More motorcycles are on the roads than ever before. And that means crashes — and fatalities — are on the rise as well.

The popularity of motorcycles is increasing, says Capt. Tim Hull with the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Good gas mileage and retirement plans for lots of baby boomers are a couple of reasons he points to as a big appeal. Some of them, he says, might be buying bikes bigger than they can handle with little training. "There’s no one reason," he says.

Last year, there were 102 people killed while riding a motorcycle, which was a ten percent increase over 2007, when 93 died.

Preliminary numbers show there have been 23 motorcycle deaths this year, but the Patrol might not have all reports from statewide agencies yet, so that number could actually be higher, Hull says.

Recorded are 136 disabling injuries. Of those, 19 were not wearing helmets. Of the 23 killed, five were not wearing helmets.

Conversely, vehicle accidents are on the decline. Hull says the Patrol recorded "a 15 percent decrease this year of where we were last year" and a 25 percent reduction over last three years.

Obviously, this is the time when motorcyclists hit the open road. While motorcycle safety month is in May, traditionally when the weather warms up for enthusiasts, "riding season" starts earlier and runs through October, sometimes even November, depending on the weather.

Hull says motorcyclists need to be as visible as possible — turn on the headlight, wear light colored clothing and watch lane usage. "You never know if a car’s going to see you or not," Hull says.

He advises motorists to always look twice when changing lanes or at intersections … make sure there’s not a motorcycle there you didn’t see the first time.

The legislature approved a measure to repeal Missouri’s mandatory helmet law; the bill awaits Gov. Nixon’s signature to become law. MoDOT compiled a study that shows other states that have repealed helmet laws have seen a dramatic increase in fatalities, but Hull says the increase in bikes on the roads might contribute to those statistics. He says in talking with other states and other agencies, everyone’s seeing more motorcyclists on the road each year.

Click the link below to view the Highway Patrol’s updated report with the preliminary report data for this year.

Jessica Machetta reports [Download/listen MP3]
Highway Patrol report with preliminary motorcycle crash numbers