Motorcycle Fatalities Rise by 8.3 % According to Recent NHTSA Report

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) announced the release of a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concerning traffic crashes and fatalities for 2015.  Of particular interest to motorcyclists is the fact that motorcycle fatalities rose 8.3 % between 2014 and 2015.  This report comes roughly four months after a similar report was issued by the Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) which predicted a 10% rise in motorcycle fatalities for 2015.  I have included links to both reports at the end of this article.

While any increase in motorcycle fatalities is unwelcomed news, this latest report should not be met with panic or knee jerk reactions.  It is important to keep in mind that traffic fatalities as a whole rose in 2015.  According to the NHTSA report, traffic fatalities rose by 7.2 %, with many segments of the transportation community seeing larger increases than motorcyclists.  Van related fatalities rose by 9.3%, while SUV related fatalities rose by 10.1%.  Pedestrian fatalities rose by 9.5%, and pedalcycling related fatalities rose by 12.2%.  It is also important to point out that the 2015 increase in motorcycle fatalities comes after two straight years in which motorcyclists saw decreases in fatalities.

The report failed to draw conclusions as to the reason for the rise in either motorcycle fatalities or traffic fatalities as a whole.  However, with regard to motorcycle fatalities, the NHTSA report points out two specific findings.  One is that all age groups saw increases in motorcycle fatalities except for riders nineteen and under; they saw a decrease of 8.7%.  The other issue specific to motorcycle fatalities concerns states with universal helmet laws versus those which do not have such laws.  The report states that 58% of those killed in states without universal helmet laws were not wearing a helmet, compared to 8% in states with universal helmet laws.  I am not sure why NHTSA felt it was important to point that out.  One would expect more un-helmeted fatalities in states which allowed adults to choose whether or not to wear a helmet.  Motorcyclists as a whole are generally law abiding, and in the nineteen states which require motorcyclists to wear helmets we tend to wear helmets.  If NHTSA was attempting to draw a correlation between the lack of universal helmet laws and the 2015 rise in motorcycle fatalities, it failed to effectively do so.  The data does not support such a correlation.

According to this year’s GHSA report, thirty-one states saw motorcycle fatalities increase while only sixteen states saw a decrease. Of the nineteen states which currently have a universal helmet law, twelve experienced an increase in motorcycle fatalities in 2015.  Of the sixteen states which saw a decrease in motorcycle fatalities, only six have a universal helmet law.  The other ten either allow adults to make their own choice or have no law at all.  The sad truth is that motorcycle fatalities increased across the board.

So what does the NHTSA report mean?  As far as this humble writer can tell it means that 2015 was a bad year for motorists in the United States.  It means nothing more and nothing less. But that does not mean that motorcyclists should do nothing.  Regardless of whether motorcyclists see an increase in fatalities as we have this year, or whether we see a decrease as we have in the past few years, we should always be striving to improve motorcycle safety.  So here is a suggestion:  If you have not taken a course to improve your skills in the past few (or twenty – you know who you are) years, sign up for one.  There are great skills courses offered throughout the country.  If you are not a member of a state motorcycle rights organization which promotes motorcycle awareness and education, consider finding one.  Every state has them.  All of us have an interest in motorcycle safety.  Let’s make it a priority.

To go one step further, I’ll make each of you a deal.  In the next year I will take at least one of the many motorcycle courses offered which helps correct the bad habits that we all pick up, and which help us to hone the skills which can be critical in surviving an emergency situation.  I will also promise to take a more active role in promoting motorcycle awareness and education.  All I am asking is that you promise to do the same.  If we all agree to do this, not just in the next year but in all of the upcoming years, we may see fewer years like 2015.  You never know.  The life you save may be your own – or mine.

Matt Danielson
McGrath, Danielson, Sorrell & Fuller
The Motorcycle Law Group