The numbers haven't been definitively crunched, but it is expected that the estimated 32,310 traffic fatalities in 2011 were the lowest on record in the 62 years that records have been kept. Yet the good news about the total number of fatalities masks regrettable news for traffic safety authorities: automobile fatalities are down, but motorcycle fatalities are up.

After a steady rise in motorcyclist death rates through the first decade of the new century, numbers fell in 2009 and the beginning of 2010. Observers hoped the trend would continue, but that didn't happen when deaths ticked up slightly over the course of 2010 and stayed steady through 2011.

Causes are varied, from high gas prices leading more people to ride motorcycles to inadequate training for both riders and automobile drivers on how to ply the roads safely. A report breaking down the numbers also "noted that 29 percent of fatally injured riders in 2010 had a blood-alcohol concentration at or above the legal limit, and 35 percent of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding." It didn't, however, indicate how much of those numbers overlapped – how many of those riders were over the limit when they died.

Nor does it look like current developments will allay the trend in the near-term. Only 19 states require riders to wear helmets, Michigan just repealed its compulsory helmet law and five other states are considering such measures. Again, the overall number of fatalities is welcome news considering how many more people and cars there are on the roads now compared to 1949, but the takeaway for motorcyclists is that there is now more reason to be extra careful when you ride.


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  • 42 Comments
      Drakkon
      • 2 Years Ago
      I worked as a claims adjuster in St Louis for 5 years. We did cycle claims in Missouri and Illinois. Missouri has a helmet law. Illinois does not. If I did a Missouri claim, the rider was an crutches or in a collar, or arm in a sling, but I handled the damaged bike claim with the person who was on the bike. In Illinois, I probably did 100 claims and spoke to the person ON THE BIKE maybe 20% of the time. Many were dead, most were at least in the ICU. 80% of the time, I was talking with the wife, sister or dad. I had a few dead riders in Missouri, I had many live riders in Illinois, but the difference couldn't be more stark than when you are on the border between states with and without helmet laws. If you ride a bike, please wear a helmet, even if the nanny state doesn't tell you you are required to.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Drakkon
        [blocked]
          Xedicon
          • 2 Years Ago
          Freedom yes, stupid no. I ride and live in a state without a helmet law, and I still wear a helmet. You're correct that you should be able to skip wearing a helmet if you don't want to, but it's rather selfish if you think about it. How many people love / depend / care for you out there that would be devastated if you died because you didn't have a helmet on? Riding a bike is still an awesome experience even with a helmet on, I really hope you start thinking about plopping one on your head.
          Termin8
          • 2 Years Ago
          Hope you're not serious.
          EXP Jawa
          • 2 Years Ago
          You've got a lot more freedom to do, well, anything when you're alive. I understand that being dead is pretty limiting...
          rsholland
          • 2 Years Ago
          @SVX pearlie: You want to ride without a helmet, be my guest. Hope you end up being an organ donor, and sooner rather than later.
          T. C.
          • 2 Years Ago
          You can have the "right" (it's actually a privilege) to ride without a helmet when you take responsibility and pay for enough insurance to cover any and all of you potential injuries, up to and including enough disability insurance to provide you residence in a nursing home for the rest of your life should you become grossly disabled, such as paralyzed, comatose or suffering TBI. Until you're willing to do that, the rest of us are on the hook for your upkeep if you "gork" yourself, so we get a say in how you will conduct yourself when you ride.
      Polly Prissy Pants
      • 2 Years Ago
      Bikes are actually pretty safe, it's just that they're typically ridden by people who like to tempt death. Oh sure, they blame it on the "cagers" but personal observations tell a different story. It's like the cyclists who rage on and on about how rude car drivers are to them, yet all I ever see is polite drivers and cyclists who consistently blow through stop signs and crosswalks, cut between cars at lights and run through on red, then in thew same breath demand that others "share the road" and stop being such dicks. And this is coming from someone who likes to ride. For every biker I see driving calmly in traffic, I see two cutting lanes, swerving through rush hour traffic and speeding considerably faster than the naturtal flow of traffic around them. They give the rest of us a bad name.
        EXP Jawa
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Polly Prissy Pants
        Much of the same could be said about bicyclists. I'm an active one myself, and I see other riders do things that make me cringe all the time...
      Termin8
      • 2 Years Ago
      I started riding at around age 10. Raced for several years both on and off-road. Started on a mini-bike and slowly made my way up to an 1100 sport bike (about 20 years). Gave up riding back in 1994 after a serious accident made me re-evaluate my mortality. Bottom line, bikes are absolutely the greatest way to get on down the road or trail but, they ARE dangerous. And regardless how careful you are, they are substantially more dangerous than a car. Anyone with a reasonable degree of intelligence should realize that when faced with a potentially dangerous situation, you should take as many steps as reasonable possible to reduce said danger. those who simply laugh in the face of danger may feel like the brave heroes in movies etc but in reality, they are simply stupid. Oh, and on a personal note. I have another pet peeve and that would be the saying "loud pipes save lives" Again, anyone with a reasonable degree of intelligence, and knowledge of the laws of physics should understand that loud pipes are only annoying to those within ear-shot of them. Riders with them, are only showing they are seriously insecure.
      Mr. Z
      • 2 Years Ago
      Cars are getting safer everyday, where as the basic accident of a motorcycle has not changed in 100 years
        GVIrish
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Mr. Z
        Motorcycle safety hasn't improved nearly as much as cars but there are quite a few improvements. ABS is making it's way to a lot of bikes now, and traction control is available on all but 2 of the open class supersports. The Goldwing has an available airbag, and airbag vests/jackets are starting to come down in price. Still, what it comes down to is the biggest factor in motorcycle safety is the rider. Not enough riders take even the most basic of rider training, and the MSF class needs updating. Then there's the whole drinking and riding thing.
