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Motorcycle fatalities rise

Reported deaths increase for tenth consecutive year

By Motorcycle.Com Staff, Aug. 19, 2008
Motorcycle fatalities reached a record high in 2007 despite a decrease in overall traffic fatalities, says a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to the report, the number of people killed in traffic accidents decreased 3.9% in 2007 to 41,059 from 42,708 in 2006, representing the lowest number recorded since 1994.

Motorcyclist fatalities, however, increased for the tenth consecutive year, rising 6.6% in 2007 to 5,154, the highest number since the NHTSA began recording fatality crash data in 1975. Motorcyclists accounted for 13% of all traffic fatalities in 2007.

The number of motorcyclists injured in traffic accidents increased by an even greater amount. Approximately 103,000 motorcyclists were injured in traffic accidents in 2007, an increase of 17%, while overall traffic-related injuries decreased by 3.3%. Motorcyclist injuries, however, represent only 4.1% of all traffic injuries.

“As these new statistics show, we are making progress, but far too many of our friends, neighbors and family members are still getting killed or seriously injured,” says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.

A new advertising campaign by the NHTSA warns about the dangers of riding drunk.In response to the reported increase in motorcycle injuries and deaths, Peters announced the launch of a new advertising campaign focusing on motorcycle safety and drunk driving. According to the NHTSA, the percentage of legally intoxicated motorcycle riders in fatal crashes is greater than for other motorists.

Christopher J. Murphy, chair of the Governors Highway Safety Association, says the increase in motorcycle fatalities may be attributed to a number of factors. A recent report from the GHSA says that the high number of motorcycle injuries and deaths are caused by a combination of “a patchwork of helmet laws, an explosion in motorcycle ownership, inconsistent and inadequate licensing requirements, and lack of adequate safety education funding.”

The GHSA urges states to adopt comprehensive motorcycle safety programs and institute mandatory helmet laws.

Tim Buche, president of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, also says that a lack of safety training is a contributing factor, not just for motorcyclists but for all motorists.

“The overwhelming number of motorcyclists who wind up in single-vehicle crash statistics are there because they aren’t following basic but important safety precautions when riding,” says Buche. “And fewer than half of all riders have taken any kind of formal training course. We also know that car drivers and other motorists are at fault a majority of the time in multiple-vehicle crashes that involve a motorcyclist. We have life-saving messages for everyone, whether they are behind the handlebars or behind a steering wheel.”

The MSF, however, says that theories on why motorcycle fatalities and injuries have increased over the last decade are based mostly on speculation and lack concrete data. In response to the NHTSA’s report, the MSF is urging that a planned national study on motorcycle crash causation begin as soon as possible.

“We hope that this new field research, the first definitive crash causation study to be done in the United States in almost 30 years, will shed new light on the causes of crashes on our nation’s highways,” says Buche. “Knowledge gained from this study may help all of us concerned with rider safety to develop even more effective countermeasures to enhance the safety of motorcyclists everywhere. But we won’t know until the study, which will be a long and thorough process, has been conducted. For the safety of motorcyclists, we need this federal study to be of high priority, and move forward as soon as possible.”

The motorcycle industry has committed $2.8 million to fund the Motorcycle Crash Causation Study which will be conducted by the Oklahoma Transportation Center. The Motorcycle Industry Council contributed an additional $200,000 towards the study. Approximately $2 million is being provided through federal funding.