New study shows motorcycle deaths are not declining

Consumer Reports News: May 23, 2012 03:08 PM

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As Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month rolls toward Memorial Day weekend, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has released a sobering report that finds no progress was made in reducing motorcyclist deaths in 2011. Motorcycle deaths remained at about 4,500 last year, based on preliminary data from 50 states and the District of Columbia. There are numerous factors at play, but not all the news is bad.

The GHSA study found that when comparing data from the first nine months of 2010 to the same period in 2011, 23 states saw a decrease in motorcycle fatalities. Notably, Connecticut saw deaths drop by 37 percent, North Carolina declined by 21 percent, and New York saw its numbers fall 16 percent. A combination of helmet laws, safety education, and law enforcement are cited as key factors in reducing deaths.

However, there are efforts that are undermining motorcycle safety. For instance, some states have rescinded helmet laws, or have legislation pending to do so. (Currently, only 19 states have universal helmet laws.) And there are more motorcyclists hitting the road, in part due to the pursuit of lower commuting costs. The industry has seen sales increase in some segments this year; Harley-Davidson in particular just posted strong sales. These insights point to new, less-experienced riders hitting the road.

A total of 26 states, plus the District of Columbia, saw an increase in fatalities.

To change this trend, the GHSA recommends that states take the following actions:

  • Increase helmet use.

  • Reduce alcohol impairment.

  • Reduce speeding.

  • Provide motorcycle training.

  • Encourage drivers to share the road.

Naturally, there is much that individual riders can do to help stay safe. It starts with attending a thorough motorcycle rider training course, such as those widely offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. If you currently ride, but haven't attended such a course for years, there are refresher courses designed specifically for experienced riders that can help sharpen skills.

The right protective gear can make a real difference. I've heard several riders recently advise, "Dress for a crash, not fashion." Without the benefit of a car's steel cage, motorcyclists must depend on the riding gear as the only source of accident protection. The right gear includes a DOT-approved helmet (ideally full faced), leather or other reinforced jacket, non-slip boots, and gloves.

Visibility is also important. Wear brightly colored, reflective clothing and helmet, always have your lights on, use your directional signals, and avoid cars' blind spots. When shopping for a bike, consider a colorful one. Further, we encourage choosing one that has antilock brakes.

Motorcycling can be a great escape, but the safety disadvantage is inherent. Hopefully through smart laws and proactive riders, we'll see these grim figures trend downward in the future.

See our motorcycle and scooter buying advice.

Motorcyclists name perceived threats, and they are you
Tips to make the roads safer for cars and motorcycles
Survey reveals perceptions and dangers of motorcycle lane splitting

Jeff Bartlett

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