Motorcycle Fatalities Up Again in 2004, But Accident-Research Plans Remain Uncertain

The motorcycle-crash fatality totals rose again during 2004, but research into the reasons has an uncertain outlook.

While fatalities from crashes of passenger cars in the United States declined by 3.2 percent in 2004, deaths of motorcyclists rose by 8 percent, to just over 4000. In 2004, 4008 U.S. motorcyclists died in traffic according to figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That is 294 more deaths than 2003, and continues a decade-long climb in motorcyclist fatalities, which have been matched by an increase in sales.

A recently passed multi-year federal transportation bill provides $3 million in funding for the first comprehensive study of the causes of motorcycle crashes since the definitive Hurt report done in the late 1970s. However, last-minute amendments to that bill mandate that it will be conducted by an Oklahoma university. It's pure pork and a real disservice to the motorcycle community, since Oklahome is not exactly ground zero for motorcycle accidents or activity.

Meanwhile, the NHTSA has authorized a pilot study as preliminary step to that full study. It was supposed to investigate 110 to 220 motorcycle crashes. However, when the bids came in, performing that preliminary research to NHTSA's specifications reportedly would have cost more that $1 million. The agency balked at that, and now we understand the pilot study has been scaled back to less than $200,000 and fewer that 40 crashes, which will make any findings statistically meaningless. A comprehensive study will require that researchers examine about 1000 motorcycle accidents. The good news is that Harry Hurt and some of his team that performed that original study back in the 1970 are involved in the pilot study. Their expertise gives hope that this forthcoming study will provide meaningful information about accident causes and countermeasures that the motorcycle community could enact.

For more breaking motorcycle news, visit the home page of