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Monday, December 31, 2012

Motorcycle deaths account for increase in traffic fatalities in 2012, according to DMV stats

Deaths on New Hampshire roadways this year have outpaced deaths in 2011 by more than 20 percent, according to state Department of Motor Vehicles data, but one official says the numbers may be misleading.

There were 103 traffic deaths from Jan. 1 through Dec. 16. During a similar period in 2011, 84 people lost their lives on New Hampshire roads. That’s an increase of 22.6 percent in deaths this year, according to state data. ...

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Deaths on New Hampshire roadways this year have outpaced deaths in 2011 by more than 20 percent, according to state Department of Motor Vehicles data, but one official says the numbers may be misleading.

There were 103 traffic deaths from Jan. 1 through Dec. 16. During a similar period in 2011, 84 people lost their lives on New Hampshire roads. That’s an increase of 22.6 percent in deaths this year, according to state data.

But the increase in mainly from motorcycle deaths, which at 28 were double the number from the same period in 2011. Of those 28 deaths, 24 were operators and four were passengers, according to the motor vehicle statistics.

Last year saw the fewest traffic fatalities in 50 years in New Hampshire, said Peter Thomson, coordinator of the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency.

“It was a phenomenal year for us to get to that point. We were a little concerned about this year. We were hoping we could drop it down a little more,” he said.

The reason for the increase in 2012 was the motorcycle deaths, and the reason for more motorcycle deaths had to do with weather, Thomson said.

“If you remember last March, there was a whole week of 80 degree weather. People were getting on their motorcycles earlier,” he said.

A longer riding season might be great for bikers, but unfortunately it meant more crashes and more fatalities, Thomson said.

But remove the motorcycle crashes, and statistics showed a continuation of a downward trend.

For example, there were a total of 90 highway deaths in 2011, when numbers from the last few weeks of the year are included. If you subtract the 14 additional motorcycle deaths, so far 89 people have died on state roads in 2012, Thomson noted.

The decrease from previous years is due to the efforts of law enforcement at the state, county and local levels, he said.

Thomson praised, in particular, the efforts by the state police under the direction of Col. Robert Quinn.

But in August, a rash of fatalities – 22 in that month alone – prompted police to issue a plea to drivers to slow down and pay attention on the roads.

State police officials, as well as police from Nashua, Manchester and several other departments, spoke at the Troop B barracks in Bedford imploring drivers to lay off the gas pedal, put their cellphones away and buckle up.

Quinn and Thompson said the spike in deaths prompted officials to begin meeting to examine crash data – including the time and location of the crashes and the causes – to hopefully develop better ways to deploy resources and reduce the number of deaths.

The Highway Safety Agency funds state police sobriety checkpoints. Thomson attended one with state police in Seabrook on the Friday at the start of Labor Day weekend, he said.

“By the end of the night, we had 12 people under arrest,” Thomson said.

Booze and drugs remain the biggest problem on the road, he said, and sobriety checkpoints are effective at apprehending people who drink or abuse drugs and drive, he said.

“That’s where the problem is. That’s where we’re putting the resources,” Thomson said.

He said he hopes the year concludes without another traffic fatality in New Hampshire.

Thomson’s advice for motorists: “Don’t drink and drive, wear a seat belt and drive under the speed limit, and they’ll come in safe.”

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or pmeighan@nashua
telegraph.com. Follow Meighan on Twitter @ Telegraph_PatM.