Fort Worth

Fatal motorcycle crashes on the rise in North Texas

A young couple died when a motorcycle slammed into a guardrail on Interstate 635 in Grapevine. A motorcyclist was killed on a Fort Worth highway when his vehicle smashed into the back of a tractor-trailer. A woman lost control of her cycle and fell off on Texas 121 near North Beach Street.

The cases vary, but an increasing number of motorcyclists are dying in North Texas this year. Fort Worth, for example, has seen 14 fatalities; there were 11 in all of 2013.

August was an especially bad month, with four fatalities in Fort Worth and eight in Tarrant County.

Officials say the rise in deaths correlates to the growing number of motorcycle owners in Texas.

“In Texas, you pretty much have a yearlong season of riding. In other states, you only have a few months,” said Daniel Jeffries, motorcycle safety program manager for the Texas Department of Transportation in Austin. “And the number of registered owners of motorcycles has more than doubled since 2000.”

As of June 2013, there were 403,632 motorcycles in the state, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

“With the price of gas the way that it is, many people have turned to motorcycles,” Jeffries said.

But with more motorcycles come more injuries and deaths. About 5,000 riders and passengers die nationwide each year, state transportation officials say. Texas has 450 to 500 fatal motorcycle accidents each year, according to Transportation Department officials.

In 2013, 460 motorcycle drivers were killed in the state and another 35 passengers died, according to department statistics. Those numbers were up from 446 drivers and 24 passengers in 2012.

‘Difficult to process’

Motorcycle safety officials and area police say speeding, the lack of training for bikes and the failure of motorists to yield are the leading causes of crashes.

“Speed was the contributing factor in over half of the fatalities,” said Fort Worth police Sgt. Cynthia Blake.

In a fatal crash last month in Grapevine, Brian D. Johnson, 27, of Quinlan and Tiffany Chu, 25, of Richardson were killed in the early morning of Aug. 24 when their motorcycle crashed into a guardrail on Interstate 635.

“I am trying to make sense as to how this happened,” said Sandee Ponsler of Quinlan, Johnson’s aunt. “It is still difficult to process why they would be on the motorcycle, without helmets, at 2 a.m. in Grapevine.”

Grand Prairie has had 11 fatal vehicle crashes this year, and four, more than a third, have involved motorcycles.

“In all four, speed was a factor,” said Grand Prairie police Sgt. Eric Hansen. “In two of the four, the motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet, and the crash would have likely been survivable if they had been wearing a helmet.”

‘We hear it all the time’

State transportation officials say there is big difference between driving a car and motorcycle, which can be lost on the bikers.

“They may not understand the geometry of riding a motorcycle,” said Jeffries, who has been riding a motorcycle for 30 years. “Many riders have never taken any type of a riding or training course.”

Like in other wrecks, alcohol plays a part in fatal motorcycle crashes — both with motorcyclists and people driving cars, authorities said.

Motorcycle safety officials also noted that motorists must remember to share the road with motorcyclists.

“Motorcycles may be small, but they don’t stop on a dime,” Jeffries said. “If a bike locks up when they brake, they’ll need some space.”

State transportation officials say many crashes are caused by motorists who fail to yield to motorcyclists.

“We hear all the time, ‘I never saw it’,” Jeffries said. “People need to look twice.”