Motorcyclist Fatalities Rose 7.3% in 2004

Motorcycling fatalities and injuries climbed for the seventh year in a row. Motorcyclists could soon make up a sixth of all U.S. traffic deaths, yet no funding has been allocated for research. **By [Art Friedman

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced preliminary fatality and injury figures for American roads for 2004. Motorcycling fatalities have climbed for the seventh straight year. In 2004, 3927 motorcyclists died in on-road accidents, compared to 3661 in 2003. That is a 7.3% increase and represents 9.2% of the approximately 42,800 total highway deaths last year. In 1997, 2116 motorcyclists died in crashes on U.S roadways and composed 5% of the total deaths. At the current rate, the number of motorcycling fatalities looks likely to double in 10 years from 1997 and, since the numbers of most other vehicle deaths (SUVs being the exception) are dropping, motorcycle deaths could make up as much as a fifth of traffic deaths by the end of this decade too.

In addition, NHTSA estimates that 76,000 motorcyclists were injured in 2004 accidents, up 13% percent from the 67,000 injuries for 2003. The agency estimated that alcohol-involved motorcycling deaths increased by 1% (from 1505 to 1520), and that alcohol-related injuries increased from 6000 to 8000, or a third.

This continued increase in motorcycling fatalities will bring attention to the usual issues, including helmet laws (which do reduce injuries and fatalities, whether motorcyclists like to admit it or not) and the effectiveness of rider training, which is increasingly being called into question.

It will also raise questions about older riders. In 2004, 47% of the fatalities were over 40 years of age and 22% were over 50. The number of riders over 40 who died grew by 9.6 percent, the largest increase of any of the NHTSA's age groups, though the under-20 group had the second-largest increase at 8.9%. There is no research to indicate whether these age groups' representation in the fatalities corresponds with the amount they ride.

In a press release, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation pointed out that any real improvement in the U.S. motorcycle-safety picture has to start with research that will enable interested parties to identify the problems and seek effective solutions for them. At the moment, we don't even know if fatalities are growing at the same rate as miles traveled.

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