DES MOINES - Traffic deaths have increased in Iowa, and it's likely due to a jump in motorcycle accidents, state safety officials said.
State records show warm weather also could be a factor, the Des Moines Register reported Thursday. Officials said the relatively warm, dry weather prompted motorcyclists to dust off their bikes in the early spring and continue using them later in the year.
Motorcycle accidents have accounted for 56 deaths so far this year, compared to 34 in 2011. Seven motorcyclists died in March and five were killed in November, compared with two in March 2011 and none in November 2011.
"We have a restricted number of months in Iowa where you normally see people riding a motorcycle. Because the weather was nicer this year, people were riding more," said Patrick Hoye, director of the Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau.
Hoye said some positive news is that Iowa could reach its fourth consecutive year of fewer than 400 traffic fatalities.
"Losing almost 400 people a year is unacceptable, so we are examining the data to figure out how to drive the numbers down," he said.
The state had 357 traffic deaths through Christmas Eve. That's 14 more deaths than the same time last year. The trend means this year likely will finish higher than the 2011 total of 360 traffic deaths, state officials said.
Traffic deaths have been reduced greatly over the years due to more people using seat belts and safety improvements to vehicles and highways. The state's record for traffic deaths is 912, set in 1970.
Capt. Mike Winter, an Iowa State Patrol spokesman, said additional safety education about motorcycles can help further reduce fatalities. He suggested more training and preparation for older motorcycle riders.
State officials said they also want to focus on other aspects of traffic safety. That includes reducing distracted driving, promoting more seat belt use and reminding motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.