The recent headlines tell the story of increased levels of motorcycle crash deaths in Maine this year — exceeding last year’s total through the end of September with 20 deaths so far. This rise is reflective of increased automobile crash deaths over the past two years as well, after years of falling death levels across the country. These trends deserve our attention.
According to data compiled by the Maine Department of Public Safety and the Maine Department of Transportation, and supplied by Lauren Stewart at MDPS, the motorcycle crash data is consistent with previous year’s records; 83 percent of this year’s deaths are male with an average age of 51; 75 percent of motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle and most (69 percent) occur during the day. Impairment of the driver, failure to maintain control, left-turning vehicles, plus speed are all mitigating factors in the motorcycle deaths. The NHTSA — National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — data reports that 54 percent of motorcycle crashes involve a secondary motor vehicle that is at fault and takes the motorcyclist’s right-of-way.
In Hancock County, the data reveals that Friday and Wednesday are the most likely days for a traffic crash, with August edging out July and February for the months with the most crashes — indicating that our summer visitors are not that much of a factor with overall crash incidents. Rush-hour going home is the most frequent crash interval — 4 p.m. is the worst time of day for crashes, while 2 a.m. has the least amount of crashes. Similar to motorcycles, failure to maintain control — going off the road — is the single largest incident of car crashes, followed by rear-enders and sideswipe crashes and running into deer.
The MDOT data also reveals that 71 percent of all Hancock County crashes so far this year (1,143 crashes) occur with dry road conditions, with 66 percent of crashes during daylight operating hours.
The data tells us that the majority of crashes involve human action or inaction, driving errors that are not accidents caused by divine intervention. Going off the road or hitting the car in front of you is solely the result of driver error, resulting in a crash, not a benign accident.
Despite emerging technology and increased safety systems in our cars, decreased levels of miles driven, plus infrastructure improvements, motor vehicle crash levels are starting to rise after years of decline. These factors do more than suggest where the issue lies — increased crashes are in the hands of vehicle operators. Driver distraction is the new euphemism or catch-all phrase for multiple sins behind the wheel, but running over motorcyclists, running off the road and striking other stopped vehicles clearly indicates that too many drivers are not responsibly sharing the road.
Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland sums up the data: “All drivers need to look out for each other and pay more attention.”