The solution to motorcycle safety: sell fewer bikes

Dailies -


2009_motorcycle_fatalities.jpgThe number of motorcyclists killed in road accidents fell at least ten
percent in 2009 compared to 2008, the first decrease in 12 years.
Industry wide, motorcycle sales were down around 40 percent year-on-year
during the same time period. Coincidence? >

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association Motorcyclist Traffic Fatalities By State, 2009 Preliminary Data report, reprinted here in full, actually cites the economy as potentially the main causation behind this. The suggestion is that, since bikes are toys here in the land of recreation as replacement for struggle, people were either too busy working their butts off to pay their sub-prime mortgages or couldn’t afford to maintain, insure or make payments on a frivolous luxury item like a motorcycle. The report also notes that Baby Boomers, the lifeblood of the  industry during its near two-decades of sales growth, have likely stopped becoming new bikers for good. Less old guys trying to overcompensate with a bike they can’t handle also equals less fatalities. Another potential causation was freak weather, with some states reporting that 2009 was an abnormally wet and cold year, keeping many badass bikers off the road.

The report does try to suggest that ongoing safety campaigns could also have been responsible for the reduction in fatalities, but looking at the chart of fatalities over time, you can see a general increase through the last decade or more that those campaigns have been running. It’s unlikely that they alone would have been responsible for such a reversal in the statistics since 2009 didn’t see any dramatically new efforts or radically increased spending in that area.

Its creators are eager to remind readers that this report is preliminary only, including firm data from the first nine months of the year only. Also, a one year decrease does not necessarily indicate a trend and fatalities could continue to increase year-on-year into the future.

What’s all this mean for motorcycle safety? Well, fatalities increasing and decreasing roughly in proportion to sales, invariably leads to the conclusion that we’re not doing a good enough job educating new riders or encouraging experienced bikers to ride safely. Let’s hope the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s new training programs prove effective. But that’s only a part of the picture. As the study notes, basic common sense like wearing a fucking helmet for god’s sake can reduce the chances of dying in a crash by 37 percent. And that statistic includes those ridiculous piss-pots and German army helmets that people from the shallow end of the gene pool love wearing. Imagine if everyone was smart enough to wear a full-face helmet, body armor, anti-abrasive clothing and a back protector every time they got on a bike? Maybe the real problem with motorcycle safety is motorcyclists themselves.

  • Tony Dinneweth

    As the study notes, basic common sense like wearing a fucking helmet for god’s sakes……………
    I don’t know why, but that shit made me crack up!

  • Mitch

    Was watching a compilation video recently of motorcycle crashes at the top of the snake near The Rock Store. A guy dumps his sport bike and does a twist and flip number, landing right on the back of his head. Because he was wearing a full face helmet, he stands right back up. Without a helmet they’d be flying him out, hoping his brain stops swelling.

    “wear a fucking helmet for god’s sake”

  • robotribe

    “Maybe the real problem with motorcycle safety is motorcyclists themselves.”
    Nail, that was the sound of you getting hit on the head.

  • Doug

    I have a buddy who is absolutely convinced helmets kill more people than they save. He believes death is caused by ‘all that extra weight on your head’ snapping your neck.

    I love my Nolan N-43!

  • the_doctor

    “As the study notes, basic common sense like wearing a fucking helmet for god’s sake can reduce the chances of dying in a crash by 37 percent.”

    Its stuff like that that keeps me reading HFL. That, and old glove reviews.

  • Mark D.


    I don’t think we are going to see large-scale reductions in motorcycle fatalities until 1)a tiered licensing system is implimented in the US, and 2) Boomers in nazi helmets and chaps finally become too old to ride.

    One positive sign is the relative “coolness” of full protective gear in Generation X and Millenials. Hopefully, that will extended to advanced training and track days, too.

  • brettvegas

    I put myself through several ‘katas’ before i ride, gloves, helmet, jacket, I tweek them all, to get myself into the mindset of riding.
    Too many people jump on a bike without getting themselves into the proper mindset(Trust no one, look out for #1).

    It takes some time to get out of said mind set also.


  • Matthew

    There is no 1-1 correlation between bikes sold and deaths. Looking at the number of bikes registered would be a better comparison, and still might not be statistically meaningful.

    Something else to look at is how long riders are on the road. My dad always told me when I was a kid that a rider’s chances of getting hurt are highest in the first year and after the seventh. The first year because they are inexperienced, and after the seventh because they are complacent.

