Motorcyclist traffic deaths in the U.S. are expected to total 4,500 riders in 2011, about even with 2010’s fatality rate, states a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association.
The GHSA’s annual report examines annual motorcycle traffic deaths, gathering data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Most reporting states provided data for the months January to September (California has not yet provided data for August and September), with the GHSA projecting a year-end result.
According to preliminary numbers from the 2011 report, 3,580 motorcyclists and motorcycle passengers died in traffic accidents over the first nine months of 2011, down 1.67% from the January-September numbers from 2010. Last year’s report projected a total count of 4,376 fatalities but the actual number, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association‘s “Fatality Analysis Reporting System” (FARS) was 4,502 fatalities.
Before you read any further, let’s get something out of the way first. It’s easy to make sweeping generalizations when looking at motorcycle fatality data, but the numbers have to be viewed with some perspective. The simple fact is the more people there are riding, the more fatalities there will be. Motorcyclist fatality rates over the last 25 years have closely followed the rise and fall of motorcycle registrations. Motorcyclist deaths also tend to be higher when gas prices go up, as more people choose to ride instead of drive their cars. There is a also a very narrow margin between survival and death in many traffic accidents, so numbers may vary from year to year due to sheer luck.
Though the preliminary figures are lower than last year’s initial numbers, the GHSA expects the final year-end death count to reach 4,500 motorcyclists, or about even with 2010’s figures. While this news is positive in the face of an 11-year period of steadily increasing motorcycle fatalities from 1997 to 2008, the projected final count is still more than double the number of motorcycle fatalities reported in 1997.
Over the first nine months of 2011, motorcyclist fatalities decreased in 23 states while 26 states (plus D.C.) reported increased fatalities. Texas led the nation in motorcycle fatalities with 374 riders dying in the first nine months of 2011, compared to 323 downed riders in the same period of 2010. Florida was second at 303 (up from 292 fatalities) while California had the third highest at 223 fatalities, also increasing from 202 reported fatalities in 2010 (though California’s numbers only included seven months of data instead of nine).
States that saw fewer motorcyclist fatalities in 2011 cited a number of contributing factors, including poorer riding weather in 2011. New York cited improved motorcycle safety education in helping reduce fatalities to 137 riders from 163.
“In New York, we are educating motorists to watch for motorcycles, riders to wear bright protective gear to make themselves more visible, and law enforcement officers on conducting efficient and effective motorcycle checks,” says Barbara J. Fiala, commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. “It is encouraging to see that these efforts, which have been conducted with our state and local partners, are making a difference.”
Some states reported various loopholes in legislation that may have increased the dangers for motorcyclists. In South Carolina, which saw an increase in fatalities to 102 riders from 81, riders can operate a motorcycle with just a learner’s permit indefinitely without ever having to take a road test for a permanent license.
The GHSA continues to advocate helmet use, claiming helmets can save the lives of 37% of riders involved in accidents and 41% for motorcycle passengers.
Apart from promoting helmet use, the GHSA recommends states provide motorcycle rider training to all who need or seek it, and encouraging other vehicle drivers to share the road with motorcyclists.