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Shocking News Riding a Motorcycle Still A Dangerous Pursuit

A report hot off the presses from  the U.S. Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) says that little to no progress was made in reducing motorcyclist fatalities in 2011. Based on preliminary data from 50 states and the District of Columbia, the GHSA data says that motorcycle fatalities remained at around 4,500 in 2011, and that’s approximately the same number of riders who died as in 2010.

The GHSA report comes on the heel of a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration earlier this month which said overall motor vehicle fatalities declined 1.7 percent in 2011.

That number represents the lowest level since 1949.

But both reports arrived at a similar conclusion: motorcycle deaths remain one of the few areas in overall highway safety efforts where little progress is being made.

This new report, the first state-by-state look at motorcycle fatalities occurring in 2011, was compiled by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. Since most states have their date for fatality counts complete for the first nine months of 2011, the GHSA says it’s confident enough in their understanding to project the numbers for the full year. Hedlund authored similar projections and reports for GHSA in both 2009 and 2010, and both those reports ultimately came very close to predicting the final fatality numbers for the years in question.

Comparing the first nine months of 2010 to 2011, motorcyclist fatalities decreased in twenty-three states, with notable declines in many. In Connecticut motorcycle deaths dropped 37 percent, while in New York and North Carolina fatal accidents fell 16 and 21 percent.

According to the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the decrease in fatal motorcycle crashes in that state is due to a mix of what that state calls “countermeasures” which  focus on enforcement, education and engineering.

“In New York, we’re educating motorists to watch for motorcycles, encouraging riders to wear bright protective gear to make themselves more visible, and asking law enforcement officers to conduct efficient and effective motorcycle checks,” Fiala said. “It’s encouraging to see that these efforts, which have been conducted with our state and local partners, are making a difference.”

But those efforts, while the state touts them as critical for motorcycle safety, haven’t always been popular.

Some twenty-six states and the District Columbia did report an increase in motorcyclist
deaths.

In South Carolina and Texas, those counts rose 26 and 16 percent, respectively, while in California they increased 10 percent.

GHSA’s former Chairman and Director of California’s Office of Traffic Safety, Christopher J. Murphy, pointed out that the state experienced a dramatic 37 percent decline in motorcycle deaths from 2008 to 2010. He said while the latest numbers are disappointing, it wasn’t unexpected to see a smaller decline or even an increase in deaths for the year 2011.

So what hidden factors might play into the numbers?

The economy influences motorcycle travel, for one. With the economy improving in 2011 and continuing to  strengthen in 2012, more people will have disposable income to use for purchasing and riding motorcycles. Rising gas prices are sure to cause more people to choose motorcycles for their fuel efficiency alone, and that equates to more fatal accidents.

As part of the GHSA study, Hedlund compared gas prices, motorcycle registrations, and motorcyclist fatality trends since 1976. His latest study found that for that period fatalities closely track registrations and point up significant similarities from 1990 to 2008.

One rule of thumb? As gas prices increase, fatalities also rise.

Analysis of the preliminary data from 50 states and the District of Columbia indicated that there were about 4,500 motorcyclist deaths last year, and that’s essentially the same number as in 2010.

Troy Costales, GHSA chairman, was also surprised by the overall numbers.

“It’s disappointing that we’re not making progress in motorcycle safety, particularly as fatalities involving other motorists continue to decline,” Costales said.  “Every motorcyclist deserves to arrive at their destination safely. These fatality figures represent real people — they are family, friends and neighbors,” Costales said in the news release. The good news is that we know how to prevent crashes and the resulting injuries and fatalities involving motorcycle riders and their passengers. ”

So what are the specific recommendations the report calls for?

  • Increase helmet use
  • Reduce alcohol impairment
  • Reduce speeding
  • Provide motorcycle training for all who need or seek it
  • Encourage all drivers to share the road with motorcyclists.

Check out the full report here:

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more about motorcycle safety.

And check out the New York Times article here:

Motorcycle fatalities hold steady