With May marking Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, authorities are reminding motorcyclists and drivers to be alert and share the road.
Motorcycle fatalities have increased every year for the past 14 years, except in 2009 when there was a 16 percent drop, according to a report released Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In 2011, 4,612 motorcyclists died on U.S. roads, a 2 percent increase compared to the previous year. They made up 14 percent of the highway deaths, despite motorcycles accounting for only 3 percent of vehicles.
"There are more and more people riding motorcycles," Edith Peters, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation, said.
In Florida, about 18 percent of fatalities are motorcycle riders and passengers. Motorcyclists make up 3.6 percent of the motoring public.
"It's a high-fatality type of vehicle," she said.
Motorcyclists are more than 30 times more likely to die in a crash than occupants of vehicles and five times more likely to be injured on a per vehicle mile basis, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported.
"There's no one cause for it," Peters said.
One element is motorcycles are less visible than other motor vehicles. Campaigns like Share the Road and another that advises motorcyclists to wear bright clothing are designed to increase awareness and presence.
"Drinking is a problem," she said. "Drinking and driving, riding."
"Drinking and riding is just not a good combination," Peters added.
Speed is another element feeding into fatality numbers.
"They're outriding their ability. They're taking a curve too fast," she said.
Sgt. Jon Kulko of the Cape Coral Police Department reported that the agency will focus on motorcycle rider and passenger safety in May.
"We're going to be checking all their safety equipment on the bike," he said, citing the rearview mirrors, lights and reflectors as some examples.
"That helps the rider maintain safety," Kulko said.
"We have a whole list of items that we'll be checking," he added.
Officers will also look for violations, like reckless driving.
Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month helps foster to awareness.
"When there are accidents with motorcycles involved, they're pretty bad," Kulko said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that head injuries are the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes. Helmets are estimated to be about 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries.
In Florida, 27 percent of the total motorcycle fatalities were related to traumatic brain injuries in 2011, according to Peters.
"Those could have been lessened if they had a helmet on," she said.
Peters offered tips for motorcyclists to increase their safety.
"Be aware of your surroundings. Basically, you have to ride like you're invisible," she said. "It's takes a lot of attention to ride a motorcycle."
"You're on two wheels, you're not on four," Peters added.
Kulko pointed to practicing defense driving.
"We don't want them weaving in and out of traffic," he said.
Motorcyclists should take a class. Since 2008, Florida law requires that motorcyclists take a training course for an endorsement. About 20 percent to 25 percent of motorcyclists do not have a motorcycle endorsement.
Equipment checks and appropriate clothing also increase safety.
"Always wear a helmet and protective gear," Kulko said. "It decreases the chance of serious injury on your head."
"Make sure they have eye protection," he added.
Checking for tire wear and that turn signals work are recommended.
"Motorcyclists should always have headlights on," Kulko said.
No listening to music on a headset while operating a motorcycle, and passengers should have their own seating area and foot rests.
As for other drivers, they should keep an eye out for motorcycles.
"They need to make sure they look to the left, look to the right and look to the left again," he said. "A second double check is great."
Peters echoed that.
"The main thing for the motorists is before they pull out, they really need to take the extra time to look," she said.
About 60 percent of motorcycle-related crashes are due to motorists pulling out in front of a motorcycle; 40 percent are the fault of the motorcyclist.
"Check your lanes and make sure no one is there," Kulko said.
In 2011 in Florida, 49 percent of motorcyclist hospitalizations and emergency room visits were not covered by commercial insurance. Hospital charges for the initial treatment of injuries was about $412 million.
The median hospital charge for treatment and release was $3,585. The median hospital charge for admittance with treatment was $56,966.