The Georgia Department of Public Safety (DPS) has received a grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to collect data over the next two years to improve motorcycle safety. The $70,000 grant will be used to conduct six, one-day safety checkpoints between March 1 of this year and December 31, 2012.

Lt. Colonel Mark McDonough, DPS Deputy Commissioner, said the goal of the checkpoints is to reduce the number of crashes involving motorcyclists that result in injuries and fatalities. “In a six-year period, Georgia has seen the proportion of fatal motorcycle crashes grow to 12 times greater than that of passenger cars,” he said. “Additionally, traffic crashes involving motorcyclists result in injury or death for 72 percent of the motorcycle operators compared to 16 percent of occupants of passenger cars.”

Georgia saw a sharp increase in the number of fatal crashes involving motorcyclists between 2005 and 2008 as the number of motorcycles registered in the state reached an all-time high.

There were 167 motorcycle operators or passengers killed in crashes in 2008.

Lt. Colonel McDonough said the Department initiated a public education project in 2009 to raise awareness among all drivers of the need to watch for motorcyclists. The efforts included safety education presentations to school, church and civic groups by Georgia State Troopers as well as media outreach. Also, the Georgia State Patrol launched specialized patrols that included aviation support during the summer months when weekend motorcycle traffic is the heaviest. The enforcement effort along metro Atlanta interstates is focused on motorcycle operators traveling at a high rate of speed, weaving in and out of traffic, traveling in the emergency lane, or driving recklessly around other vehicles. Lt. Colonel McDonough noted troopers have also cited motorcycle operators popping “wheelies” while traveling the roadways.

Since the public education initiative was implemented among all drivers across the state, the number of motorcycle-related fatalities has decreased in Georgia from the 167 recorded in 2008 to a preliminary count of 110 people last year, a 35 percent decrease. So far in 2011, there have been six motorcycle fatalities.

“The first step in reducing motorcycle deaths was the educating of all drivers of the dangers motorcyclists face on our roads, and now the next step will combine enforcement and education to enhance the safety of motorcycle operators and passengers,” he said. “We will be checking to make sure the operator has the proper class of license to operate a motorcycle and a DOT-approved helmet. We will also check that the motorcycle is in good operating condition with good tires, a headlight, and a taillight that is working.” The Lt. Colonel said troopers will be concentrating on the basic violations to protect the operator and passenger in the event of a crash and minimize the injuries they sustain.

The first safety checkpoints of 2011 will be conducted Wednesday, March 9 from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. along Interstate 75 at the Southbound Commercial Vehicle Inspection Station in Monroe County. During the same time period, another checkpoint will be established at the Southbound Commercial Vehicle Inspection Station along I-95 in Chatham County, north of Savannah.

Lt. Colonel McDonough said the checkpoints will operate in the same manner as passenger vehicle safety checks conducted each day across the state. Motorcycle operators will be directed by portable highway signs to exit the interstate at the inspection stations where troopers or officers will check that the operator has the proper class of license for the vehicle, a valid tag, a federal DOT-approved motorcycle helmet, and that the operator is not under the influence of alcohol. “For the average operator with the proper license and equipment, the delay should be about a minute,” he said.

The Deputy Commissioner noted that between 2000 and 2006, the fatal crash rate increased 60.8 percent. “Our goal is to make travel in Georgia safer, especially for motorcyclists who are at a greater risk of injury or death in a crash,” he noted.

Additional safety checks will be held in the spring and fall this year.