    While I think he pulled that 7th year out of his ass it’s probably true in some sense. The people I know who have gotten hurt were all less than careful.

    • Wes Siler

      While there is not one-to-one correlation between bikes sold and the accident rate, the fall in sales and subsequently fewer new riders is the only statistic to move in the same direction at the same time, strongly suggesting a link.

  • patrick

    Wow, Wes, I never realized that you and most riders rode motorcycles simply to increase the safety stats. I am obviously mistaken in my goals about motorcycling. I should be worrying about how my motorcycle riding will affect national/international safety statistics.

    You know what? I have a better idea. Why don’t you sit in your garage and just pretend you are riding. That is much, much safer than actually engaging in an activity that is inherently dangerous. Do you wear a helmet, non-abrasive clothing and a back protector when you get in the shower? It’s pretty dangerous in there. More injuries by far happen in the bathtub than on a motorcycle.

    Wait, wouldn’t it be better if I just shut up and let you ride your motorcycle in whatever way you feel most comfortable? That would much better than making you look like an ass with my condescending attitude, right? Hmmmm…

    Why not think about that for a bit, Wes, and consider that you may not have all the answers when it comes to why OTHER PEOPLE ride motorcycles. There are people who free climb Half Dome, there are people who base jump from ridiculously low/dangerous heights. There are people who perform many dangerous sports in ways that I would consider “too dangerous”. But you know what? I ain’t them. They wanna do it, more power to them. Freedom of choice and all that.

    As for you, why can’t you just be happy that your precious safety stats are headed in the right direction, EVEN THOUGH some people choose not to “wear a fucking helmet.”

    Little hint here buddy. If the stats really are based on new bike purchasers rather than overall riding trends, wearing a helmet (or not) isn’t the problem. Riding experience is the problem.

    • Mark D.

      “Your freedom to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.” Safety statistics are used for everything from determining insurance rates, to drafting legislation that harrasses and restricts motorcyclists in a much greater way than any helmet law. People who ride recklessly (that include not using proper gear) are a drain on all of society in general, and particularly those of us who would like to keep motorcycling legal and fun! Wes and others here try to set a good example, and should be applauded for it.

      We all know the dangers of riding, and all have different tolerance for risk. Personally, I use all my gear all the time, and ride like a little old lady. Other skimp on gear occasionally, or ride fast/more aggressively. But basic things like taking an MSF course, and WEARING A FUCKING HELMET are so easy, there is no excuse not to do it. We should all try to be ambassadors of our sport/recreation, or else damaging negative stereotypes of motorcyclists will come back to haunt us.

    • Tanshanomi

      Hey Patrick,

      Base jumpers and shower falls don’t affect how tightly society pulls the noose around my right to ride. Unsafe riding practices which drive up motorcyclist deaths, on the other hand, do.

      Whether you think they’re stupid or not.

  • Kidchampion

    I KNOW i’m more vigilant when I take the time to put on some armor, as opposed to stepping over a bike wearing flip flops, shorts and a soup bowl helmet. That step of preparing for an accident, and thinking of consequences, doesn’t jibe with the boomer lust for immortality and eternal cialis youth, but it does put you in a safer mind frame. But I’m sure it isn’t as fun as riding an OC Chopper from my house to the corner bar and back (repeat every weekend with fair weather).

  • monkeyfumi

    You can come up with numbers to prove anything.
    30% of people know that.

  • brettvegas

    I have to chime in to say good artical, comments.
    Patrick hits the nail squarely. Munkeyfumi nearly had me spitting coffee on the coffee shop keyboard.

    When I put on my helmit, I look inside it, and say”Yup, thats where my head goes”. Because I want to keep my skull from getting curbed. I could not say what folks who roll w/o gear are thinking.
    When I don’t wear gloves I crash, nearly everytime.



  • Tom T

    Remember the old Bell helmet slogun “if you got a ten dollar head, wear a ten dollar helmet. I’m still walking because i was wearing my new Bell Star. In 83 I hit a deer going 60,skipped down the road for what felt like about 2 miles,helmet was close to being destroyed,I got up and walked away{ to the hospital}.During my tumble, my head {helmet} took three major hits{big flat spots, face shield ground almost through} I don’t think people that wear those skull caps realize how bad things get when things go bad…