While traffic fatalities have dropped to record lows, motorcycle deaths have risen reflecting both an increase in the number of riders and cycles' inherent vulnerability.
A strong relationship exists between gasoline prices and motorcycle fatalities - - as gas prices rise, so do the number of fatalities - - and wearing helmets is still the best method of reducing motorcycle deaths.
Dangers of Motorcycle Travel
According to the National Safety Council ("NSC"), motorcycles are the highest-risk form of travel and do not follow normal highway fatalities trends because circumstances leading to motorcycle deaths differ from automobile crashes.
In 1975, 44,525 people died in US highway accidents of which 3,189 were motorcyclists.
By 2012, total highway fatalities had dropped to 33,561, while motorcycle deaths rose to 4,957.
In Pennsylvania, between 2001 and 2013 motorcycle fatalities rose 43% while fatalities in other vehicles dropped 27%.
Although millions more cars and motorcycles are on the road now than in 1975, the fatality rate has dropped for both vehicles with a threefold nationwide drop in car fatalities compared with a 14% drop for motorcycles.
Unlike motorcycles, cars have become safer by seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. Conversely, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association ("GHSA"), little can be done to improve motorcycle safety other than helmet wearing which, unfortunately, has diminished over the past 30 years.
In 1975, 47 states required all motorcyclists to wear helmets but that number has dropped to 19.
New Jersey requires helmets, but in 2003 Pennsylvania repealed its mandatory helmet law requiring helmets only for those under 21 or licensed for less than 2years (unless they have completed an approved safety course).
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA") estimated that in 2011 helmets saved 1,617 motorcyclists' lives and would have saved 703 additional lives if all motorcyclists wore helmets.
Further, according to Pennsylvania's Motorcycle Dealers Association, motorcyclists are much less visible to motorists distracted driving by talking on cellphones or texting which likely has contributed to accidents.
Gasoline Price and Motorcycle Fatality Correlation
An NSC analysis charting the trend since 1976 shows a strong correlation between gasoline prices and motorcycle fatalities.
Specifically, because higher gas prices encourage using fuel-efficient motorcycles instead of cars leading to more - - and more inexperienced - - motorcyclists, as gas prices rise, so do the number of motorcycle deaths.
To reduce motorcycle fatalities, the GHSA recommends:
°Increasing helmet use. In 2012, the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets are the only strategy proven to be effective in reducing fatalities.
°Reducing drunken riding. In 2010, 29% of fatally injured riders had a blood alcohol concentration at or above 0.08 % legal limit, the highest among all motorists.
°Reducing speed. 35% of motorcycle riders involved in fatal crashes were speeding and almost half of these crashes did not involve any other vehicle.
°Improving training. While all states offer training, some courses may not be provided at convenient times and locations.
°Encouraging drivers to share the road. According to NHTSA, when motorcycles crash with other vehicles, the other vehicle usually violated motorcyclist's right of way.