Marginal Reduction in Motorcyclist Deaths Only a Qualified Victory, Road Safety Association Cautions

An estimate based on preliminary state data suggests that motorcycle fatalities decreased for the second consecutive year in 2014, the Governors Highway Safety Association said May 20, but the total number of fatalities is shockingly high and suggests there is much work to be done when it comes to improving safety for motorcyclists across the nation. Motorcycles account for only 3% of the vehicles on the road, but motorcyclist deaths account for 14% of motor vehicle-related deaths in the United States.

“We are glad to see a continued decrease in motorcyclist fatalities, but the number of motorcyclist deaths on our roadways is still unacceptable,” Kendell Poole, GHSA chair and director of the Tennessee Office of Highway Safety, said in a news release.

The Spotlight on Highway Safety report, published annually by the GHSA since 2010, provides early analysis based on data submitted by all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, for the first nine months of the previous year. This year’s report projects that the final motorcyclist fatality figure for 2014 will be 4,584. That’s a drop of 1.8% from the 4,668 reported in 2013 and one of only three such decreases since 1997.

The figures alone might make it appear as if motorcycle crashes are a far smaller concern than car crashes; for comparison’s sake, there were 35,244 fatal car crashes in 2013. But the overall trends of car and motorcycle safety have taken disturbingly different paths. While general motor vehicle fatalities are 28% lower than they were a decade ago, motorcyclist fatalities are 26% higher.

Numerous safety improvements have been made to passenger vehicles in recent years, and policies such as graduated driver licensing have caused accidents and fatalities to decline for these kinds of vehicles.

There’s little evidence, on the other hand, that there’s been any significant reduction in risk for motorcyclists over a similar period of time; fluctuations in fatalities may, in fact, have more to do with the number of motorcycles being purchased and weather patterns. Given that motorcycle sales were up 8.2% in the first quarter of 2015, it’s very possible fatalities could increase again.
Reducing Motorcycle Accidents and Deaths
There are ways to reduce the number of motorcycle fatalities, the GHSA emphasized, with mandatory helmet laws being a good first step. “By far, helmets are the single most effective way to prevent serious injury and death in the event of a motorcycle crash,” Poole commented.

Currently, only 19 states and D.C. require all riders, regardless of age, to wear helmets.

Reducing alcohol-impaired driving, enforcing speed limits, ensuring proper licensing for motorcyclists and educating other drivers on how to safely share the road could all reduce fatal crashes, the report suggests.

But ultimately, it simply can’t be denied that motorcycles are not as safe a mode of transportation as cars. Motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to lose their lives on the road, per mile driven, than occupants of passenger vehicles.

“Motorcycling remains a dangerous pursuit,” the new study concludes.

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