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Report: Florida deadliest state for motorcyclists

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts are expected to roar into Daytona Beach for Bike Week this weekend.

When it comes to motorcycle crashes, Florida is the deadliest state in the nation, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report.

Motorcyclists accounted for one-fifth, or 19 percent, of motor vehicle fatalities in the state, while making up only about 7 percent of licensed motorists, AAA said.

According to a recent AAA Consumer Pulse survey, nearly one in five motorcyclists, or 16 percent, do not have motorcycle insurance. The estimated economic cost to society of each motorcycle fatality is $1.48 million.

READ: Full NHTSA motorcycle safety report | AAA survey of motorcyclists

Economic costs include lost productivity, medical costs, legal and court costs, emergency services costs, insurance administration costs, property damage and workplace losses.

“Since the repeal of the helmet law in Florida, motorcycle fatalities have more than doubled,” said Karen Morgan, Public Policy Manager for AAA. “While helmet usage is a controversial issue among riders, the bottom line is that they save lives.”

Vivian Samuels' son, Mark, died two years ago in a motorcycle crash on I-10. He was 22 and had just graduated from firefighter and paramedic school. She said he'd been riding bikes for years and was always cautious.

Samuels said Mark's sudden death is proof that tragedies can strike at any time.

"Some get in accidents and they walk away and they are fine, and then you have others, like me, who receive that phone call that you should never get," Samuels said. "He had his whole life ahead of him."

According to AAA, one-third, or 32 percent, of motorcyclists in Florida do not think they should be required to wear a helmet when riding. Although helmet requirements are a controversial issue, many riders claim to wear some form of safety gear while riding.

The majority of bike riders wear the following safety gear when riding: 

  • Helmet (86 percent)
  • Face shield or glasses (81 percent)
  • Boots (64 percent)
  • Gloves (63 percent)
  • Jacket or vest with protective armor (55 percent)

"Bikers should do everything possible to make themselves visible to motorists while riding," said AAA spokesman Josh Carrasco. “Motorists need to keep their attention on the task of driving and be alert for increased motorcycle traffic. Motorcyclists can increase their visibility by riding with their lights on or adding reflective gear to their bike.”

Florida Highway Patrol trooper Jared Ferris, who is part of FHP's motorcycle unit, said the most dangerous things that he sees motorcyclists do are speed and weave around traffic.

"We are constantly having to watch for things. You are always checking," Ferris said. " Also (be) watching for cars that come into your lane. That seems to happen a lot, as well as traffic making a left turn in front of you. You're always having to watch for them, because sometimes they can't see you as you are approaching an intersection."

Samuels also offered advice for motorcyclists.

"Just to be very cautious, cautious of your surroundings, cautious of the road works and everything like that, because you never know what can happen that can cause an accident like this," she said.

FHP said riders should be even more careful when riding in groups.

Ferris said one of the most effective things that riders can do is give themselves enough space to react to anything that might happen.

Safety Tips for Motorists:

  • Respect motorcycle riders. Motorcycles are vehicles too and have the same privileges as an automobile, so be sure to give them ample room.
  • Look and Listen. Even if a motorcycle is loud, don’t expect to hear it. Actively look for motorcycles in traffic.
  • Leave Room. Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and the motorcyclists. Uneven terrain, wet roads, and heavy traffic often require a motorcycle rider to react and maneuver differently than automobiles.
  • Be aware. Take extra caution when making a left-hand turn, because most automobile-versus-motorcycle crashes occur during left-hand turns.
  • Don't drive distracted. A driver who takes their eyes off the road for two seconds doubles their risk of getting into a crash.
  • Safety Tips for Motorcyclists:

  • Wear safety gear. Helmets that meet a high protection standard, eye wear, closed-toe footwear and protective clothing reduce your risk of injury or death in a crash. Remember, the only thing between you and the ground is your protective gear
  • Be visible. Keep headlights, marker and taillights on at dusk and dark or rainy weather. Wear bright clothing or put reflective strips on your bike to be more visible to other motorists. Avoid being in the blind spots of cars and trucks by following three to four seconds behind the vehicle in front of you.
  • Use sound judgment. Avoid weaving between lanes while riding. Be sure to use your signals and stick to the speed limit.
  • Get proper training. Completing a motorcycle safety course can not only make you a better rider, but save you money on your motorcycle insurance.