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Drunk driving deaths are down, but motorcycles buck the trend

July 16, 2009 |  6:42 pm

Drunk driving deaths in California dropped for a third straight year in 2008, the state Office of Traffic Safety said Thursday, but motorcycle fatalities continued a decade-long rise that mirrors national trends.

Overall, traffic deaths dropped by 14% in 2008, to 3,434, the state said, using figures released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Alcohol-related deaths accounted for slightly less than one-third of the total, and were down 9.1% — a slightly smaller decline than for the nation as a whole. Over three years, drunk driving deaths in California were down nearly 21%.

California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow attributed the decline “to hard, innovative work in education, enforcement, engineering and emergency medical services.”

State officials expressed concern, however, over the increase in motorcycle fatalities, which rose 8.1% to 560. They have more than doubled since beginning to rise in 1998. The increase has been driven by a roughly similar rise in motorcycle ridership, although state officials also attribute the problem to a new generation of bigger, faster, more powerful bikes.

"Whereas every other category of vehicle deaths is going down, motorcycles are going up," said Chris Cochran, a spokesman for the Office of Traffic Safety. He said the rise in fatalities was especially noticeable among young men — who have "a lot of testosterone" and the bikes to match — and among men in their 50s and older who are returning to motorcycles after decades of not riding, and often choosing much larger bikes than they rode in their youth.

"We’re seeing the need for training with these new bikes," Cochran said, "and just training on handling a motorcycle in general."

—Mitchell Landsberg