Wisconsin Calls Emergency Motorcycle Safety Summits

Motorcyclists are dying at record rates, and the state is looking for countermeasures. But with no one willing to fund research, the carnage is likely to continue. **By _ Art Friedman. **

Faced with skyrocketing motorcycle accidents and deaths this summer, the state of Wisconsin is holding meetings to try to to determine the reasons and remedies.

So far in 2003, 60 motorcycle riders have died in accidents in Wisconsin (as of July 16). That is more than twice the normal number at mid year, and about 14 percent of all the state's vehicle-related deaths this year. There were 78 motorcycling fatalities in Wisconsin during all of 2002, just under 10 percent of the total number of traffic deaths in the state. And the big motorcycling event, Harley-Davidson's 100th anniversary celebration, doesn't happen until the end of August. What's more, the second half of the year typically has more accidents in the state than the first six months. Aside from an increase in deer on the roads (white-tailed deer are the state animal), however, there doesn't seem to be any obvious single cause for the increase. Wisconsin has no helmet law, but it has not had one for years. Motorcycle sales have risen in Wisconsin, as they have elsewhere, but not at a rate as great as fatalities. The total number of vehicle fatalities in the state is up about 14% for the year, from 390 last year to 444, this year, and motorcyclists account for more than half that increase.

To get help in the search for solutions, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and other state leaders are holding two summits to discuss the issue, try to pinpoint causes, and hopefully come up with remedies. The meetings will be held in Milwaukee on July 23 ( from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. in the DOT's Traffic Operations Center, 633 W. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1200) and in Green Bay on Thursday, July 24 (from 10:00a.m until noon at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, 2740 W. Mason St.). The state is inviting anyone with a stake in the issues -- dealers, highway officials and engineers, motorcyclists-rights advocates, and others with interests in motorcycle safety to attend.

Wisconsin is not the only state seeing a rise in motorcycle fatalities this summer. Surrounding states appear to be experiencing an upturn in motorcycle deaths judging from news reports, but Wisconsin is the first one that is making such a dramatic effort to turn things around. The logical first step to finding a solution would seem to be an in-depth study of motorcycle accidents similar to the Hurt Report of a quarter-century ago. However, it is unlikely that any state can allot the the $2 million or so needed to fund such a study, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's watered-down Motorcycle Safety Program has no provision to conduct such comprehensive research, even though it was the number-one recommendation from the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety commissioned by NHTSA.

Motorcycle fatalities nationwide have been on the rise for a few years, but no one -- not the government, not the motorcycle manufacturers, not the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (which is supported by the manufacturers) -- has stepped up with the funds to investigate the reasons. Those who are involved with seeeking the funding say the manufacturers don't want to fund research that could find faults in their motorcycles, although few such findings came out of the last major study. The American Motorcyclist Association has been lobbying Congress to provide funding for such a study, but the current national budget situation makes this difficult at best. However, even a small resulting decline in accidents would quickly pay for it.

For information on safe-riding equipment, strategies, techniques and skills, see the Street Survival section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

The insignia on Wisconsin's flag seems to mirror its attitude on motorcycle safety.
Traffic officials are concerned that the influx of motorcyclists for Harley-Davidson's 100th anniversary celebration may further increase motorcycle accidents in the state.