Fewer miles traveled, fewer beginning motorcyclists, and increased state attention to motorcycle safety programs helped to lower the fatality numbers in 2009.

Sharp Drop in 2009 Motorcycle Deaths Predicted

The Governors Highway Safety Association projects that fatalities fell nationwide from 5,290 in 2008 to 4,762 or fewer in 2009, marking the first decline after 11 years of increases.

The poor economy is largely responsible for driving down the number of people dying in motorcycle accidents nationwide, the Governors Highway Safety Association said Thursday. GHSA posted a report of state-by-state motorcycle fatalities in 2009 that was completed by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. Some of the data are preliminary, but complete data for at least the first nine months of the year provide confidence that deaths fell by at least 10 percent for the full year, according to the association.

This is welcome news because motorcycle deaths had increased for 11 consecutive years as riding soared and helmet laws were rescinded. Motorcycle sales have indeed plunged: U.S. retail sales of Harley-Davidson motorcycles fell by 25.8 percent in 2009 from 2008, and the company announced April 20 that its U.S. retail sales of new motorcycles were down 18.2 percent in the first quarter of 2010 from the same quarter of 2009. But other factors besides fewer miles traveled were at work in lowering the fatality numbers, with states citing fewer beginning motorcyclists, increased state attention to motorcycle safety programs, and poor cycling weather in some areas.

"Clearly the economy played a large role in motorcycle deaths declining in 2009. Less disposable income translates into fewer leisure riders, and we suspect that the trend of inexperienced baby boomers buying bikes may have subsided," said GHSA Chairman Vernon Betkey.

GHSA projects declines in about three-fourth of the states. Based on data for the first nine months, California motorcycle deaths are predicted to be down 29 percent, Florida down 27 percent, and New York down 16 percent.

"We will need to see three to five years of decline before we are ready to say that a positive trend has developed," Betkey cautioned.

The report urges states to increase helmet use, use highly visible drunk driving enforcement, reduce speeding, and provide motorcyclist training to all who need or seek it.

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