The number of people killed in motorcycle crashes in Florida and nationwide is on the rise, according to a study released this week, even as traffic fatalities overall are declining.
“The one area where we haven’t made progress is motorcycle safety,” said Jonathan Adkins, deputy director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization found in its new study that although motorcycle fatalities nationwide dropped to about 4,200 in 2009, the number of deadly crashes in 2011 increased to just less than 5,000.
Nearly 4,000 motorcyclists died from January to September 2012, but the data are preliminary and “the fatality counts will rise,” the study said, perhaps to 5,000 or more.
Motorcycle fatalities have increased in 14 out of the past 15 years, from 1997 to 2012, according to the study. By comparison, traffic fatalities overall declined each year from 2005 through 2010, according to separate research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Florida continues to rank high in the number of motorcycle deaths, the study shows, with 287 deadly motorcycle crashes in the first nine months of 2012. That ranks third behind Texas with 358 people killed and California with 318.
The association highlights several factors that could contribute to more riders on the road and hence, more potential for crashes. These include warm weather and high gas prices, which could push more people to buy motorcycles as a cost-effective alternative to automobiles.
“California, Texas, Florida, those are all big states and warm-weather states,” said Jim Hedlund, a traffic safety researcher who compiled and analyzed data for the Governors Highway Safety Association.
People ride year-round in those states, which increases the chance of motorcycle deaths, Hedlund said. Riders want to get on the open road and enjoy the weather but “don’t think hard” about the statistics, he said.
“For every mile traveled, you have a 30 times higher risk of getting killed on a motorcycle than riding in a car,” Hedlund said. “And wearing a helmet reduces your chances of getting killed by 40 percent.”
Florida law does not require riders to wear helmets.
John Glazebrook, a motorcycle enthusiast from Tampa, said he won’t ride unless he’s wearing his $500 helmet.
Glazebrook, 60, said his helmet is comfortable and affords more protection than novelty helmets — which look like military-issue equipment or are adorned with comic book-like colors — that some riders use.
He said the experience of riding a motorcycle probably draws novices to the two-wheeled vehicles.
“When you’re going somewhere on a motorcycle, your adventure starts when you pull out of your driveway,” Glazebrook said.
But new riders need more training, he said, which could contribute to the high number of motorcycle crashes and deaths.
“It’s more akin to flying an aircraft,” Glazebrook said. “You have a lot more things to manipulate than a car. I need more practice, and I got more than 100,000 miles on bikes over 20 years.”
“Get trained,” Hedlund said. “Get properly licensed. It’s more complicated than driving a car.”
The study includes recommendations to help curb the number of motorcycle deaths: Drive slower, don’t ride when you’ve been drinking, get more training. The study also encourages agencies and municipalities to let other motorists know they should share the road with riders.
Glazebrook said riders must have awareness on the road.
“Your senses have to be more heightened,” he said. “You have a level of comfort in a car with all its air bags. And you’re always thinking, ‘How visible are you to other drivers?’”
Adkins, the deputy director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said he hopes the study will help guide policy and shape laws.
“We want to draw attention to what the problems are and promote strategies.”