Georgia experienced slightly fewer motorcyclist fatalities in 2012 than in 2011, according to statistics compiled by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.
There were 131 motorcyclist fatalities in 2012, down from 148 in 2011.
Looking at the local numbers, the foothills of the mountains are one of the problem areas.
Hall, Towns, Union and White counties followed the statewide trend, with fewer fatalities in 2012 than in 2011. White County’s fatalities dropped from three to none, and Hall and Towns had two fewer fatalities.
Banks, Dawson and Habersham counties had one more fatality in 2012 than in 2011, and Forsyth, Jackson and Lumpkin counties held steady.
Chad Mann, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, said vigilance and defensive driving are key for all motorists, especially those on bikes.
“Speed becomes a factor in any kind of vehicle-related ... accident,” he said. “Drive defensively no matter what you’re driving, and watch for other drivers, knowing that they’re not necessarily doing the same.”
He said drivers of four-wheel vehicles don’t always notice motorcycles, as they are a less common road occurrence.
“At lot of times they’re overlooked because they have fewer wheels, not on the road as often, and ride in more secluded locations,” Mann said. “People coming out of their driveways, they don’t notice these riders — they’re not looking for a motorcycle specifically.”
The Gold Wing Road Riders Association is a motorcycling hobbyist group with chapters that meet throughout the state and Southeast for riding and riding education.
Phillip Kozlowski is president of the Cumming chapter. There are about 150 members, he said.
Kozlowski said he’s had more than one friend killed in the last three years because motorists didn’t see them, stressing the importance of visibility.
“I’ve got every light that I could possibly have: headlights, taillights, anything to increase visibility,” he said.
Jim Kelly is the manager and state coordinator of the Georgia Motorcycle Safety Program, under the wing of Driver Safety Services.
His office stresses the message to both riders and nonriders on how to share the road, he said.
“We offer presentations, educational sessions, handouts and displays emphasizing the responsibility of all road users to respect the rider and share the road,” he said.
Mann said that Hall County being the “gateway” to the mountains makes it a popular thoroughfare for riders.
“We are the gateway to the mountains, the foothills, a lot of people (like) to ride the foothills for vacation, for time off,” he said. “We are the entranceway for a lot of these motorcyclists to get out and see the countryside.”
Kelly said rural areas can be tempting for riders to drive recklessly.
“Rural areas, where there is little to no traffic, tempt the motorcyclist with sweeping curves and twisty roads, pushing themselves too far past their riding skill level,” he said.
Anyone who wants to ride needs a Class M license, Kelly said, which can be obtained either by passing a knowledge test and skills test, or passing a two-day skills course.
Both options are administered by the Department of Driver Services.
Mann said springtime is when more riders take the roads.
“With it being spring and outdoor season, you’re going to find a lot of them popping up all over (the) place,” he said. “We just ask that people pay more attention. That will enhance the safety of those around them.”
Mann had another seasonal warning — farming season.
“Now with it being farming season, farmers like to get out and ride their tractors, there are other means of transportation to look out for,” he said.
Kozlowski had a special tip of his own.
“Another problem are animals, especially deer,” Kozlowski said. “In the morning, when it’s just starting to get light, and dusk, I’ve hit one personally myself.”
Mann’s parting advice is perhaps the most straightforward.
“Just like it’s the case for children on their bicycles, it’s most important to wear your helmet,” he said.