They roar past cars. Zig between lanes. And risk daring maneuvers.
Cops say they are seeing more motorcyclists behave brazenly on South Florida highways than in the past. And they’re seeing an uptick in deaths.
A rider popping wheelies on I-95 late Tuesday added to the stats.
Witnesses say the man on a 2005 Honda became a daredevil in traffic as he tried to impress a woman in a car. He paid for it with his life as his bike went out of control, smashed into a light pole and sent him sailing over a barrier wall to the street below.
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The wreck happened about 11 p.m. Tuesday on northbound I-95 just south of I-395 in Miami. The highway was shut down into the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“The motorcyclist ... somehow lost control,” Miami Fire Capt. Ignatius Carroll said. “The impact was so severe that the motorcycle actually caught fire and there was debris that was scattered not only on the highway but down onto Northwest Third Avenue.”
The man, believed to be about 25 years old, traveled at “a high level of speed” and was driving in a “reckless manner,” said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Joe Sanchez.
The rider, whose identity authorities didn’t immediately release, was wearing a helmet, but “that helmet isn’t going to save his life at that speed,” Sanchez said.
Witnesses say the man was popping wheelies, traveling at high speeds and weaving in and out of traffic just before the crash, possibly to impress a female driver.
“I saw that he was like seriously out of control. I actually was on the phone and said that he was gonna hurt himself,” witness Tia Finley told Miami Herald news partner CBS4.
After the crash, Finley tried to help.
“I tried to go get him from the bike, but he wasn’t on the bike. I walked down the bridge and I saw his torso and it just threw me,” Finley said. “It was another individual in a car that he was stopping and going and dealing with. It was a girl, I guess he was flirting with the girl. He would stop and go, he was showing off.”
The crash is part of a larger trend, Sanchez said, referring to a U.S. Customs officer who died in a motorcycle accident two weeks ago. Another motorcyclist was killed Saturday night after crashing into a car near Northwest Fifth Avenue and 58th Street.
“We have had a spike in motorcycle fatalities in recent years,” Sanchez said. “These are hard-impact crashes the body just can’t survive.”
Sanchez said that often “modified fast bikes” are involved in fatal crashes. That was the case Tuesday night.
Broward roads also have become more deadly for bikers.
“We’ve had several crashes recently,” said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Mark Wysocky. “The amount of motorcycle accidents goes up each year. The deaths are going up each year. Pretty much all the numbers are going up.
“We see a lot of racing bikes or crotch rockets, if you want to call them that,” Wysocky said.
Save for dips in 2009 and 2010, the number of motorcycle crashes has been rising each year since 1998, culminating in 2008 at 9,618 crashes across Florida. In 2012, the most recent year of record, the Florida Highway Patrol registered 9,384 crashes involving motorcycles, second only to the peak in 2008.
According to the FHP’s yearly traffic crash reports, 425 motorcyclists were killed in 2012, the most since 2008, and 7,809 were injured. That year also saw 839 injuries to motorcycle passengers, the highest number since 2008.
Statistics for 2013 have not yet been released.
Crashes are happening on rural, suburban and even crowded urban roadways.
A sharp turn from Florida’s Turnpike onto Interstate 595 near Davie has proven especially dangerous for motorcyclists, with two fatalities since June.
Last week, a motorcyclist on the packed Palmetto Expressway at afternoon rush hour popped wheelies for about a mile, weaving through traffic at speeds well above the legal limit.