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Motorcyclist fatalities decreased by 6.4% in 2013, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, marking the first year-on-year decrease in the U.S. since 2009 and only the second recorded since 1997.

According to NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, 4,668 motorcyclists died in traffic accidents in 2013, down from 4,986 fatalities in 2012. At 6.4%, motorcyclist fatalities represented the largest percentage decrease as compared to deaths from passenger vehicles, trucks, pedestrians and cyclists. Overall, motorcyclist deaths represented 14.3% of all U.S. traffic fatalities in 2013 compared to 14.8% in 2012.

While a decrease in rider deaths is good news, the numbers are still disproportionately high considering the number of motorcycles on the road. The 2013 report did not have the latest figures on registered vehicles or total miles traveled but the 2012 numbers are telling.

According to NHTSA, there were 8,454,939 motorcycles registered in the U.S. in 2012, representing just 3.2% of all registered vehicles. NHTSA also reports motorcyclists logged 21.298 billion miles in 2012, or just 0.72% of the 2.969 trillion miles traveled by all motor vehicles in the U.S. By those figures, NHTSA says 23.4 motorcyclists died for every 100 million miles traveled, a fatality rate 26 times larger than passenger cars. There may have been an decrease in deaths in 2013, but unless motorcycle use increased dramatically last year (highly unlikely) motorcyclists still died far more often than they should.

For those participating in the ABATE debate, the FARS data counted 1,854 fatalities among riders not wearing helmets in 2013, down from 2,039 in the previous year. The actual figure is likely much higher however, as researchers only knew whether helmets were worn in only 41% of the fatalities reported. States without universal helmet laws reported 11 times as many fatalities (1,704) as states with universal laws (150).

While helmet use continues to be a point of contention, motorcyclists appear to be getting the message about drinking and riding. The data attributed 1,296 motorcyclist fatalities to alcohol-impairment in 2013, down 8.3% from 1,413 in 2012.

The Truth about Drinking and Riding

NHTSA also found that there were fewer non-fatal motor injuries in 2013 compared to the previous year. The FARS data reports approximately 88,000 motorcyclists injured in 2013  compared to about 93,000 injured in 2012.

Click here to download the full NHTSA FARS data for 2013 or for easier digest, click here to download a quick facts sheet.

[Source: NHTSA]