Federal Study Finds Motorcycle Deaths Are Not Decreasing

On behalf of Pat Crispi at Keogh Crispi PC

A recent Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) report has determined that motorcycle traffic fatality rates remained stagnant between 2010 and 2011, despite a decrease in traffic fatalities for all motor vehicles. The question inspired most directly by these results is "why are fatal motorcycle accidents not decreasing?"

The GHSA study examined statistics from all states between 2010 and 2011. While some states, like Connecticut and New York experienced decreases in motorcycle accident fatalities--by 37 percent and 16 percent, respectively--others saw an uptick in motorcycle fatalities, leading to a national total of 4,500 deaths during that period of time. States that experienced an increase in fatalities included South Carolina with a 26 percent increase, Texas with 16 percent and California with 10 percent.

While motorcycle fatalities increased, traffic deaths across all motor vehicle accidents decreased nationwide 1.7 percent to a rate comparable to that in 1949.

Factors Contributing to High Motorcycle Fatality Rates

Several factors contributed to the aforementioned stagnant motorcycle fatality rates. The GHSA study found a correlation between motorcycle fatalities and an increase in gas prices and motorcycle registrations. When gas prices rose between 2010 and 2011, so did motorcycle fatalities. Similarly, motorcycle fatalities rose when motorcycle registrations increased.

Another major factor in the number of motorcycle deaths has been reluctance among states to enact universal helmet laws. These laws require all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet and are effective at reducing motorcycle fatalities. The GHSA study claims that helmets themselves are 37 percent effective at preventing injuries in motorcycle accidents.

Unfortunately, the number of states with universal helmet laws has decreased over time, not increased. Michigan repealed its universal helmet law in 2005 and five other states are considering a similar move. Additionally, no states have enacted new universal helmet laws since 2004. Opposition to helmet laws comes from powerful motorcycle rider groups that lobby state legislatures. These groups claim the laws impinge on personal freedom.

Two other factors that may contribute to motorcycle fatalities include short winters that enable riders to hit the road sooner in the year and the improving economy, which has rewarded some with more disposable income with which to buy bikes.

How to Reduce Motorcycle Fatalities

The author of the GHSA study has several recommendations for reducing motorcycle fatality rates. In addition to increasing helmet use, states should take efforts to reduce riding while under the influence and speeding. Providing training for all riders and educating drivers on how to better share the road with motorcyclists will also help reduce fatalities.

Motorcycle deaths are preventable tragedies. States should take legislative action to help improve motorcycle fatality rates. If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you understand your legal options.