Motorcycle Accident Fatalities Down in 2017
We don’t usually associate motorcycle accident statistics with good news, but the Governors Highway Safety Association did just that in their latest report. Just in time for Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, the non-profit organization’s study revealed that fatalities related to motorcycle accidents dropped from 5,286 in 2016 to 4,990 in 2017.
One of the reasons for this drop is beyond our control: weather, but the others are most definitely not.
Factors that have helped contribute to this drop:
- Weather – Bad weather played a major role in this statistic as Mother Nature wreaked havoc on several regions of the country. Ridership in the Southeastern United States and Texas took a dip due to Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina. In parts of the Midwest and Northeast, a long, harsh winter kept motorcyclists off the roads for longer than expected as well.
- Increased Helmet Use – As of this writing, only three states don’t have any helmet laws. Some states have age-specific helmet laws for anyone under 21. Studies show that states with universal helmet laws have lower rates of head, brain, and facial injuries. Overall, motorcyclist helmet use increased overall, with the biggest jump among riders in the western U.S., where it went up from 74% in 2015 to 90% in 2016.
High-risk behaviors most associated with motorcycle accidents and fatalities:
- Impaired Riding – Impaired riding continues to claim a large number of motorcyclist lives. 25% of motorcyclists killed in accidents last year had elevated blood alcohol levels. In addition, the accident rate was 3% higher in states where marijuana has been legalized, as opposed to states where the use of the recreational drug is still restricted.
- Distracted Driving – Distracted driving comes in many forms. Most involve some sort of cellphone use. Incredibly, some motorists will take both hands off the wheel while their vehicle is in motion in order to take a call or text. The NHTSA equated a motorist taking their eyes off the road for just 5 seconds to them driving the length of a football field with their eyes closed.
A fender bender between two vehicles due to cellphone use can usually be classified as a fender bender. However, the same distracted motorist hitting a motorcyclist can result in severe injuries or even death for the much more vulnerable motorcyclist.
- Older Motorcyclists – 54% of all motorcycle fatalities in 2016 involved riders who were 40 and older. This is partially due simply to demographics. As the motorcycle rider population ages, the number of younger riders joining their ranks has not kept pace, so there just happen to be a larger number of older riders on the road.
But that only partially sheds light on this percentage. Older motorcyclists often have diminished faculties, such as slower reaction times. That, together with today’s more powerful motorcycles helps to explain why this group figures so prominently among the number of fatalities.
Efforts to Reduce Motorcycle Accidents and Fatalities:
- Ignition Locks – One idea being tested to reduce impaired riding fatalities involves the use of ignition interlocks. These devices, which connect to any ignition, can detect breath alcohol levels. If the device reads a blood alcohol level above that state’s limit, the motorcycle will not start.
Currently, 26 states require anyone convicted of a DUI to have one of these ignition interlocks on their vehicle or motorcycle.
- Combining Rider Education with Licensing – A whopping 27% of fatally injured motorcyclists were not carrying a valid driver’s license. Unlicensed riders are also more likely to be self-taught.
To combat this, several states have made the process of obtaining a motorcycle license more efficient while implementing safety training. For example, in a few states, riders who take a safety training course do not have to take the skills test portion of their motorcycle licensing test.
In spite of this good news, the fatality rate for motorcycle riders is still 28 times higher than for passenger vehicles. Hopefully, ongoing safety measures and awareness on the part of both motorists and motorcycle riders will help this downward trend in motorcycle accident fatalities continue in 2018.
 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Motorcycles (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 812 492). U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC; 2017. Available at https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812492