Motorcycle deaths in S.C. top 100 for third year in a row

COLUMBIA -- Motorcycle fatalities in South Carolina have topped 100 for the third year in a row, though the total to date is slightly lower compared with 2007.

As of Tuesday, the most recent day for which figures were available, there had been 103 motorcycle deaths, said Ed Harmon, assistant director of the Office of Highway Safety.

That's down from 119 deaths through the same date, Nov. 25, in 2007, he added.

Still, South Carolina could be on track to make 2008 the second-highest death year for the motorized two-wheeler crowd.

Last year set a record with 120 motorcyclist deaths; in 2006, it was 106. Five weeks remain in this year, and an average of two motorcyclists a week are dying on the roads.

"I'm hoping we don't get close to last year's toll," Harmon said, "but there's still a possibility this could be the second-highest year on record."

Several major factors contribute to cycle deaths. Many riders lose control of the heavy machines because they don't have the skills to ride them, bikers and safety officials say.

Head injuries to helmetless riders also are a leading cause of death, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

In South Carolina in 2007, 78 percent of the 120 dead motorcycle riders weren't wearing helmets.

Mandatory helmet laws have been proven to cut down on deaths and injuries. South Carolina does not have such a law. Only riders younger than 21 must wear helmets.

Changes in the state motorcycle law are expected to be recommended to the General Assembly in early 2008, but those recommendations won't include a helmet law, said Harmon, a member of the task force working on proposals, adding there is not enough political support for such a law.

One change probably will be a recommendation that the state stop granting unlimited extensions for beginners' motorcycle licenses.

Instead, after a period of time, motorcyclists would be required to take a test to show they can ride, Harmon said.

Some jurisdictions aren't waiting for the legislature to pass a helmet law.

In September, the city of Myrtle Beach passed an ordinance requiring every motorcyclist to wear a helmet. It was a response to the city's high fatality rate each spring, when during biker festivals, numerous helmetless bikers are injured and die in crashes.

"There were too many bad wrecks and fatalities," said Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea.

The ordinance could go into effect by Feb. 28. The date was delayed this week by City Council.

Three lawsuits have been filed two in federal court and one in state court against Myrtle Beach's ordinance. But Kruea expects the city to prevail.

At major military bases around South Carolina, bikers already are required to wear helmets.

"Motorcycle riding is a high-risk activity. This saves lives and prevents brain injuries," said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Williams.