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Deaths put focus on motorcycle speed

A spate of traffic fatalities last weekend, including one in Thurston County, has prompted law enforcement agencies to target motorcyclists who are speeding and riding recklessly.

Pierce County agenices are looking for unsafe riders after an increase in motorcycle fatalities on county roads. Officers investigated 11 motorcycle deaths last year, compared with an average of nine a year each of the previous years.

The special patrols are one of a handful of special missions by area agencies that are zeroing in on dangerous and reckless driving during the summer.

Starting today, 15 agencies will participate in the “Drive Hammered, Get Nailed” campaign in Pierce County. Extra officers will be concentrating on stopping impaired drivers through Sept. 7.

More than 14,300 people commute from Thurston County daily, according to the 2000 Census.

The crackdowns come at a time when the Washington State Patrol noted the state’s deadliest weekend of the year for traffic crashes. Last Saturday and Sunday, 10 people died in six wrecks across the state.

None of the crashes occurred in Pierce County; one took place in Thurston County. The State Patrol noted that in the crashes:

 • Three of the people killed were not wearing seat belts.

 • Three crashes involved alcohol.

 • Speed, aggressive driving and driver inattention contributed to the wrecks, but weather did not.

“All of the contributing factors were choices made by the vehicle drivers,” State Patrol Chief John Batiste said. “We hope others will learn from these tragedies, and make better choices.”

In Pierce County, 31 people were killed last year in traffic accidents in which speeding was a factor. That was up from 26 in 2007. Last year, 34 people were killed in crashes involving alcohol and drugs. In 2007, 20 people died in such wrecks.

The county’s DUI and Traffic Safety Task Force received $49,000 the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission to conduct emphasis patrols aimed at speeding drivers and unsafe motorcyclists.

The commission is paying the overtime so traffic and patrol officers can work on the special patrols. About $28,000 will go to the crackdown on speeders; $21,000 will be used on the motorcyclist patrols.

“Whatever we can do to make the roads safer that’s what we are out there to do,” said Bonney Lake Police Chief Mike Mitchell, who chairs the county task force.

Officers from several Pierce County law enforcement agencies will conduct patrols on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays along nine roads that had higher-than-average numbers of speed-related crashes that resulted in serious injuries and deaths.

The missions began June 27 and will last through September. Through the first two weekends, officers stopped 770 drivers and cited 484 for speeding, the task force reported. More recent figures are not yet available.

Law enforcement officers kick started the motorcycle safety campaign last month.

“We have seen, especially in motorcycles, the number of fatalities increase,” Mitchell said. “We are focusing on that and trying to turn that number around.”

Officers target motorcyclists who are speeding and suspected of being impaired. The State Patrol’s aircraft has helping spot speeding motorcyclists. Four patrols have been conducted and two more are planned through Labor Day weekend.

On July 30, officers cited 38 motorcycle riders, 14 of whom were for going more than 10 miles per hour over the posted limit.

Of the other riders cited, 20 had equipment violations, one broke the helmet law, two did not have proper licenses and one didn’t signal when making a lane change.

Figures for the other three patrols were not available. This isn’t the first campaign targeting motorcyclists. State Patrol troopers have paid extra attention to the speeding bikes since last year, when there were 584 collisions involving motorcycles, 75 of them resulting in a death.

About 60 percent of deadly motorcycle crashes involve only the motorcycle, the State Patrol said. The riders typically are speeding, impaired and don’t stay in their lanes.

About 40 percent of the motorcyclists killed are under the influence of alcohol.

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268

stacey.mulick@thenewstribune.com

blogs.thenewstribune.com/crime

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