SALT LAKE CITY -- Following a nationwide trend, motorcycle deaths in Utah are on an upswing.
There were 32 fatal crashes in 2012; 28 in 2011; and 21 in 2010, said Gary Mower, a research analyst for the Utah Department of Public Safety.
So far this year, there have been two motorcycle deaths in Utah, one each in Layton and North Salt Lake.
"There is an increase in people riding motorcycles," which has likely contributed to the increase in fatalities on Utah's roads, Mower said.
In an era when overall traffic fatalities have fallen 23 percent, the number of motorcycle fatalities nationwide has doubled, climbing in 14 of the past 15 years, the Washington Post reported.
Preliminary data suggest motorcycle fatalities may have increased by close to 9 percent in the first nine months of 2012 as warm weather nationwide extended the riding season.
Nationwide, 34 states reported more deaths, and 16 recorded fewer.
Good weather, higher gas prices and an improving economy that allowed for more motorcycle purchases were the most common explanations provided as states sent their data to the Governors Highway Safety Administration.
"Record-setting warmth," reported Indiana, where the number of dead increased by 29.
"Economic recovery," said Missouri, which recorded 20 more deaths.
"Price of gasoline," speculated Wisconsin, where 24 more died than in 2011.
Although the weather, the economy and gas prices fluctuate, the safety group said, three other major factors figure in motorcycle deaths.
"The good news is that we know how to prevent crashes and the resulting injuries and fatalities involving motorcycle riders and their passengers," said Kendell Poole, the group's chairman and director of Tennessee's highway safety program.
"There are effective strategies that, when implemented, can make a difference."
He said speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and a reluctance to wear approved helmets result in unnecessary deaths.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that 706 motorcyclists who died in 2010 would have survived had they been wearing helmets. In 29 percent of the fatalities that year, the riders' blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit, and 35 percent of the cyclists were speeding.
The District of Columbia and 19 states -- including Maryland and Virginia -- require helmets for all riders. In Michigan, which repealed its helmet requirement last year, a University of Michigan study concluded that the state's death count would have declined 21 percent had the law remained in place. Instead, the study found, it rose 18 percent.
"All of the trends with motorcyclist deaths are really going in the wrong direction," Poole said.
"This report is an urgent reminder that we must do more to address a problem that will only get worse with increased ridership. We are talking about 5,000 tragedies a year with no sign of progress."
The Utah Department of Public Safety is encouraging riders to establish or improve their skills by participating in a Utah Motorcycle Rider Education program.
The program features classes taught using the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's curriculum, which is based on years of scientific research and field experience. Some of the life-saving skills taught include:
- How to achieve maximum braking.
- How to corner safely.
- How to have a riding strategy.
More information about class providers, locations and schedules can be obtained at www.utahmotorcyclesafety.com.
The Washington Post contributed to this article.