U.S. motorcycle fatalities up 9 percent in 2012: Governor's safety group

Publish Date: 
Apr 25, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Motorcyclist accident deaths increased about 9 percent in 2012 to more than 5,000 lives lost nationwide, according to new projections from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

The new report – the first state-by-state look at motorcyclist fatalities that happened in 2012 – was authored by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. Hedlund is a former senior official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The increase is greater than the overall traffic fatality increase projected by the federal government and would be the 14th out of the last 15 years in which motorcyclist deaths increased. GHSA says this level of deaths closes in on an all-time high, and motorcyclists remain one of the few roadway user groups where no progress can be shown over the last decade.

Most states have reasonably complete fatality counts for at least the first nine months of 2012, enabling GHSA to confidently project the full year. Hedlund completed similar projections for GHSA for 2009, 2010 and 2011, all of which mirrored the final fatality numbers.

Comparing the first nine months of 2011 to 2012, motorcyclist fatalities increased in 34 states, decreased in 16 states and remained the same in the District of Columbia.

Increases occurred in every region and were quite significant in many cases. For example, motorcyclist fatalities jumped 32 percent and 29 percent in Oregon and Indiana, respectively, while Pennsylvania saw a more modest 8 percent uptick.

The GHSA attributes the fatality increase to more riders on the road: some take to motorcycles to beat high gas prices, while an improving economy may be encouraging more people to ride for recreation.

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"In my state, an improving economy and a longer window of nice weather meant there were more riders and riding days,” said Troy Costales, GHA immediate past president and head of Oregon's highway safety program. The fatality increase is disheartening. “Every motorcyclist deserves to arrive at their destination safely. These numbers represent real people. They are family, friends and neighbors."

In the study, Hedlund compared gas prices, motorcycle registrations, and motorcyclist fatality trends back to 1976. He found that for the entire period fatalities closely track registrations, with significant similarities from 1990 to 2008. As gas prices increased, motorcycle registrations and fatalities also rose.

The report also notes that 26 states had universal helmet laws in 1997, and only 19 have them now.

“There is a strong push in many states to repeal these laws, and no state has enacted a universal helmet law since Louisiana reinstated its requirement in 2004,” according to the report. (continued)