JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The warm weather is back and is luring more motorcycle riders out on the roadways.
So far this year, the Florida Highway Patrol says it has responded to more than 100 motorcycle crashes, eight of which were fatal.
And motorcyclist deaths are up 9 percent nationwide. Last year they hit a near record high, with more than 5,000 deaths.
A few years ago, riders were required to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle. But now it's optional, and law enforcement says that may be partly why there's been an uptick in fatal crashes.
"We do see injuries that could have been reduced or even eliminated by the use of protective head gear," Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Dylan Bryan said.
Only 19 states now require riders to wear helmets, down from 26 in 1997. FHP says the negative effect of the lack of law can be seen locally.
FHP saw an increase from 2011 to 2012. There were 265 motorcycle crashes in 2011 -- 208 were injury wrecks, 15 were fatal. That's compared to 2012, with a total of 364 motorcycle crashes -- 291 with injuries, 34 fatal.
Scott Newlin manages a motorcycle shop. He says he knows firsthand how a helmet can save a life.
"I'm a big believer in gear. I've always worn my gear," said Newlin, of Purcell's Motorcycle and Marine. "I've come out of some rather hairy situations with everything working. I don't think that I probably would have had I not been wearing my safety gear."
Even with the warm temperatures influencing riders to strip off their safety jackets and helmets, Newlin says it's better to be safe than sorry.
"It's a life saver. I would much rather have nylon or leather dragging on the ground than my skin," he said.
Another probable cause for an uptick in fatal crashes may be improved economic conditions. Several states report an increase in the number of motorcycle registrations in 2012. With that, Newlin says drivers should keep their eyes peeled. He has this advice for motorcyclists:
"I've always encouraged riders to ride like they are completely invisible and just pretend nobody sees them, and that will really save you," he said.
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