Rising Motorcycle Fatalities

Over the past few years, we have read numerous articles which claim that while motor vehicle related fatalities have been decreasing, motorcycle related fatalities have been increasing.  An article published this week on NBCNEWS.com made that same point.

Instinctively, this does not make sense.  With the motorcycling community placing more of an emphasis on training and education, one would think that we would be seeing a decrease in motorcycle related fatalities.  If you go to the website for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) you can find the fatality statistics through 2010.  For illustration purposes let’s look at motor vehicle fatalities from 2005 to 2010 since that is the last year in which NHTSA has reported data.  While it is true you will see motor vehicle fatalities are generally dropping, motorcycle accident fatalities during this period have gone up and come down.

Interestingly, NHTSA further breaks down motor vehicle fatalities per 100,000 registered motor vehicles.  However, they do not do that for each type of motor vehicle.  It is only done for motor vehicles as a whole.  Unfortunately, one cannot find a breakdown of registered motorcycles per year on the NHTSA site (to be accurate I should say I couldn’t).  However, if you go to the website for the Federal Highway Administration you can find motorcycle registrations by year and then compare those numbers to the reported fatalities from NHTSA.  Those numbers break down as follows:

  • 2005 – 6,227,146 registered motorcycles and 4,576 motorcycle related fatalities
  • 2006 – 6,678,958 registered motorcycles and 4,837 motorcycle related fatalities
  • 2007 – 7,138,476 registered motorcycles and 5,174 motorcycle related fatalities
  • 2008 – 7,752,926 registered motorcycles and 5,312 motorcycle related fatalities
  • 2009 – 7,929,724 registered motorcycles and 4,469 motorcycle related fatalities
  • 2010 – 8,009,503 registered motorcycles and 4,502 motorcycle related fatalities

When we look at those numbers, the motorcycle fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles from 2005 to 2010 break down as follows:

  • 2005 – 73.48
  • 2006 – 72.43
  • 2007 – 72.48
  • 2008 – 68.52
  • 2009 – 56.36
  • 2010 – 56.21

As you can see, when we factor in registrations, we see that since 2005, motorcycle fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles are trending down as well.  If that is the case, why don’t we see any reporting on that fact?  It is because simply reporting numbers without context is easy.  It takes work to actually find relevant data to put the numbers into perspective. Those who have no interest in either motorcycles or motorcyclists are not going to do the work it takes to report accurately.  After all, reporting that motorcyclists are killing themselves on the highways in motorcycle accidents makes a much better story than reporting that our community’s emphasis on training and education seems to be having a positive impact on highway safety.

Matt Danielson

McGrath & Danielson

Tom McGrath’s Motorcycle Law Group