Saturday, April 24, 2010

Motorcycle Crashes and Deaths down in 2009

News from the State Governors Assoc., (see new York Times article here, article here) that motorcycle deaths were down in 2009.   The numbers are incomplete, based on three quarters of complete data and partial numbers for the fourth quarter, but they are predicting minimum of 10% reduction over the macabre record of 5290 in 2008.   It might be even lower than the 4762 estimate, as the drop over the first nine months was 16%.

The pundits speculate several possible factors, but nobody knows how much ridership was reduced last year.   We are obviously pleased that fewer bikers are crashing, but until we see the ridership estimates later in the summer, no-one can say that riding is any safer. 

Some suggested causes for the reduction:
  • Reduced ridership due to leisure riders taking fewer trips.  A lot of riders sold their bikes for economic reasons.
  • Reduced commuter riders due to more attractive gas prices and possibly weather issues in some areas
  • Fewer new bikes sold.   There are more crashes in the first year of ownership of a new bike.
  • Fewer new riders.  New riders are more at risk
  • Greater awareness of bikers due to cage drivers paying more attention.  Would be nice, but we'll see.  Bikers might possibly be benefiting from DOT's focus on distracted driving, but is seems early for these fairly weak efforts to have borne fruit.   It is also possible that more cage drivers know riders personally and might have been influenced by bike awareness campaigns.  Every rider should make a point of discussing bike visibility with their cage-driving friends.
  • Some states claim results from enforcement efforts aimed at motorcycles.  There were several enforcement efforts in California especially, but the general word is that a lot of jurisdictions don't try to stop bikes, because of previous fatal results from bike traffic stops.  We are dubious about this claim.
  • Better training.   That's be nice, but any results from better rider training would probably be mostly seen in the military, where there were new courses from Lee Parks and MSF aimed chiefly at younger sportsbike riders.  It is way too early to see any good effects from rollout of the ARC-ST and the new MSF curriculum.
  • Some states claim that the 2008 and previous accelerating death rate has caused states to emphasize motorcycle safety more.   MSF doesn't keep statistics on riders trained, the only people who would know about that would be the individual training centers and the state DOTs they report to.  The general climate of increased attention might have also been affected by news about the OSU study.  We are dubious about the self-serving nature of this sort of hard-to-verify claim, but we'll be looking to follow up on these issues.   Our bet is that fewer riders were trained in 2009 that 2008, as we'd expect basic rider course enrollment to be down with the drop in motorcycle sales.
  • Weather issues are cited in some quarters.
As it always seems to be the case with motorcycle safety issues, the sound of one hand clapping resonates throughout the land. We are happy for the 528 or more bikers who are still alive, but if it is because they stopped riding then we are just talking about the risks we accept when we throw our leg over the saddle. 

If we are saying that it is good that people rode 10% or 15% less, and 10% of 15% fewer crashes happened, then we are just saying riding is a bad thing, and we at are not ready to go there. If the ridership was down more than the death rate, the numbers could conceal some very bad trends.  It's not time to break out that bottle of vintage Irish single malt we've been saving to celebrate a major safety improvement.