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Death haunts Wisconsin motorcycle riders

It appears that 2012 is shaping up to be a very bad year for Wisconsin motorcyclists. Three-quarters of the way through, the death toll already stands at 102. Even if there are no more fatal motorcycle accidents this year, the number of bikers killed will be fourth highest in the last 26 years. And it's not the new riders or reckless young people who are dying. Officials say the average age is 48, up from age 30 just ten years ago.

So what is going on out there? Wisconsin public safety officials think it's a combination of age and riders who have decided to get back on their bikes after years or even decades of not riding. The old adage about riding a bicycle - once you learn how you never forget - doesn't hold true for motorcycles. Greg Patzer, who runs Wisconsin's Motorcycle Safety Program, says some older riders who haven't ridden in years think they can just hop on their bikes and go. Patzer, who is 64, knows he has to keep his skills up if he expects to survive in traffic.

Other factors that are adding to the death toll include speeding, alcohol use, riding without a helmet, and impacts with animals, mostly deer. Over a third of fatal crashes involved speed and alcohol. Seventy percent of 2012 victims were not wearing a helmet, an improvement over last year when the figure was 90 percent. Bad weather, normally a bane of motorcyclists, was blamed for only one death this year.

There are more bikers on Wisconsin roads and the rider population seems to be aging. The popularity of trikes - three wheeled motorcycles - is increasing and officials are working on safety and training programs for those. Trikes handle differently and even experienced bikers can have trouble with them. Finally, there is the four-wheeler problem. New cars have very effective soundproofing and other gadgets that isolate the driver from the outside world. That "Watch Out for Motorcyclists" bumper sticker is more relevant than ever.

Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "2012 a deadly year for Wisconsin motorcycle drivers," Rick Barrett, Oct. 8, 2012

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