Motorcycle Deaths Decrease in 2009

Fewer Motorcyclists Die in 2009

PICKERINGTON, Ohio — In what can only be considered good news for motorcyclists, federal officials have reported that motorcycling deaths on the nation’s roads dropped by 16 percent in 2009 compared to the previous year, according to the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA).

“The death of any motorcyclist is one too many, so this news that fatalities are down is encouraging,” said Ed Moreland, AMA senior vice president for government relations. “While we are pleased that the number of motorcycling fatalities dropped dramatically in 2009, a one-year drop isn’t a trend. We need to determine why, and ensure that the decline continues.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported on Sept. 9 that motorcycling fatalities in 2009 decreased for the first time in more than a decade — dropping to 4,462 in 2009 from 5,312 in 2008. (Click here to read the press release from NHTSA.)

Federal officials said traffic deaths involving all vehicles nationwide fell 9.7 percent in 2009 — from 37,423 in 2008 to 33,808. The figure is the lowest since 1950. Traffic safety officials said that the decrease may be due to increased seat belt use, tougher enforcement of drunk driving laws and improved vehicle safety features.

According to NHTSA figures, motorcycling fatalities have decreased in the past — from 1980 to 1997 — but then fatalities increased steadily for 11 years. 2,294 motorcyclists were killed in 1998, and the number of fatalities rose each subsequent year, reaching 5,312 in 2008.

Moreland cautioned that there will be speculation about why motorcycling fatalities are down so significantly in 2009, and noted that there aren’t any solid answers.

“The motorcycling community looks forward to receiving some real answers about motorcycle crashes and what causes them from the new federal crash causation study that is under way at Oklahoma State University (OSU) through the Oklahoma Transportation Center in Stillwater,” Moreland said. “Then we can put our heads together to find solutions, reduce crashes and save more lives.”

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is overseeing the just-begun, four-year, $3 million OSU study, which is the first major research on the subject in 30 years.

The last major study into the causes of motorcycle crashes was issued in January 1981. Called “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures Volume I: Technical Report,” the study became known as the “Hurt Report,” named after lead researcher Hugh “Harry” Hurt of the University of Southern California. Hurt was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2007 for his pioneering work.

That study provided a wealth of data that has been used by organizations and individual motorcyclists to help keep riders safer on the road. But the traffic environment has changed enormously in the decades since, prompting the AMA to begin campaigning for a new study several years ago.

About the American Motorcyclist Association
Since 1924, the AMA has protected the future of motorcycling and promoted the motorcycle lifestyle. AMA members come from all walks of life, and they navigate many different routes on their journey to the same destination: freedom on two wheels. As the world’s largest motorcycling rights organization, the AMA advocates for motorcyclists’ interests in the halls of local, state and federal government, the committees of international governing organizations, and the court of public opinion. Through member clubs, promoters and partners, the AMA sanctions more motorsports competition and motorcycle recreational events than any other organization in the world. AMA members receive money-saving discounts from dozens of well-known suppliers of motorcycle services, gear and apparel, bike rental, transport, hotel stays and more. Through the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, the AMA preserves the heritage of motorcycling for future generations. For more information, please visit AmericanMotorcyclist.com.


Motorcycle Fatalities Decrease 10% In 2009

A report released  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.

State By State Breakdown of Fatalities