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In a preliminary report, the Governors Highway Safety Association recently indicated a 10% drop in motorcycle related fatalities around the U.S. in 2009. This decline marks the first such improvement in over a decade as deaths have been on the rise consistently from 1997 onward.

Are we really seeing improvement in motorcycle safety, equipment and riding ability? Likely not. As the old saying goes, numbers don't lie, and the drop in fatal injury's comes on the heels of the most extreme decline in motorcycle sales in recent history, which no doubt helped put the brakes on the awful upward trend.

The report goes on to attribute everything from the economy and aging baby boomers to increased training efforts from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation from coast-to-coast. Oh yeah, and we almost forgot the bad weather! Although it may seem that the GHSA can't seem to pick a clear cut reason for the drop, we can only hope history will not repeat itself in this instance, allowing this positive trend to continue. To see the full report and suggestions for increased safety, hit the jump for the release.

[Source: Hell For Leather]
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New Study: Motorcycle Deaths Down Dramatically in 2009

Fatalities Decline at Least 10%; First Drop in 12 Years

WASHINGTON, D.C.-A report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that motorcycle fatalities declined in 2009 by at least ten percent. Based on preliminary data, GHSA is projecting that motorcycle fatalities declined from 5,290 in 2008 to 4,762 or less in 2009. The projection is based on data from 50 states and the District of Columbia. The declines come on the heels of 11 straight years of dramatic increases in motorcyclist deaths.

The new report–the first state-by-state look at motorcycle fatalities in 2009–was completed by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. Dr. Hedlund surveyed GHSA members, who reported fatality numbers for every state. While data are still preliminary, most states have quite complete fatality counts for at least nine months, making GHSA confident to forecast that deaths are down at least ten percent for the full year.

GHSA is projecting declines in approximately three-fourth of states. The declines are notable in many states and in every region of the country. In California, for example, based on data for the first nine months, motorcycle deaths are predicted to be down 29 percent, while Florida and New York are down 27 and 16 percent, respectively.

As part of the report, GHSA members were asked to suggest reasons for the decline. States offered several reasons, including: less motorcycle travel due to the economy, fewer beginning motorcyclists, increased state attention to motorcycle safety programs, and poor cycling weather in some areas. According to GHSA Chairman Vernon Betkey, "Clearly the economy played a large role in motorcycle deaths declining in 2009. Less disposable income translates into fewer leisure riders, and we suspect that the trend of inexperienced baby boomers buying bikes may have subsided."

Betkey notes that, as with decreases in the overall highway fatality rate, progress with motorcyclist deaths can be attributed to more than just the economy. According to Betkey, "Multiple states indicated that because of the increases in motorcyclist deaths from 1997-2008, addressing this area has been a priority for state highway safety programs." As more than half of motorcycle fatal crashes do not involve another vehicle, states have been increasingly funding targeted enforcement to ensure that motorcyclists are in compliance with laws regarding endorsements, required insurance and helmet usage. State and federal governments also have stepped up efforts to address drunk motorcyclists.

GHSA cautions that the declines in 2009, while significant and noteworthy after 11 years of increases, represent only one year of data, and much more work needs to be done to continue to achieve declines. According to Chairman Betkey, "We will need to see three to five years of decline before we are ready to say that a positive trend has developed." The new report notes that motorcycle fatalities have significantly decreased in the past, only to rise again. For example, from 1980-1997, motorcyclist deaths dropped almost 60 percent. Sadly, those gains were wiped out during the period of 1997-2008.

To continue progress, the report notes that states need to support efforts that do the following:

* Increase Helmet Use: The most recent data indicated that 41 percent of fatally-injured riders were not wearing helmets despite their proven effectiveness. Thirty states still do not have helmet laws covering all riders.
* Reduce Alcohol Impairment: Highly visible drunk driving enforcement that includes motorcyclists should be encouraged as should be training efforts that help police identify impaired motorcyclists.
* Reduce Speeding: According to the most recent data, 35 percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding. More than half of all motorcycle fatal crashes did not involve another vehicle, and speeding likely contributed to many of these.
* Provide Motorcycle Operator Training to All Who Need or Seek It: While all states currently conduct training courses, some areas may not provide enough course openings at the places and times when riders wish to be trained.

Preliminary data from 39 states that provided monthly totals are included in the report. Eleven other states and D.C. provided the researcher with preliminary annual totals; this information is available from GHSA.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 35 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Could part of it be that the wearing of helmets has become more prevalent? It wasn't that long ago that I remember a time when very few experienced riders wore a helmet (never-mind a helmet that actually protected against anything). Now, I rarely see anyone without a helmet, even in states that don't require it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I find that interesting considering here in the Chicago area there was some report of a motorcyclist getting hit/killed almost every week last summer (this report was for 2009).

