According to the NHTSA, motorcycle deaths in the United States dropped by 16% in 2009 compared to the number of deaths in 2008. With 4,462 deaths in 2009 and 5,312 deaths in 2008, this makes for the first time motorcycle death tolls have dropped in the past decade; however federal officials are reluctant to call this a victory in rider safety.
“While we are pleased that the number of motorcycling fatalities dropped dramatically in 2009, a one-year drop isn’t a trend. We need to determine why, and ensure that the decline continues,” said Ed Moreland, AMA Senior Vice President for Government Relations.
Reluctant to mark a trend from one data point, Moreland’s concern stems from the fact that vehicle deaths across the country also fell by 9.7%, and of course these figures are occurring during one of the worst economic recessions, which saw new motorcycle sales freeze, and “staycations” becoming the trend on holiday weekends.
The Motorcycle Industry Council is quick to point out however that it believes that 5% or 1.5 billion more miles were traveled by motorcycle in 2009 than in 2008, meaning the deaths per miles traveled figure has dropped significantly over the past year. While no one is saying it, the most logical conclusion is that the economy’s devastating affects on consumer spending, and almost complete elimination of easy-to-access financing has drastically impacted the ability of new riders to purchase machines that they are not capable of safely operating.
Whether or not that seemingly logical inference is true, the most disheartening statistic released is the number of alcohol related incidents that killed motorcyclists. Out of the 4,462 rider deaths, over a quarter involved alcohol imparment (1,314 in all), which means either the rider or driver of another vehicle in the accident was under the influence of alcohol when the fatality occurred.
Hoping to learn more about why motorcycles crash, the Federal government is undertaking its first investigation into motorcycle crash causes since 1981, with a program being run at Oklahoma State University. “The motorcycling community looks forward to receiving some real answers about motorcycle crashes and what causes them from the new federal crash causation study that is under way at Oklahoma State University (OSU) through the Oklahoma Transportation Center in Stillwater,” said Moreland. “Then we can put our heads together to find solutions, reduce crashes and save more lives.”