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motorcycle fatalities

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Every year the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) releases data about motorcycle fatalities in the United States. The results are never that surprising, and despite some fluctuations year-to-year, the basic takeaways are always the same. Motorcyclists are way more likely to die (28x more likely per mile traveled) than automobile drivers and passengers; fatal motorcycle crashes are more likely to involve alcohol than other vehicle fatalities (25% vs. 21% for passenger cars); and motorcycle fatalities closely correlate to new motorcycle sales. The figures are of course important, but reporting the results is an exercise in playing a broken record, over and over again. Except for one statistic that caught our eye this year: motorcycle fatalities as a percentage of overall vehicle fatalities.

The link between helmet laws and motorcyclists fatalities may seem intuitive and obvious, but now because of a study published in the American Journal of Surgery we have scientific proof that helmets save lives. The study focuses around Michigan, which repealed its mandatory helmet law (thanks to help from the AMA) in April 2012, and has since had three riding seasons with a greatly reduce helmet-wearing requirement. Postulating that legislatures made a mistake in that repeal, the basic conclusions from the study are that the state has seen an increase in injury severity for motorcycles, a higher in-patient mortality for motorcyclists, and worse neurological damage for motorcyclists. While those are all painful logical results, the numbers paint an even more grim picture.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association’s (GHSA) projections, motorcycle fatalities are set to fall for the second year in a row. The GHSA report projections come from data set in 2014, and it suggests that once tallied, we will know that 4,584 fatalities occurred in 2014. That figure is 1.8% less than 2013’s fatality count of 4,668. This is the second year in a row that motorcycle fatalities have dropped, and only the third decrease in fatalities since 1997. While this trend is good news, the GHSA is quick to point out that motorcycle fatalities are still 26% higher than they were 10 years ago, a staggering figure since other motor vehicle fatalities are 28% lower.

According to a preliminary report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), motorcycle fatalities dropped 7% for 2013. The drop is the second time in five years that fatalities on a motorcycle have decreased (the last drop was in 2009), with 4,610 motorcyclists dying last year, compared to the 4,957 in 2012. The report by the GHSA is based off the first nine months of 2013, and shows that fatalities dropped in 35 states (along with the District of Columbia), increased in 13 states, and remained the same in 2 states. Historically, motorcycle fatality trends have mirrored new motorcycle sales and new rider registration, though the AMA is holding fast to its “we don’t know what causes motorcycle crashes” argument.

In 2010, 439,678 motorcycles were sold in the United States. In that same year, 82,000 motorcyclists were injured in motorcycle crashes, and 4,502 were killed. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the direct cost of these motorcycle crashes was $16 billion or more. Thirty-times more likely to die in a vehicle accident, the typical fatal motorcycle crash costs an estimated $1.2 million according to the report, while non-fatal crashes range from $2,500 to $1.4 million depending upon the severity of the injuries and incidents. In making its recommendations to curtail the costs associated with motorcycle crashes, the GAO says that only effective measure is the mandatory use of a motorcycle helmet.

In a report released by the AMA, which used data collected by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), on-road motorcycle falatities dropped by at least 10% during 2009 when compared to the year before. In 2008 there were 5,290 motorcycle deaths on US highways,  but in 2009 this figure dropped to 4,762 deaths.

2008 was a record setting year not only in motorcycle sales, but also in motorcycle fatalities. Conversely, 2009 saw a massive reduction in motorcycle sales, and a 180° turn in motorcycle fatalities. With the upward trend of total deaths mirroring the trend of increasing motorcycle sales, and now also mirroring the recent downward trend in motorcycle sales, the correlation would seem obvious, if not logical.