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 Only 19 states require riders to wear helmets, Michigan just repealed its compulsory helmet law and five other states are considering such measures.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.