The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) recently released a new report, authored by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North, with disturbing numbers of motorcyclist deaths. The report’s preliminary statistics showed the deaths increased 9 percent in the first nine months of 2012, to more than 5,000 lives lost. This is higher than the overall estimated traffic fatality increase. 2012 is the 14th out of the last 15 years in which motorcyclist deaths increased. Notably, this level of deaths is a nearly unprecedented high, and motorcyclists remain one of the few roadway user groups with no decrease in highway deaths over the last decade.

When Hedlund compared the motorcyclist fatalities for first nine months of 2011 and 2012, the numbers increased in 34 states, decreased in 16 states, and remained the same in the District of Columbia. Increases occurred in every region-some were substantial: e.g., motorcyclist fatalities jumped 32 percent and 29 percent in Oregon and Indiana, respectively.

The report notes that the economy influences motorcycle travel. Because of the economy improving in 2012 and 2013, more people have disposable income for buying motorcycles. At the same time, high gas prices have triggered more folks to choose fuel-efficient motorcycles for their transportation needs.

Troy Costales, GHSA’s Immediate Past Chairman said, “In my state, an improving economy and a longer window of nice weather meant there were more riders and riding days. The fatality increase is disheartening.”

A disturbing trend is that more states are repealing their helmet laws: Nineteen states currently require all riders to wear helmets, down from 26 in 1997. These laws are the only motorcycle safety strategy with a five-star effectiveness rating in the federal government’s safety guide, Countermeasures That Work.

GHSA Chairman Kendell Poole said, “The good news is that we know how to prevent crashes and the resulting injuries and fatalities involving motorcycle riders and their passengers. There are effective strategies that, when implemented, can make a difference.”

Specifically, the GHSA’s report recommends that states address the problem with six measures: Increase helmet use, reduce alcohol impairment, reduce speeding, provide motorcycle operator training to all who need or seek it, ensure motorcyclists are properly licensed, and encourage all drivers to share the road with motorcyclists.

States partially fund their motorcycle safety efforts with federal money. As of now, Congress allows states to use this funding only to address motorcyclist training and programs that encourage drivers to share the rode with motorcyclists. States should also be permitted to use federal monies to implement programs that increase helmet use and reduce drunk driving among motorcyclists.

At Wittmer | Linehan, we shall be addressing all of the six measures recommended by the GHSA this spring, the beginning of 2013’s motorcycle riding season. We will also be encouraging Congress to increase the funding and the scope of motorcycle safety programs.