Washington, April 2013 -- In a new report released earlier this week, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is projecting an increase in motorcyclist fatalities of approximately 9 percent in 2012, or more than 5,000 lives lost. The number is larger than the overall traffic fatality increase projected by the federal government and would be the 14th out of the last 15 years in which motorcyclist deaths increased (though to be fair, several of the yearly increases were minute).
The new report – a state-by-state look at motorcyclist fatalities occurring in 2012 – was authored by Dr. James Hedlund, a former senior official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and now with Highway Safety North, an Ithaca, NY consulting firm.
Most states have reasonably complete fatality counts for at least the first nine months of 2012, which is what GHSA bases its projections on for the full year. Dr. Hedlund completed similar projections for GHSA for 2009, 2010 and 2011, all of which mirrored the final fatality numbers. As of right now, however, the 2012 numbers are projections.
Comparing the first nine months of 2011 to 2012, motorcyclist fatalities increased in thirty-four states, decreased in sixteen states and remained the same in the District of Columbia. Increases occurred in every region and were significant in some cases. For example, motorcyclist fatalities jumped 32 percent and 29 percent in Oregon and Indiana, respectively, while Pennsylvania experienced a modest eight percent uptick.
The report notes that the economy influences motorcycle travel in several ways. With the economy improving in 2012 and further strengthening in 2013, more people have disposable income for purchasing motorcycles. At the same time, high gas prices may cause more individuals to choose fuel-efficient vehicles like motorcycles as their preferred mode of transportation.
For his work on behalf of GHSA, Dr. Hedlund compared gas prices, motorcycle registrations, and motorcyclist fatality trends since 1976. He found that for the entire period fatalities closely track registrations, with significant similarities from 1990 to 2008. As gas prices increased, motorcycle registrations and fatalities also rose.
Another trend that may impact numbers is the decrease in states with helmet laws. Only 19 states currently require all riders to wear helmets, down from 26 in 1997. No state has enacted a universal helmet law since Louisiana reinstated its requirement in 2004.
Specifically, the report recommends that states address six issues:
Increase helmet use: Helmets are proven to be 37 percent effective at preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41 percent effective for passengers.
Reduce alcohol impairment: In 2010, 29 percent of fatally injured riders had a blood alcohol concentration at or above the legal limit of .08, the highest of all motorists.
Reduce speeding: According to the most recent data, 35 percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding, and almost half of these crashes did not involve another vehicle.
Provide motorcycle operator training to all who need or seek it: While all states currently offer training, some may not be provided at locations and times convenient for riders.
Ensure motorcyclists are properly licensed: NHTSA data reveals that in 2010, 22 percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes did not have a valid motorcycle license. This compares with twelve percent of passenger vehicle drivers in fatal crashes.
Encourage all drivers to share the road with motorcyclists: According to NHTSA, when motorcycles crash with other vehicles, the latter usually violates the motorcyclist's right of way.
All data in the report are preliminary. The report presents data through September 2012.
State-by-state data and image files are available from GHSA.