The NHTSA recently released its preliminary figures for its 2006 motor vehicle crash safety assessment. The overall numbers show a small 2% decline in overall car accident deaths, but that bit of good news was overshadowed by a disturbing trend: motorcycle accident deaths once again increased, marking the 9th straight year in a row that motorcycle accident deaths have increased.
The numbers of people killed on motorcycles is staggering. Motorcycle accident deaths reached 4,810 people in 2006. This represents a 5.1% increase in fatalities for motorcycle riders and motorcyclists now represent 11% of total motor vehicle highway accident deaths in 2006.
The rise in motorcycle accidents and deaths has many causes. First, it is partly a numbers game. There are just more motorcyclists out there today than in years past. Second, there is continuing resistance and active lobbying by many biker organizations against helmet use. Groups such as ABATE have been so successful in challenging motorcycle helmet laws that these laws have now been repealed in 30 states. Unfortunately, this comes at a time when motorcycles are becoming more powerful than ever before. Most of the wrongful deaths involving motorcycles involve those with engines of 1,000 to 1,500 cubic centimeter displacement. These are the big, heavy cruiser models that are most commonly associated with the romance and danger of biker culture today. They are also exceedingly dangerous: adjusted for miles traveled, motorcycle riders are 34 times more likely to die in a motorcycle accident than occupants of passenger cars, according to NHTSA.
Alcohol continues to play a role in too many motorcycle deaths every year. While personal injury lawyers typically represent motorcycle riders who have been seriously injured because of the carelessness of other drivers, this is a small percentage of motorcycle accidents. In fact, the majority of motorcycle accidents involving motorcyclists who are killed had blood alcohol levels above the .08 legal limit in Michigan. Speeding also exacts a toll, and along with alcohol it represents a murderous combination for motorcyclists. Speeding is found to be at least a partial cause in roughly 1/3 of all motorcycle deaths. The full report can be found at www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/810791.