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Fairfax County Police, Virginia State police and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles are urging drivers of both cars and motorcycles to pay close attention to traffic safety after two recent crashes that resulted in life-threatening injuries for one cyclist, and the death of another.

On April 30 at 4:33 a.m., Virginia State police said State Police Trooper J.J. Graham was called to the scene of a fatal hit-and-run in the northbound lanes of Interstate 95 at the 165 mile marker in Fairfax County. State police said Timothy E. Halpin, 68, of Dumfries was traveling northbound on I-95 in the left lane when he apparently lost control of his 2001 BMW 1200 motorcycle. As the motorcycle slid onto the left shoulder, Halpin slid into the center northbound lane where he was then fatally struck by a tractor-trailer. “The tractor-trailer failed to stop at the scene and unfortunately witnesses were not able to provide a description,” said VSP spokeswoman Corrine Geller.

The next day at 5:45 a.m., Geller said northbound traffic on I-95 had slowed to a stop just south of Exit 148 near Quantico when a 2007 Chrysler station wagon failed to stop in time and rear-ended a 2012 Honda that had stopped for traffic. The driver of a 2009 Harley-Davidson then rear-ended the Chrysler station wagon. The impact of that crash caused the motorcycle to slide into another northbound travel lane. Meanwhile the motorcyclist was thrown from the motorcycle in the opposite direction and collided with a northbound tractor trailer. “The male adult rider was flown to Inova Fairfax Hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries,” said Geller.

According to figures from the Department of Motor Vehicles, the number of registered cyclists in Virginia, nearly 197,000 in 2012, is at an all-time high. The number of crashes has also increased. In 2012, there were 2,429 motorcycle crashes in the Commonwealth in which 78 motorcyclists were killed, according to the DMV.

Within Fairfax County, police say there has been a 14 percent increase in crashes involving motorcycles from 2009 to 2012.

According to the DMV, in Fairfax County, the overall number of motorcycle crashes increased by more than 30 percent, from 183 in 2011 up to 242 in 2012. Fairfax County also led the state in fatal crashes in 2011 with a total of seven.

Officials say that drivers of vehicles need to be aware of cyclists on the road, but that cyclists also need to be properly trained in motorcycle safety techniques before getting out on Virginia’s roads.

“Training is imperative to safe riding,” said Captain Susan Culin, commander of the Fairfax County Traffic Division. “You can’t just get a permit and hit the road.”

May is National Motorcycle Safety Month and to kick it off, officers and safety advocates provided demonstrations at the Fairfax County Emergency Vehicle Operations Center on Wednesday showing how professional police motorcycle officers train to navigate blind spots, curves, and accident avoidance. Fairfax County employs a squad of 32 full-time motorcycle officers who are responsible for enforcing traffic laws, investigating crashes and providing funeral escorts. They undergo a strict training regimen and ongoing training is a critical component of their position. They must pass a rigorous 80-hour training course and are mandated to attend ongoing quarterly training.

Police are now encouraging motorcycle riders to take a lesson from the police and make sure they seek proper, certified training to be as safe as possible on roadways across the Commonwealth.

“DMV statistics indicate that most motorcycle crashes in Virginia are caused by riders failing to maintain proper control of their motorcycle,” said John Saunders, director of highway safety for the DMV. According to Saunders, speeding and misjudging the angles of turns often cause them to lose control and run off the road. “Improper braking and curve navigation are the two leading causes of motorcycle crashes,” agreed officer Chad Burrow of the Fairfax County Police Motor Squad.

“While those who seek to obtain a motorcycle license in Virginia are not required to take our Basic Rider Course, we highly encourage it,” Saunders said. “Learning to ride a motorcycle the right way the first time is invaluable, along with wearing the appropriate riding gear and obeying the rules of the road along with other vehicles.”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com