Tampa Motorcycle Fatalities Rise as Bicycle Fatalities Decline


On April 5, 2013, the Tampa Bay Times published an article highlighting how Tampa bicycle deaths have plummeted while motorcyclist deaths have spiked. The numbers are probably just a fluke as local bicycle enthusiasts are not satisfied with the numbers just yet. Besides, Hillsborough County has yet to fully implement its ideas for a more bicycle-friendly community.

Bicycling advocate Jose Menendez is encouraged by the fact that no bicycle crashes occurred in the first three months of 2013 in Hillsborough County. Menendez tracks bicycle deaths and according to him, this has been the safest first quarter in the last 20 years, which is notable in comparison to the fatal numbers from 2012. According to state data, 13 bicyclists died in a county that averaged 8 fatalities a year since 1998. The Tampa Bay Times reports that so far in 2013, two bicyclists have died in Pinellas County and one in Pasco County.

While the 2013 bicycle crash statistics are heartening, in contrast, Tampa police are reporting a surge of motorcycle accident fatalities. As of the date of the article, seven motorcyclists have died in accidents in Tampa alone, as compared to two fatalities the same time the year before, with a total of 12 motorcycle fatalities in 2012.

Tampa police Homicide Detective Pat Messmer said he really wishes they had a good explanation for these lethal accidents. "But I definitely do think that we are seeing a whole lot more crashes involving alcohol or drugs." He mentioned how at least four out of the five motorcyclists that died this year were intoxicated. He talked about how motorcycles are harder to operate than motor vehicles, and when you add alcohol into the mix and perhaps low visibility, you have a dangerous scenario.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2011, 32,367 people died in motor vehicle crashes, and this includes collisions involving bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians. While more than 30,000 people were killed, another estimated 2.22 million people were injured. In 2011, there were a total of 677 bicyclists killed in traffic collisions nationwide, and another 4,612 motorcyclists killed in traffic accidents, which was up +2.1% from 2010.

Messmer sends a message to motorcyclists, advising them to wear bright, reflective gear and to check their headlights before they ride. He also says that simply wearing a helmet is not enough. He remembered one crash where the motorcyclist's helmet actually fell off during the accident. He said, "Make sure it's Department of Transportation-approved and well-fit."

As far as the bicycling community is concerned, Mendez contends the Tampa Bay community still has a lot of work to do to make the area more bicycle-friendly. He said that he's very pleased there haven't been any bicycle fatalities so far this year, "It'd be nice if we could go all year without one. But I'm not that optimistic."

There are many ideas in Hillsborough County's 2011 Countywide Bicycle Safety Action Plan that can be implemented. Tampa has come up with additional suggestions in the city's Vision plan, some of which include provisions for a multipurpose trail called the "east-west Green Spine," that would span from the V.M. Ybor neighborhood, on down Nuccio Pkwy., all the way through downtown and over the river past the University of Tampa.

Chairman of the Hillsborough County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Jim Shirk believes the absence of bicyclist fatalities in the first three months of 2013 to be pure luck, and he would prefer to see separated bicycle lanes on Tampa's public roadways. Shirk said, "We've been fortunate, and we'll take every bit of luck we can get. But we want to replace luck with solid achievement and solid changes in behavior."

Shirk will be attending the national bike safety summit in Tampa next week, it is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood also plans to attend the summit on Thursday. The event will begin with a bicycle safety expo and will wrap up with roundtable.

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