      Most motorcycle accidents seem to stem from the following:
      1) motorcyclist doing stupid stunts/excessive speeding

      2) cagers being unaware of their environment and pulling out in front of or misjudging speed/distance of oncoming motorcycle (lot less visual cues on a motorcycle and motorcycles don't have enough size to accurately judge visually their speed).

      with I figure roughly 20% for #1 and 80% of accidents for #2.

      Hell, even driving a cage myself I find most motorists ignorant of their surroundings. Most motorcyclists that bother to take a safety course drive a lot better for it--I know I do. 2 most important rules: ATGATT and ride as if nobody can see you (defensive driving).
        • 4 Years Ago
        I think a major problem with these fatality reports is that they don't even differentiate between riders and states that are not using/requiring proper safety gear (i.e. helmets). I know... I know... personal freedoms, right to do what I want, it's my head I don't have to protect it if I don't want, etc... But the problem boils down to peer pressure. I don't care if you're 16 years old or 56 years old, if it's consider "un-cool" to wear protective gear people are afraid to look like a wuss. Like them, or loathe them, helmet laws require every rider to wear a helmet. Regardless of your riding type these laws give everyone "permission" from their peer group to wear a helmet because it's the law. If your state forces to wear a seat belt, the same logic should be used to force you to wear a helmet.

        Fortunately many in the sportbike community recognize this and practice ATGATT. I commute everday 40 minutes through LA traffic and I dress like I'm headed to the race track every single day, every single ride. It's not difficult to change once I'm at work. Even though we have a helmet law in CA, many chopper guys still wear the absolute minimum required by law.

        I would also add that many riders understand and accept the dangers of riding a motorcycle and give it the attention it deserves, while many/most drivers do not understand that navigating their car through traffic is dangerous and must also be exercised cautiously and attentively. I've never had a motorcyclist on a cell-phone swerve into my lange
        • 4 Years Ago
        +1 -> ATGATT

        The one time I've been down in my career (so far) was the one (and now only) time I've ever been without all my gear. Never again. Thankfully it was a slow lowside in a parking lot.
        • 4 Years Ago
        ATGATT saved my life. A Jeep pulled out in front of me a few years ago and I had my full race gear on. I walked away with a huge bruise and some road rash on my pinkies, but I'll never forget, the first thing to hit the street was my face. I then slid for a good 60 feet. If I was wearing a skull cap or even just a 3/4 helmet or a tshirt I'd of been FUBAR or dead.

        By the way, for those not in the know;
        ATGATT = All the Gear All the Time
      • 4 Years Ago
      For most, bikes are toys, not primary transportation, so less money = fewer bikes = fewer donorcycle fatalities. At the risk of this sounding bad and giving the wrong impression, bikes tend to be a bit more popular in the, uh, working class demographic so any economic hit there will have a disproportional effect.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I wonder if the rates of accidents are also weather correlated. With all the snow we got here in the Northeast, no one was taking the bike out for a spin this winter. Granted that isn't prime motorcycling season anyway, but...
        • 4 Years Ago
        Yeah, a 180 plus HP 400lb machine is a toy. If you think it is, then get on one and treat it like a toy. You can get back to me if you live.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Good.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is why I never pay attention to absolute numbers, always look at the rate: deaths per million miles ridden. The effect of population increase (or decrease) can totally hide a change in how likely an individual is to get hurt, no matter if it is motorcycles or slip-and-fall accidents.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Lucas' comment show a lot of ignorance, but there is a lot of truth behind it.

      I love sport bikes, and except for a couple of UJMs, have owned nothing but sport bikes in my 25 years of riding/racing (on the track, where it belongs). I've even toured on them, because I don't like the slow responses and sluggish handling of more "appropriate" bikes, let alone cars.

      And yet I also understand the hate so many people feel toward us. The morons who do the 90 mph wheelies through rush hour traffic and the other things he mentioned (except for lane splitting) do nothing but bring the rest of us down in the eyes of the public. And the police. And the insurance companies.

      Now don't get me started about the Harley crowd, or box jockeys in general, that's an entirely different rant. But I do understand how one a-hole on a bike will be more memorable than 20 motorcyclists who don't act like jerks.
      • 4 Years Ago
      On a more serious note... every rider should be required to take a MSF (or equivalent) course and should continually educate themselves when it comes to riding.

      We definitely need a "new and improved" driver education program. The lack of common skills and good head work on U.S. roads is stunning and is only getting worse.
        • 4 Years Ago
        whats interesting is that it seems that everyone blames all these fatalities on the bikers. What are the statistics concerning deaths of bikers where a car or truck isnt involved? I have never seen a real breakdown of this accident was a biker going to fast around a corner vs this biker was cut off and or ran off the road by a car or truck.

        True, most of the time bikes are traveling at a higher rate of speed than cars but I dont think that excuses people who change lanes into them.

