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Preventing motorcycle fatalities

April 8, 2013

As motorcycle ridership grows throughout America, so do related safety concerns – and motorcycle fatalities. Across the country, transit departments and safety organizations are introducing new ways to keep drivers traveling on all wheels safe.

High on the list of safety concerns for motorcyclists is the issue of driving under the influence. Anti- drunk driving programs are often geared to vehicle drivers, yet appropriate outreach is needed for motorcyclists as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that “the percentage of intoxicated motorcycle riders in fatal crashes is greater than the percentage of intoxicated drivers on our roads.”

Motorcyclists account for an outsized proportion of road deaths in study after study. Via Peachy Weasel; licensed under Creative Commons.

According to study after study, motorcyclists account for an outsized proportion of road deaths. Via Peachy Weasel; licensed under Creative Commons.

The statistics speak for themselves. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motorcyclists are part of a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to drunk driving fatalities. Among motorcyclists killed in fatal crashes in 2010, twenty-eight percent had a blood alcohol content level of .08% or higher. Almost half of the alcohol-impaired motorcyclists killed yearly are age 40 or older; and drivers between the ages of 40-44 have the highest percentage of fatalities with BAC levels of .08% or above.

motorcyclists in training at Fort Bragg

Motorcycle training is a key component to reducing driving fatalities. Photo by Eve Meinhardt/Paraglide; licensed under Creative Commons.

In an effort to address the fact that motorcycle-related fatalities have soared by 55% since 2000, motorcycle safety programs throughout the country aim to educate motorcyclists and car drivers alike about the impact of safe habits.

In California, home of the most registered motorcycles in the country, a state grant now permits Riverside, CA -area police to target motorists driving illegally or unsafely, as well as those who appear to be under the influence, in a special enforcement operation. The targeted operation is staged in areas where motorcycle-related crashes and fatalities have taken place.

California is a fitting state to reconsider motorcycle safety, though it’s not the only one to do so. As The Press Enterprise reports, more motorcycles than vehicles were registered from 2001 to 2010 in the state. From 2006 to 2008, reports the newspaper, deaths involving motorcycle riders rose sharply; and early estimates for 2011 fatalities suggest a rise throughout the state. In fact, California is home to more registered private and commercial motorcycles in the U.S than any other state in the country, according to 2010 statistics. (Differing sources report between 743,000 and 808,000 registered bikes.)

Yet other areas throughout the country feel the need for speed too. Florida boasts approximately 594,000 registered motorcycles; Texas, 428,000; and Pennsylvania, 411,000. In comparison, the birthplace of Harley-Davidson, the state of Wisconsin, is home to 322,000.

Various states are pioneering new motorcycle safety initiatives as well. The Illinois Department of Transportation’s “Gear Up Ride Smart” motorcycle safety campaign premiered in March. A joint effort between state police and awareness organizations, the “Gear Up Ride Smart” program aims to inform Illinois riders about appropriate safety gear, licensing procedures and the perils of driving while under the influence. It’s a necessary campaign: According to the state’s transit department, three percent of Illinois’ registered vehicles are motorcycles, yet motorcycle deaths result in over fifteen percent of all vehicle fatalities. Illinois had approximately 350,000 registered motorcycles as of 2010.

Motorcycle crossing sign

It’s easy to miss a motorcycle that’s driving in your blind spot. Signage can remind motorists to keep an eye out. Via

In Minnesota, which had approximately 255,000 registered motorcycles as of 2010, the Department of Public Safety’s Motorcycle Safety Center division is providing training courses in response to the 50 motorcycle rider fatalities reported last year. That figure was up twenty-six percent from 2011.

Yet these often-grave statistics harbor hope, too. In California, an increase in safety initiatives and public awareness programs like these has been linked to decreased motorcyclist fatalities.

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Category: Motorcycles, Resources, Road safety

About the Author ()

Katy is a writer, reporter and editor who, in addition to writing for RoadTrafficSigns, has worked with the United Nations Development Programme, Hamptons magazine, Hearst Corporation, The Daily Mail, People Magazine, and a variety of other publications and nonprofits. After graduating with honors from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and distinctions on her thesis and in the consumer journalism seminar, she moved to Milan, Italy. In Italy, she worked as a writer and consultant for an international magazine, editing and translating text and reporting on such events as the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the annual design fair. A born and raised New Yorker, she has lived in three of five boroughs, relying quite a bit on public transport until getting her driver's license at the admittedly belated age of 21.
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