Examining the Rise in Motorcycle Accidents

A 150 percent jump in motorcyclist
fatalities recorded by the U.S. Department of Transportation in the past decade
has researchers perplexed. Motorcyclists are considered the highest risk
motorist group, accounting for 14 percent of all fatal traffic incidents. DOT’s
Fatality Analysis Reporting System recorded 5,290 crash deaths among
motorcyclists in 2008 and 96,000 injuries. The traffic fatality rate for
motorcycle riders has steadily increased since 1997, while other motor
vehicle-related deaths declined.

The greatest number of motorcyclist
deaths on the road, 36.4 percent, involve front-end crashes with other
vehicles. Collisions with motor vehicles overall are responsible for slightly
less than half of the annual death toll among motorcyclists, according to the
federal data.

The Federal Highway Administration
will fund a study by Oklahoma State University’s Oklahoma Transportation Center
designed to pinpoint causes of the increasing fatality rate among motorcyclists
and identify prospective interventions. Researchers will study commonalities
among motorcycle
crashes ranging from road configurations and environmental conditions
to rider experience in assessing the reasons for the high rate of fatalities
among motorcyclists.

The Oklahoma Transportation Center
research follows a 1981 NHTSA-sponsored study as well as a study conducted by
the Association of European Motorcycle Manufacturers from 1999 to 2000 and one
conducted in Thailand in 2001. The 1981 study found several factors
contributing to motorcycle
fatalities, including auto driver failure to detect motorcyclists and
lack of safety equipment such as helmets. The study recommended improved
licensing and training, as well as measures to make motorcyclists more
conspicuous on the roads.

The European study again cited
driver error, attributing 50 percent of crashes to auto drivers and 37 percent
to motorcycle operators. Significantly, more motorcycle crashes occurred on
straight roadways and minor roads than on curved roads or major highways.

Unlike the American and European
studies, the Thailand study found rider error to be the major contributor to
motorcyclist fatalities, with alcohol implicated in 40 percent of crashes. The
most common type of crash was the motorcyclist rear-ending an auto. In the Thai
research, only a single motorcyclist acknowledged receiving any training in
operating motorcycles; the study concluded that the absence of training led to
the high rider error rate.

The upcoming study in Oklahoma will
build on the knowledge attained in earlier studies, establishing which crash
causes remain of concern and which interventions undertaken in response to
earlier studies have proven effectiveFind Article, as well as identifying new contributors
to the high incidence of motorcycle crashes.