Moped accident victims need more training - most have never driven a motorized two-wheeler before, and the average customer gets seven minutes of training at the rental shop. Moped crash victims tend to be short-term visitors to the Island, and they crash most frequently in August. More bicyclists are hurt each summer than moped drivers, but victims of moped accidents tend to be hurt far more seriously.

These are a few of the findings in a comprehensive year-long study examining the trends in the accidents of mopeds, bicycles and motorcycles on Martha's Vineyard.

Dr. Alan Hirshberg, director of emergency medical services at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, began collecting data on Jan. 1, 2000 by giving a one-page survey to every two-wheeled accident victim treated at the hospital.

The study, the most comprehensive ever undertaken on the Island, was designed to gather data on the number of accidents, age, residency and training of riders, safety precautions (i.e. a helmet), and places where the most accidents occur.

One year and 245 cases later, the numbers are in, shedding new light on a hot Island issue, an issue Dr. Hirshberg hopes to clarify with neutral, objective information.

"It's purely an observational study," he said. "It just tells you what the hospital trend is. Let's try to work with the community to see what we can do to make it a safer place."

Of the 66 injured moped riders the hospital saw in 2000, the study found that 97 per cent were off-Islanders and the majority (63.3 per cent) were female. All but one wore helmets, and 75 per cent of the accidents involved an ambulance called to the scene. The average age of victims was about 33, and 18.2 per cent of accident victims were hospitalized or transferred. Injuries were highest in August with about 21, followed by July with about 18, followed by June with about 13.

Of the 167 persons treated at the hospital for bicycle-related injuries, 73.6 per cent were off-Islanders and the majority (57 per cent) were male. Fewer than half (45 per cent) wore helmets, which Dr. Hirshberg said was lower than what he would like to see, but significantly higher than national statistics for bike accident victims (20 to 30 per cent). An ambulance was called to the scene in 29 per cent of the accidents, the average age was about 27, and 10.8 per cent were hospitalized or transferred. Injuries were highest in August with about 60, followed by July with about 52, followed by June with about 28.

The study yielded statistics on motorcycles as well, but because of the low number of cases, only 12, Dr. Hirshberg said it is hard to discern patterns. Of the 12 accident victims treated, the majority (91.7 per cent) were male, all wore helmets, and all were Islanders. An ambulance was called to the scene in 33.3 per cent of the cases, the average age was about 30, and 16.7 per cent were hospitalized or transferred. Injuries were highest in May with four, followed by August, October and December, all with two.

"Moped users have minimal training prior to using the vehicles," Dr. Hirshberg wrote in his conclusion. "A significant number of moped crashes utilize EMS for transport, potentially causing increased associated costs of care."

More training for Island moped riders was one of the only suggestions made in the study, which found the average accident victim to have had only seven minutes of instruction before hitting the road. The typical rider was a seasonal visitor, here for a stay of three days or less.

Few riders were experienced prior to their brief instruction, the study found, with 81 per cent of accident victims having never operated a moped or motorcycle before.

The conclusion continued: "It is recommended that an educational effort be targeted towards driver education through a structured training course, advocating increased helmet use for bicyclists, road improvements, and limiting moped and bicycle access to roads with elevated crash rates."

In the study's original outline, Dr. Hirshberg hoped to pinpoint certain curves, intersections and other places with high accident rates, but he found that most patients admitted to the hospital were off-Islanders, and unsure of their location at the time of the accident.

"I don't say the data is complete," Dr. Hirshberg said this week. "It's quite possible somebody had an accident on the Island and didn't go to the hospital."

Due to the hundreds of hours of collecting, researching and number-crunching, coupled with a continual questioning of the methods of study as a whole, Dr. Hirshberg is comfortable with most of the data and the patterns it suggests.

"The gratifying thing is, very few people said, ‘I don't know,' " he said. "We've gotten a huge response on this.

"I see this as sort of a continuum. That's why it's a two-wheeled study and not a moped study."

Further financial data relating to the medical costs of accidents is still in the works, however, as the study is not officially complete and ready for a public forum. Dr. Hirshberg points out that the tables of current numbers could keep a team of statisticians busy for years, depending on what they want to find out.

Dr. Hirshberg is planning a similar follow-up study for 2001, a less-thorough version of this year's giant, he said, shaking his head at the amount of hours medical records people, coders, ER personnel, and himself have volunteered in completing the study.

"This is hospital sweat," he said, nodding at the fat packet of multi-shaded charts in front of him. "For every little graph you see, it's hundreds of department hours."

Grant money from National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration may also help with this year's project. For now, he is breaking down the final numbers of what is officially last year's project, crunching these numbers and preparing for a public presentation of the study's findings.