Why are motorcycle deaths on the rise? What can be done to help prevent them?

Motorcycle deaths are on the rise. In 2008, 5,290 motorcyclists were killed in comparison with 5,174 in 2007. That is a 2 percent increase. Meanwhile, 96,000 motorcyclists were injured in 2008 alone. However, motorcycles make up only 3 percent of registered vehicles in the United States and account for only 0.4% of the total miles traveled in a year. But keeping this in mind, motorcyclists still are 37 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident compared to car occupants and are 9 times more likely to injured. On a whole, motorcyclists account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities.

What accounts for these numbers? Motorcycle accidents occur for different reasons. About half of crashes involving motorcycles involve collision with another type of vehicle. Most of the time, motorcycles are hit from the front by another vehicle. This could be due to the size of motorcycles, making them move maneuverable, but often times, less visible. Many times, motorcycles are hit while they are going straight, but another vehicle is turning left and fails to yield right-of-way to them.

Another factor has to do with speed. In 2008, about 35 percent of all fatal crashes involving motorcycles involved a speeding motorcyclist who was either driving too fast for traffic conditions or exceeding the posted speed limit. In comparison for passenger cars, only 23 percent of all fatal crashes involved a driver who was speeding.

According to data gathered by the federal government, motorcyclists are more likely to be driving without a valid license or under the influence of alcohol compared to any other type of driver. Those involved with crashes were more likely to have a previous license suspension or revocation, often due to a driving while intoxicated offense.

Licensed, experienced drivers can play a huge role in promoting motorcycle safety and preventing crash-related fatalities. One method is wearing a helmet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,829 motorcyclists in 2008. If all motorcyclists wore helmets, it is predicted an additional 823 lives could have been saved. It is also estimated that for every 100 motorcyclists killed in traffic crashes, had they all worn helmets, 37 of them could have been saved.

Remaining visible, obeying speed limits, remaining aware of traffic conditions -- especially those that may require one to slow down, and following cars at a safe distance can help promote safer traffic conditions. Other drivers also play a large part, especially considering that half of motorcycle crashes involve other vehicles. Drivers should take special care to be aware of motorcyclists on the road. They should drive with a safe travel distance between themselves and motorcycles, take care in lower visibility conditions and take extra caution when making left turns in order to share the road more safely.