Our readers have probably noticed the increased attention media has been giving motorcycle users now and linking this activity to higher fuel costs and a greater number of accidents, among other things. A recent study by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) () confirms what many industry safety experts have long suspected about motorcycle accidents – motorcycle fatalities in the United States increased in 2006 for the ninth straight year roughly doubling over the last decade. In 1997, there were 2,110 fatalities connected with motorcycle accidents and that number climbed up to 4810 in 2006.
There is also another alarming trend. The injury accidents and fatal accidents are not only happening in the states traditionally associated with a high number of motorcycles and consequently, more accidents such as California, Texas and Florida. But the high number of motorcycle accident deaths is turning out to be part of a trend nationwide.
There are many factors that may have contributed to this trend. Motorcycles have become a part of popular culture in the United States. Celebrities, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, ride motorcycles. They are also becoming a popular mode of transport for baby boomers and for many others now, who have traded their gas-guzzling cars and sport utility vehicles for motorcycles, which are highly fuel efficient.
In 2007, GHSA asked State highway safety agencies to complete a survey detailing motorcycle safety activities in 2004, 2005 and 2006 designed to reverse the growing rate of motorcycle accidents. GHSA’s survey findings are startling.
First, the survey found that in each of the states the responsibility for motorcycle safety programs rests with different agencies including local law enforcement, state police and state departments of education, motor vehicles, transportation and so on. The survey also revealed that training and educating motorcycle owners continues to be a challenge for the states due to the sudden spurt in ownership
Helmet laws also vary from state to state. Currently 20 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have universal motorcycle helmet laws. Twenty seven states and Guam have laws that cover certain riders and three states have no motorcycle helmet laws. The reality is that proper helmet use varies widely across the country, the GHSA survey found. Especially in states with partial laws or no laws relating to helmet use, the study found that a majority of the motorcycle accident victims failed to wear helmets.
This is a disastrous trend knowing head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes. Proper helmet use reduces the fatality risk and is the crucial for lessening motorcycle accident-related head injuries. Helmet use has also dwindled nationwide. In 2006, 83 percent of motorcycles in states with universal helmet laws were wearing helmets compared with 90 percent in 2002.
The survey shows that although motorcycle riders and their passengers are more vulnerable to dangerous road condition than drivers of passenger vehicles and trucks, only 21 states and Puerto Rico said they consider motorcycle issues in road construction projects.
This study sheds light on many important issues that affect motorcycle riders. Dangerous roadways and improper maintenance of surface streets and freeways are extremely hazardous to motorcyclists. If we are to see any change in this nation-wide problem, government agencies in charge of maintaining these roadways must do a better job. Universal helmet laws must be passed and more importantly, enforced, in all states. Also, states should come up with licensing program for motorcycles, which requires them to get mandatory rider training and education. These simple steps will go a long way in reducing motorcycle accidents and fatalities.