A just-released report shows that motorcycling fatalities nationwide dropped by at least 10 percent in 2009, which is the first decline in 12 years, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) reports.
Based on preliminary data, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which represents the state highway safety offices nationwide, projects that motorcycling deaths declined from 5,290 in 2008 to 4,762 or fewer in 2009. The projection is based on data collected from the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The report, released April 22, is based on a survey of GHSA members, who reported fatality numbers for their states. The GHSA notes that while data are still preliminary, most states have final fatality counts for at least nine months of 2009, giving GHSA confidence to predict that the death count will be down by at least 10 percent for the year.
The GHSA cautioned that the report only involves one year, so it’s too soon to predict a steady decline.
"We will need to see three to five years of decline before we are ready to say that a positive trend has developed," said GHSA Chairman Vernon Betkey.
In fact, the report points out that fatalities have significantly decreased in the past but then rose again. For example, from 1980 to 1997 motorcycling fatalities dropped by almost 60 percent. But then fatalities increased steadily from 1997 through 2008.
2,294 motorcyclists were killed in 1998, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which gathers its data from the same sources as the GHSA. That number increased steadily each year, reaching 5,290 in 2008.
"The death of any motorcyclist is one too many, so this news that fatalities are down is encouraging," said Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations. "While we are pleased that the number of motorcycling fatalities dropped dramatically in 2009, we need to see that trend continue."
Moreland cautioned that there will be speculation about why the numbers are down so significantly in 2009, and noted that there aren’t any solid answers.
"The motorcycling community looks forward to getting some real answers about motorcycle crashes and what causes them from the new federal crash causation study that is getting under way," Moreland said. "Then we can put our heads together to find solutions, reduce crashes and save more lives."
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) formally announced the new crash causation study on Oct. 5. The FHWA is overseeing the four-year, $3 million study, which is being conducted by Oklahoma State University through the Oklahoma Transportation Center in Stillwater, Okla.
The last major study into the causes of motorcycle crashes was issued in January 1981. Called "Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures Volume I: Technical Report," the study became known as the "Hurt Report" after lead researcher Harry Hurt of the University of Southern California. Hurt was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2007 for his pioneering work.
That study provided a wealth of data that has been used by organizations and individual motorcyclists to help keep riders safer on the road. But the traffic environment has changed enormously in the decades since, prompting the AMA to begin campaigning for a new study several years ago.