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Motorcycle deaths jump higher in 2012

Consumer Reports News: April 24, 2013 12:09 AM

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A new study by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reflects a 9-percent increase in motorcycle deaths in 2012 to about 5,000 fatalities for the year. That marks the 14th year out of 15 that deaths have risen.

The GHSA report looked at each state's fatality counts for the first nine months of 2012 compared to 2011 to project the full year. Previous year projections based on this methodology have mirrored the final numbers. Thirty-four states have increased, 16 states decreased, and the District of Columbia stayed the same.

So, why are motorcycle deaths going up? There are a number of factors.

Visit our motorcycle buying guide for safety tips and buying advice.

When gas prices rise, motorcycle registrations do as well because their fuel-efficiency makes them an attractive transportation option, rather than just a fun ride. In addition, the improving economy means more people have disposable income to afford to buy a motorcycle. Weather is also a factor as warm, dry conditions encourage riding and 2012 recorded the warmest average temperature on record in 48 states. Ultimately, fatalities increase when more motorcycles are on the road.

But there is another key factor: the repeal of state helmet laws. Currently, only 19 states require all riders to wear a helmet, which is down from 26 states in 1997.

There are ways to reverse these troubling trends. The GHSA recommends states address six specific issues, which can help prevent crashes and injuries.

  • Increase helmet use and make it a federal requirement. Helmets are 37-percent effective at preventing deaths for riders.
  • Don't drink and ride. In 2011, 42 percent of riders killed in single-bike crashes had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher.
  • Don't speed. In fatal single-vehicle crashes, 48 percent of riders were speeding.
  • Get trained and condition getting a license on a certain amount of riding hours. Safety courses are widely available, but GHSA says states should look at times and convenience for people to attend.
  • Be properly licensed. In 2011, one out of five motorcycle drivers involved in fatal crashes didn't have a valid license.
  • Share the road. About half of motorcycle crashes involve another motor vehicle. Drivers need to be aware of motorcycles that may be hiding in blind spots and allow greater following distance. Likewise, motorcycle riders benefit from increasing their visibility by wearing bright clothes.

Consumer Reports also recommends that riders wear full gear, be visible on the road, and buy a bike that has antilock brakes (ABS). Recent data shows that motorcycles equipped with ABS were 37 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal crash than bikes without it.

See our full list of safety tips and our special motorcycle section with buying advice, reliability and owner satisfaction, and previews of the latest bikes.

Liza Barth

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