          Termin8
          • 2 Years Ago
          @GVIrish
          I agree but, you are forgetting that while there are "some" technical improvements that help save riders lives, the fact that so many are stupid enough to ride without a helmet, pretty much negates those improvements.
        Brandon Allen
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Mr. Z
        Well, cars more easily harm others by hitting them them or carrying additional people. The government pushes for higher crash standards to protect the greater public. Motorcycles are hard to improve first off. Secondly, they remain legal and less regulated because they so rarely cause harm to anyone but the rider. Even helmet laws stay loose for that reason. In a car, it's less about the driver as it is about kids and other potential passengers.
      McCurley Dealerships
      • 2 Years Ago
      It is hard to believe that only 19 states require helmets for motorcyclists. Even if the rider is driving safely and obeying all laws and speed limits, the possibility to get hit by distracted drivers is so high. Wearing a helmet could save your life!
      Johnny-wat
      • 2 Years Ago
      I rode while I was Stateside (too dangerous here in Malaysia. Cars do not give two ***** what you're riding/driving. They WILL run you over with the first reason you give them). I firmly believed in ATGATT. I've wrecked my bike before, which sent me flying through the air and onto the ground. And you know what? I barely felt anything. My head hit the ground first. I felt nothing. I kept my scratched up Scorpion EXO-900 helmet as a reminder. I frankly do not see a reason to NOT wear a helmet. Besides keeping your head in one piece, it also serves to protect you from the elements when you're flying down the highway at 70mph. Sunglasses won't do ****, and squinting for a 3 hour ride is painful. But I also do not see a reason to legislate helmet laws. If someone else wants to ride helmet free, that is his choice. Afterall, when he smacks into another car, the car ends up with a dent, while he ends up paving the road with marinara sauce. No big deal to anyone else except the rider and his/her family.
        T. C.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Johnny-wat
        Except when "Tony Marinara" ends up disabled, and spends the rest of his life in a nursing home due to his injuries, the rest of us get to shoulder the expense after his insurance (if he even has any) runs out. The government has a vested interest in regulating the behaviour of individuals when that behaviour has adverse impacts on the lives of the general public, as is the case with helmet laws.
      Detrich
      • 2 Years Ago
      A lot of great comments so far... I'd like to add that most drivers simply don't realize how vulnerable motorcyclists are on the road and often misinterpret motorcyclists' defensive riding actions as "aggressive riding." For example, lane splitting is actually legal in some states such as California. And, it helps keep motorcyclists mentally alert & awake by preventing early heat exhaustion or dehydration on hot days in stop-and-go traffic- given that motorcyclists are physically exposed to the elements and often already wearing warm, protective gear... It also helps prevent the motorbike engines from over-heating. Second, stopping between cars at red lights at stop signs helps prevent motorcycles from getting rear-ended, which happens more frequently than drivers realize, simply because drivers are looking out for other cars and not the "thin vertical line" (aka human popsicle) that motorcyclists appear as. Thirdly, moving slightly faster than the speed of traffic in the fast lane helps protect motorcyclists by making them slightly more visible, and ensure merging traffic only comes from the right side, thereby reducing exposure on both sides of the lane. It would be great to see DMVs educate and make the driving public more aware of motorcyclists. Likewise, it is also the responsibility of motorcyclists to ride safely, responsibly, and not abuse the privileges.
        T. C.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Detrich
        Whole lotta rationalization for d-bag behariour from bikers.
        Agilis
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Detrich
        Anything can be rationalized. Just takes both time and effort.
      Kuro Houou
      • 2 Years Ago
      I just don't get how things like seat belts can be required by federal law but a helmet can't. Seriously, if they want to save some lives make everyone wear a helmet. I guess if they don't though its just Darwinism at work, the smart survive and the not so smart, well good luck to them as they skid across the pavement. Not trying to be mean, I've had two bikes in my life, fallen once as well but was fine due to wearing the right gear. But it just surprises me every time I see someone wearing flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt with just a brain bucket on their head or nothing at all. Especially if they are flying down the highway cutting through traffic.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Kuro Houou
        [blocked]
      Sir Duke
      • 2 Years Ago
      This article doesn't say a whole lot. The main contributing factor to motorcycle fatalities was is and will always be the rider. Stupid, irresponsible riders very often go on to become wonderful organ donors. The second biggest factor is selfish disrespectful drivers. Neither of those issues can be regulated by the Feds. Recently did a NYC to Chicago road trip. My son who was learning to drive at the time, got in a lot of wheel time. Our return trip was a warm sunny saturday, early spring. Motorcycles were out in numbers especially on Rte 78 in Pa. I spent three hours teaching him how to drive/share the road with motorcyclists. He now shares with his friends. I love motorcycles, never owned one. It will be the first purchase I make after I am either widowed or divorced, whichever comes first.
        Car Guy
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Sir Duke
        "It will be the first purchase I make after I am either widowed or divorced, whichever comes first." We see who wears the pants in the "Duke" house............
          Sir Duke
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Car Guy
          Actually you're wrong, my wife likes motorcycles. She wouldn't mind if I went out and bought one. I just know me. I buy a bike now, I would be buying a whole new lifestyle, that won't necessarily be good for my current lifestyle.
      EvilTollMan
      • 2 Years Ago
      Not to sound insensitive or anything but that picture is hilarious.
      Jonathan Arena
      • 2 Years Ago
      Two words: Stability Control. It's on every car these days, and saves people from thier own bad driving.
      Car Guy
      • 2 Years Ago
      And yet more and more states are dropping helmet laws. Nice.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Car Guy
        [blocked]
        Termin8
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Car Guy
        Sounds rather counter-productive, huh?
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