Motorcycle Deaths Remain High
Study suggests that repeal of helmet laws, boom in bike sales and high gas prices all contributed to high number of fatalities.
The repeal of helmet laws for motorcyclists plus a boom in motorcycle sales and increased ridership due to high gas prices all contributed to a high number of motorcycle-related deaths in 2011. According to a new study released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, preliminary data show there were roughly 4,500 motorcycle fatalities in the U.S. that year.
“The big message is we still have a problem with motorcycle fatalities,” James Hedlund of Highway Safety North, a consulting firm that prepared the GHSA report, told The New York Times. “I had hoped that the decrease in motorcycle fatalities two years ago was the beginning of a turnaround and the decline would continue, but it hasn’t.”
For 12 straight years, from 1996 to 2008, motorcycle fatalities were on the rise. Then in 2009, the rate dropped by 16 percent, only to increase slightly in 2010 and hold in 2011.
Historically, an increase in motorcycle ridership has brought more fatalities. When the economy began to improve in 2011, a spike in motorcycle sales put more riders on the road. Since motorcycles get good gas mileage, higher gas prices in 2011 also brought out more motorcyclists.
Speeding and alcohol impairment are two other factors contributing to motorcycle fatalities. In 2010, 29 percent of fatal crashes involved drivers with blood alcohol levels above the legal limit, and 35 percent of drivers were speeding.
Not surprisingly, the repeal of helmet laws has also had a significant impact on fatalities. According to reporting by The New York Times, in 1975 all but three states required motorcyclists to wear helmets; today just 19 states mandate them. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Strickland told the Detroit News, "Every state that has repealed their mandatory helmet law has unfortunately seen a requisite increase in fatalities in motorcycle crashes."
The GHSA report comes on the heels of last month's announcement by NHTSA that motor-vehicle fatalities overall dropped by 1.7 percent in 2011, hitting the lowest level since 1949.
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