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New Study: Motorcycle Deaths Decline Slightly But Concerns Develop

A report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that motorcycle fatalities declined in 2010 by at least 2 percent. Based upon preliminary data, GHSA projects that motorcycle fatalities declined from 4,465 in 2009 to 4,376 or less in 2010. The projection is based upon data from 50 states and the District of Columbia. The decline comes on the heels of a dramatic 16 percent drop in 2009, which followed 11 straight years of steady increases in motorcycle deaths.

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A report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that motorcycle fatalities declined in 2010 by at least 2 percent. Based upon preliminary data, GHSA projects that motorcycle fatalities declined from 4,465 in 2009 to 4,376 or less in 2010. The projection is based upon data from 50 states and the District of Columbia. The decline comes on the heels of a dramatic 16 percent drop in 2009, which followed 11 straight years of steady increases in motorcycle deaths.

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The new report – the first state-by-state look at motorcycle fatalities in 2010 – was completed by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. Dr. Hedlund surveyed GHSA members, who reported fatality numbers for every state and D.C. While data are still preliminary, most states have reasonably complete fatality counts for at least the first nine months of 2010, enabling GHSA to confidently forecast that deaths will be at least 2 percent lower for the full year. Dr. Hedlund completed a similar projection for GHSA a year ago, noting a 16 percent decline in the first nine months of 2009, just one-tenth of a percentage point off the final number of 15.9 percent.

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GHSA is projecting declines in approximately half of the states, with notable declines in many. In Texas, for example, based upon data for the first nine months of 2010, motorcycle deaths are expected to be down 16 percent, while Oregon and Oklahoma are down 27 and 30 percent, respectively. In Oregon, GHSA Vice Chairman Troy Costales credits his state’s progress to a strong training program and a new law strengthening penalties for riders who do not have a motorcycle-specific license. Costales adds, "Oregon has worked successfully with our motorcycle clubs, who are effective advocates for riding safe and sober."

While on the surface the national decline is good news, deeper analysis of the data reveals some areas for concern. First, 2010’s decrease of at least 2 percent is far less than 2009’s 16 percent decrease. Second, the 2010 decrease was concentrated in the early months of the year, with fatalities actually increasing by about 3 percent in the third quarter compared with the same quarter in 2009. Additionally, with the improving economy and surging gas prices, motorcycle travel is expected to increase, thus increasing exposure to risk. Finally, motorcycle helmet use dropped alarmingly from 67 percent in 2009 to 54 percent in 2010.
 
In reviewing the national data, Chairman Betkey said, "While there is a lot of good news in this report, the increase in fatalities toward the end of year is a clear red flag. Just like with overall traffic deaths, a strengthening economy presents us with the potential for more tragedy on our roads. We are going to be very aggressive in targeting our programs where they are needed the most. Additionally, we will continue to remind all roadway users that motorcycles are a legal and legitimate way of transportation and we all need to safely share the road."

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To continue progress in reducing crashes, injuries and fatalities on the nation’s roadways, the report urges states to focus their motorcycle safety efforts on: helmet use, alcohol impairment, speeding and operator training.

For more information, contact GHSA at 202-789-0942 or visit www.ghsa.org.

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