After being on the rise for a dozen years, motorcyclist-traffic fatalities fell last year, according to a study commissioned by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). http://www.ghsa.org/html/media/pressreleases/2010/20100422_motorcycle.html
The study, released Thursday, found that based on preliminary data motorcycle deaths dropped 10 percent in 2009 versus the prior year.
But surprisingly, officials don’t think that the drop decline in deaths is related to laws requiring helmet use. As part of the report, GHSA members were asked to suggest reasons for the decline. They cited less motorcycle travel due to the economy; fewer beginning motorcyclists; increased state attention to motorcycle safety programs; and poor cycling weather in some areas.
But not everyone agreed with all those reasons for the decline. In an interview with the Associated Press, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation denied that motorcycle use had dropped last year. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703876404575199970366113894.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_sections_news
But Jeff Hennie, a vice president at the foundation, agreed – like the GHSA members — that helmet laws didn’t play a big role in the decline. There were 20 states last year with laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets, about the same as the previous year, according to Hennie.
And another factor in the drop in fatalities may be the fact that motorcyclists are older now than in past decades. In 1980 the average age was 24, while today motorcyclists are nearly as likely to be in their 40s as in their 20s, Hennie told AP.
The GHSA is projecting that motorcycle fatalities declined from 5,290 in 2008 to 4,762 or less in 2009, about 528 fewer deaths, according to a press release on the study. The projection is based on data from 50 states and the District of Columbia. The declines follow more than a decade of dramatic increases in motorcyclist deaths.
The new report – the first state-by-state look at motorcycle fatalities in 2009 – was conducted by consultant James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. Hedlund surveyed GHSA members, who reported fatality numbers for every state. While data are still preliminary, most states have quite complete fatality counts for at least nine months, so the GHSA felt it had enough data to forecast that deaths are down at least 10 percent for the full year.
GHSA is projecting declines in roughly three-fourths of the states. The declines are notable in many states and in every region of the country. In California, for example, based on data for the first nine months, motorcycle deaths are predicted to be down 29 percent, while Florida and New York are down 27 and 16 percent, respectively.
“Clearly the economy played a large role in motorcycle deaths declining in 2009,” GHSA chairman Vernon Betky said in a statement. “Less disposable income translates into fewer leisure riders, and we suspect that the trend of inexperienced baby boomers buying bikes may have subsided.”
He also maintained that, as with decreases in the overall highway fatality rate, the drop in motorcyclist deaths can be attributed to more than just the economy.
“Multiple states indicated that because of the increases in motorcyclist deaths from 1997-2008, addressing this area has been a priority for state highway safety programs,” Betky said.
As more than half of motorcycle fatal crashes do not involve another vehicle, states have been increasingly funding targeted enforcement to ensure that motorcyclists are in compliance with laws regarding endorsements, required insurance and helmet usage, according to the GHSA. State and federal governments also have stepped up efforts to address drunk motorcyclists.
GHSA warned that the declines in 2009 are significant and noteworthy after more than a decade of increases, they represent only one year of data, and much more work needs to be done to continue to achieve declines.
“We will need to see three to five years of decline before we are ready to say that a positive trend has developed,” Betkey said.
The new report notes that motorcycle fatalities have significantly decreased in the past, only to rise again. For example, from 1980 to1997, motorcyclist deaths dropped almost 60 percent. But that progress was wiped out during the period of 1997 to 2008.
The report also makes some useful recommendations to state officials to keep motorcycle fatalities on a downward trend. Those are:
- Increase Helmet Use: The most recent data indicated that 41 percent of fatally-injured riders were not wearing helmets despite their proven effectiveness. Thirty states still do not have helmet laws covering all riders.
- Reduce Alcohol Impairment: Highly visible drunk driving enforcement that includes motorcyclists should be encouraged as should be training efforts that help police identify impaired motorcyclists.
- Reduce Speeding: According to the most recent data, 35 percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding. More than half of all motorcycle fatal crashes did not involve another vehicle, and speeding likely contributed to many of these.
- Provide Motorcycle Operator Training to All Who Need or Seek It; While all states currently conduct training courses, some areas may not provide enough course opening at the places and times when riders wich to be trained.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
firstname.lastname@example.org :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.