Our friends at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have put out their 2018 report on motorcycle crashes and fatalities. The latest report focuses on data collected for the year 2016. According to NHTSA, motorcycle fatalities rose 5.1% between 2015 and 2016. The report also states that 25% of those fatalities were related to alcohol impairment. Finally, NHTSA indicates that the lack of mandatory motorcycle helmet laws nationwide is a contributing factor to the rise in motorcycle fatalities.
When you read the report, it is easy to conclude that motorcyclists have a serious safety problem on our hands, and to some degree I concur. All motorcyclists should be concerned when we see motorcycle fatalities rise. However, when we look at the 2016 data as a whole we get a more accurate picture.
While motorcycle fatalities were up by 5.1% in 2016, motor vehicle fatalities as a whole rose by 5.6%. The truth is that traffic fatalities as a whole have been on the rise for the past few years. For some reason, either intentionally or unintentionally, NHTSA seems to publish data on motorcycle fatalities in a subtly different way than it does data on motor vehicle fatalities as a whole.
In its overview of fatal motor vehicle crashes, NHTSA reported that the 5.6% increase in motor vehicle fatalities in 2016 is lower than the 8.4% increase from 2014 to 2015. No such language appears in NHTSA’s publication concerning motorcycle fatalities, despite the fact that the 5.1% increase in motorcycle fatalities in 2016 is lower than the 8% increase in motorcycle fatalities from 2014 to 2015.
Fatalities due to alcohol impairment are an overall traffic safety problem, not just a motorcycle problem. Because NHTSA issues a yearly report which focuses only on motorcycle fatalities and injuries, it is easy for people to conclude that many contributing factors are unique to motorcyclists.
In its latest report on motorcycle traffic fatalities, NHTSA claims that the 25% rise in alcohol-related motorcycle fatalities is the highest percentage of any other vehicle classification. Yet in its overview of fatal motor vehicle crashes, NHTSA reported that 28% of overall motor vehicle traffic fatalities in 2016 were due to alcohol impairment. That represents a 5.6% increase from 2015. From 2015 to 2016, there was only a 0.1% increase in motorcycle fatalities due to alcohol impairment. Let’s be clear: any traffic fatality due to alcohol impairment is one too many. That being said, alcohol-impaired driving is not a problem unique to motorcyclists.
Finally, and here is where I get in trouble with some of my readers, there is the assertion that the lack of motorcycle helmet laws nationwide is contributing to the rise in motorcycle fatalities. I am not advocating that anyone wear or not wear a motorcycle helmet if they happen to be in one of the thirty-one states that allow adults to make their own choice on the matter; I am merely presenting NHTSA’s own data as a whole so that each reader can make up his or her own mind.
First, NHTSA fails to explain why the lack of helmet laws has had an impact on the rise in motorcycle fatalities but not on motor vehicle fatalities as a whole, which have risen at a greater rate than motorcycle fatalities. Secondly, when we look at the motorcycle fatality rate per 100,000 registered motorcyclists between the jurisdictions that have mandatory motorcycle helmet laws and those that don’t, we see less than a 1% difference.
Finally, and perhaps most troubling, is what NHTSA considers to be a motorcycle for the purposes of the entire report on motorcycle fatalities. The report on motorcycle fatalities includes data from crashes involving not only two and three-wheeled motorcycles, but off-road motorcycles, mopeds, scooters, mini bikes, and pocket bikes. Data from accidents involving off-road motorcycles, mopeds, scooters, mini bikes, and pocket bikes, should not be used in any serious study of motorcycle fatalities, nor should such data be cited in any serious discussion on ways to reduce motorcycle traffic fatalities; doing so would be comparable to using data from fatalities involving four-wheelers and go-carts to formulate safety strategies for our nation’s highways.
At the end of the day, motorcycle fatalities have been up, and that is a bad thing. We motorcyclists have the primary responsibility to reverse this troubling trend. But it is not a trend unique to us; it is a problem shared by all motorists, and it is the responsibility of all motorists to solve the problem. While we could debate this complex issue for years, let me offer my personal advice:
- If you want to have a drink, leave the alcohol for after you are finished riding or driving for the day.
- Slow down and pay attention to others on the road.
Put down the telephone; that message can wait. Look less at the GPS and more at traffic around you. Missing a turn won’t run you nearly as late as plowing into the car or motorcycle in front of you. Stop playing with that sleek touch screen that your new vehicle came with. (Yes motorcyclists, I’m talking to you, too.)
Whether we are riding or driving, our primary responsibility is the safety of ourselves, our passengers, and each and every other motorist with whom we share the road.
Motorcycle Safety Tips
Each May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness month, according to the National Safety Council. Being safe is being prepared, alert and cautious while on and off the road. Here are some tips to keep you and others safe on the road:
- Know your tires. Some motorcycle tires are tubeless and some are not, so it’s important to become familiar with the type of tires you have on your bike. You should know your tires and whether or not you can give them a quick fix if you get a flat tire to get to a gas station or more air. One of our partners carries a CO2 cartridge and a tool that allows her to give her tires a quick blast of air should she need it.
- Check your tire pressure. Be sure you know what the optimal tire pressure is for your bike’s tires and check it every time you ride. Riding when your bike’s tire pressure is too low can damage the tire. Pressure which is too high reduces the contact patch with the road and tends to make your ride feel rougher; it can also cause the tires to heat more quickly.
- Assume that you are invisible. Just because the person behind the wheel of that SUV at the stop sign is looking at you does not mean that they are seeing you. Assume that the vehicles around you do not see you. As you approach intersections think about what you would do if the car stopped at the light suddenly pulled out. Be prepared to execute a panic stop, and identify possible escape routes. Just because you see them does not mean that they see you.
- Leave an escape route. Speaking of escape routes, when you come to a stop watch your rear view mirror for approaching vehicles who may not see that there is a motorcycle ahead. Leave enough distance between you and the vehicle in front of you so that if that happens you can get out of the way. Don’t wait at a light or stop sign with your bike in neutral. Have your bike in gear so that if you do have to quickly get out of the way of a car that does not see you stopped you are ready at a moment’s notice.
- Practice, practice, practice. Nothing hones your skills like actually riding. Find an area with curvy roads and practice negotiating curves. Find an empty parking lot and practice panic stops and slow speed maneuvers. Consider taking a refresher course to rid yourself of the bad habits that we all acquire over time. Riding skills diminish if they’re not used. Keep yours polished.
Things You Should Keep on Your Motorcycle
Nobody wants to be in an accident, but it’s an unfortunate reality for a lot of riders each year. While you can’t plan for the where and when, you can make sure you’re prepared should you ever find yourself in an accident.
One of the most common mistakes people make in an accident is not having the necessary information on hand, as well as the means to document details about the accident. There’s a lot going on and emotions are running high, so expecting to remember everything is a recipe for disaster. Here are seven things all riders should have on their bikes, in the event of an accident:
- A basic first aid kit
- Vehicle registration
- Emergency contacts (Label these “*EMERGENCY CONTACT” in your phone. Using * will make it easy to find at the top of your contacts list.)
- Health and motorcycle insurance cards
- Allergy and medical information
- The name and number of a trusted attorney
- A phone or camera to take pictures of the accident
Often a smartphone can help store most of this information, but in case it gets damaged in the accident, it doesn’t hurt to have all of this information on paper as a backup, as well a pen/pencil and paper to take notes.
Want to know more? Download our free Prepared Rider Kit, which has everything you and your family need to know about you and your bike.