Minnesota motorcycle fatalities hit a 38-year high in 2022, and this year is shaping up nearly as deadly.

Twenty-eight motorcyclists or their passengers had died in crashes this year as of last Tuesday, according to the state Department of Public Safety. That's a number just slightly behind the pace set in 2022, when the state recorded 82 deaths — the most since 1985.

Impairment, distracted driving and speeding are among the factors contributing to the high death toll, said Jay Bock, safety coordinator for the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center.

Lack of skill, particularly when navigating curves or attempting to avoid road hazards, is another big factor, he said.

"Motorcyclists need to know how to stop the motorcycle," Bock said. "They need to know how to lean the bike and how to ride through curves. A lot of the issues are a rider's skill set, and exceeding that can spell trouble quickly."

The center is offering training courses this year, as it has since the 1980s, at 22 colleges and technical schools across the state. Weekend courses are offered for riders of all abilities, from novice to expert; motorcycles are provided.

"Training is not just for beginners," said Erin Johnson, a Department of Public Safety spokeswoman. "It's to keep you sharp throughout your life."

Bock said safety begins with the proper gear: gloves, pants, reflective vests, protective eyewear and helmets. Two-thirds of the riders killed last year in Minnesota were not wearing a helmet, state crash data shows.

Basic training includes a 5-hour online course covering preparation and risk management. As certified instructors look on, participants run through 14 exercises in parking lots — practicing clutch and throttle control, straight-line riding, turning, shifting, stopping, braking, riding through corners and swerving.

Intermediate and advanced classes address topics such as making tight turns, low-speed control, eye and body position, and how to make instantaneous stops.

"We want people to grasp the techniques, that's the goal," Bock said. "We are looking for people to do better and improve."

Safety campaigns have long taught motorists to "see motorcyclists," but Bock said those on two wheels have an equal responsibility. That means driving defensively by assuming other drivers are unaware of their presence. It also means using turn signals for lane changes, not speeding and maintaining safe following distances.

"Being seen is not only somebody looking, but being noticeable," Bock said. "If a motorcyclist has a better comfort level, they will be that much safer."

Knowledge test requirement dropped

In other news, new Minnesota residents who hold a valid driver's license from another state will no longer have to take a knowledge test to get their license here. A new law taking effect Aug. 1 eliminates that requirement.

"It just makes sense," said Pong Xiong, director of Driver and Vehicles Services at the Department of Public Safety. "Eligible drivers are already licensed in another state. They've proven they can drive safely."

But they will still be expected to know Minnesota's driving laws, Xiong added.