Motorcycle fatalities declining as weather keeps bikers off road

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If there's a redeeming quality to lousy weather, it's this: Experts say it led to a reduction in motorcycle crashes and fatalities.

In a report to be issued today, the Governors Highway Safety Association is projecting a 7 percent decline in motorcyclist deaths for last year, based on data for the first nine months of the year. It would be only the second reduction in the past 15 years.

In Pennsylvania, fatalities declined by 14 percent last year, to 181, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. That is the lowest total since 2004.

The year 2012 "was unseasonably warm and dry," leading to more riding and more fatalities, said Kara Macek, GHSA communications director. Colder, wetter conditions scaled back the fatality rate last year.

"We can't rely on bad weather to keep motorcyclists off the road," she said. "We have to do more."

A long upward trend in motorcycle registrations and travel has been accompanied by a steady increase in fatalities. In 1997, 2,116 motorcyclists were killed in crashes; by 2012, the yearly toll had risen to 4,957. Data for the first nine months of last year show a projected decrease to 4,610 deaths, according to the association.

While safety improvements to cars and trucks have helped to reduce fatalities, "the sad reality is that motorcycle safety hasn't improved overall in the last 15 years," Ms. Macek said.

In 1997, the fatality rate was 5.53 per 10,000 motorcycle registrations; in 2011, the rate was relatively unchanged, at 5.46. Over the same period, the fatality rate for passenger vehicles fell by nearly 50 percent, according to GHSA.

In 2011, motorcycles accounted for six times more fatalities per registration than passenger vehicles, the association said.

The easiest way to improve motorcycle safety is to require helmet use, Ms. Macek said. "It would be great if people wore helmets without being required to, but the data shows you need a law."

Only 19 states require all riders to wear helmets. Pennsylvania's universal helmet law was repealed in 2003, and the state now requires them only for riders younger than 21 and for older riders in the first two years of having a license, unless they complete a safety course.

PennDOT, which is observing Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, is urging riders to take advantage of free training available to anyone with a Pennsylvania motorcycle license or learner's permit. A basic training course consists of five hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours of on-bike activity in a parking lot, followed by written and skills tests.

More information about the course and training for more advanced riders is available at the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program website, www.pamsp.com.


Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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