        More education needs to be forced on all fronts.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Greed but if that's true, then the trend should be the opposite, right? I think there's simply less bikes on the road these days.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Well, a safer rider avoids bad car drivers better by riding in a safer manner. Popping a wheelie while splitting lanes at 60 mph isn't exactly safe behavior. Flying into a blind corner with your head or whole bike over the double yellow is a great way to get killed, but I see bikers do this and more all the time because they don't ride safely. Its one reason I don't ride in groups any more - too many squids with no respect.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Oops! Sorry. Meant "agreed".
      • 4 Years Ago
      Figure more accidents are caused by newbs. And like PPP said, less newbs able to invest in toys in 2009. Also assuming less traffic on the road in 2009...

      Although there have been some slight improvements in saftey (more bikes with abs, traction control) - I'm sure it pales in comparison to the increase of additional dangers (texting/driving distractions, more powerful /lighter bikes).

      This report is as expected...
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think it's mainly due to the Baby-Boomers moving on through the population. Many of us used to ride but we're either getting too old to ride, or too smart to be on the roads riding around all the idiots out there. Also, you have to realize that us here in the northeast, the roads are nowhere near as bike-friendly as they used to be. Crowded, over-policed, and in poor condition compared to when I used to ride. Even if my wife would let me, I can't see riding be much fun around here these days.
      • 4 Years Ago
      is that the best picture you could find? lol
      • 4 Years Ago
      Motorcycles aren't safe? Why haven't I heard about this before?

      /s
      • 4 Years Ago
      90% of sport bike drivers I encounter are complete a-holes with no regard for the lives of others, nor their own it would seem.

      To top it off they are arrogant beyond belief.

      "Watch our for bikers.... even way we do 90MPH wheelies, split lanes, and weave in and out of traffic."

      I hate sport bikes and grin when they spill.

      Lucas.
        • 4 Years Ago
        You hit on the key issue!

        I guess I don't care too much if these morons hit the shoulder and 90mph and eat dirt (as long as they are insured and I don't end up paying for it), it's that fact that I could easily kill one of them while they buzz my car and I'll end up having that on my conscience, not to mention deal with the inevitable lawsuit.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "90% of sport bike drivers I encounter"

        The key being "I encounter." Just my experience.
        • 4 Years Ago
        really? 90%? where do you get your facts? I could say the same thing about BMW drivers here in Chicago with the exception of doing wheelies.....

        I own a 2008 Kawasaki Ninja250 sportbike for several reasons:
        a) inexpensive/affordable
        b) one of the best bikes to learn on
        c) most forgiving if I make a mistake (don't have to worry about popping a wheelie if I blip the throttle)

        I've got 2,000 miles and counting and not ready to switch to what I really want which is a Harley. so please don't put all those sport bikers in the same bucket. thanks.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Have you always been a brainless jerk?
        • 4 Years Ago
        Can't argue with that too much. Just this past weekend I was almost startled into having an accident by some DA on a bike doing about 90 splitting lanes down the freeway between me and some random pickup. He was about 4 inches from instant death. Then his buddy comes right behind him. They slowed due to traffic ahead, then popped a wheelie going 60 and started weaving in and out of cars. No training course will fix that problem, and this is what people remember when they hear bikers complain about "cagers" needing better training.

        My first thought when I saw this was "this is why so many die on bikes" but then it quickly came to "I hope they don't kill themselves before my exit." I didn't want my kids to have to see it and I sure didn't want to get stuck behind a fatality accident. We would have been there for hours.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Just because a motorcycle is splitting lanes does not mean they are posing a threat to you. And while it may be true that doing wheelies is irresponsible in traffic I would highly doubt that it is the cause of a majority of accidents.

        Motorcyclists do not expect any special treatment from drivers other than a few basic things;

        1.) USE YOUR TURN SIGNALS, it isn't hard but many drivers can't be bothered to use them
        2.) DON'T DO ANYTHING QUICKLY, there is no reason to conduct "emergency lane changes" when you're just tooling along in traffic.
        3.) BE AWARE OF YOUR SITUATION, if you are attentive while driving you should be regularly checking your side and rear view mirrors in addition to scanning the lanes ahead. If you have properly adjusted your mirrors and use them you will not be SUPRISED when a motorcycle splits lanes next to you.
        4.) TREAT EACH LANGE CHANGE AS A SINGLE EVENT, change 1 lane at a time. If you need to change 2 or more lanes reset yourself and re-check your blind spots for each maneuever. Swinging across multiple lanes in one motion is dangerous for everyone on the road, not just bikes.

        If a motorcyclist is executing a splitting maneuver between you and another vehicle you don't need to do anything. The cyclist has already decided there is sufficient clearance and will quickly move past you minimizing the time between you and the other car. What you feel is "4 inches from death" might actually be 4 or 5 feet, but it is difficult for you to judge from your driver's seat.
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