear about, you know, ‘be safe,’ and all that stuff. They focus on the fun part of it,” Kohler said. “If you just take a minute and think about the people around you, and your family and whatnot, how can you be a little more responsible to those that you love to make a better choice?”

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