Why motorcycle deaths are rising

Dailies, Hell For Leather, HFL -



Here’s an interview of Rick Schmitt from Fairwarning.org whose organization conducted a study on the increase in number of motorcycle deaths, “essentially a doubling of the number of people dying in motorcycle accidents since the mid-1990s. And yet, state laws requiring helmets have been weakened.”

Watch Why Rise in Motorcycle Deaths Hasn’t Meant Tough Helmet Laws on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Rick Schmitt says that “hundreds of people every year have their lives saved by virtue of wearing a helmet and hundreds die needlessly because they are not.”

  • Scott Jameson

    Discrepancies found regarding a ‘spike’ in rider deaths and video opening.
    Wikipedia’s data (I know, Wikipedia).
    And, look at report cited http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811552.pdf,
    Doesn’t its table mis-calculates a decrease from ’09 to ’10 as an increase?
    And, reports 1,000 more deaths than the people’s source, Wikipedia, for ’10.

  • Emmet

    The AMA is opposed to helmet laws? Seriously??

    • http://twitter.com/Ricardo_Gozinya Ricardo Gozinya

      Helmet laws and loud exhausts. The AMA’s only concerned with the desires of the dumbest assholes on two wheels.

  • QuixoticFox

    I recognize that rates of motorcycle fatalities have gone up due to lower utilization of helmets. But has anyone done a study (or parsed the data) on an apples-to-apples basis of motorcycle fatalities compared to cars where the rider wears a helmet? In other words, who cares if the fatality rate in Texas goes up (where they often, idiotically, don’t wear helmets) if the fatality rate goes down in California (where I happen to live)?

    • QuixoticFox

      Also, it seems like the absolute number of deaths/injuries would be of little use since there are so many fewer riders than drivers. The study would need to be on a vehicle mile traveled (“VMT”) basis, as the NHTSA lists some of their stats. I’d also be curious if anyone else knows of confounding factors that would drive up the ostensible rate of injury(off the top of my head, motorcycle fatality rates would be higher because of the preponderance of use in city driving which is inherently more dangerous and because people with little experience [read: squids] are injured more frequently).

  • http://www.facebook.com/bchelfrich Brian Christopher

    Guarantee the use of “smart phones” while driving is causing this increase.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Lynch/1331975670 John Lynch

    I always wear a helmet, without fail. But I’m opposed to mandating the use of helmets. Those who don’t wear them are either, in my opinion, ill-informed, stupid, or have a death wish, but it’s their choice. Let’s spend the money on educating riders, because you will never be able to fix stupid, no matter how many laws are passed.

    By the way, where helmets are mandatory, have you seen how many so-called DOT certified brain buckets are worn by riders who hate helmets? What do these silly little toppers protect, the rider’s hairdo?

    • TheBoatDude

      I largely feel the same way – even if it weren’t mandated, I’d wear a helmet. For that matter, even though the skull cap and open-face helmets are legal, I choose to wear full-face. If another rider chooses not to, that’s his/her business. I do, however, take issue with the guy (mentioned in the video) that posted on the OSHA website, stating that he pays taxes for paramedics and EMT’s and as a function of that, he doesn’t want to wear a helmet. I’m assuming his point is that because he’s paying for emergency services, it’s his right to not have to wear a helmet because they’re there to help him if he crashes. That’s akin to saying “I paid for the airbags in this car, so it’s my right to drive it in to a brick wall.” (also, why was he posting to OSHA? That’s occupational, where you don’t get the option to say “I’m not wearing that”).

  • karlInSanDiego

    AMA lobbying against federal and state helmet laws (and any laws) is why I won’t join. They’re tantamount to the NRA when it comes to being a sensible owners group in that respect, and I don’t see them asking their members where they should stand, so like the NRA, it’s entirely possible for them to lobby against their own members’ majority position. Contrary to what some people believe, you CAN force people to do things for their own safety and in the case of helmet laws it works. http://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/Rights/PositionStatements/VoluntaryHelmetUse.aspx
    Now here’s the ultimate study question: Are there any countries that require full protective gear and/or give insurance benefits to those who do, and has that factor reduced injury/hospitalization/deaths?

    • http://www.facebook.com/maria.nordqvist.37 Maria Nordqvist

      Sweden require helmet, nothing else, since 1975. All insurance companies gives a discount and/or demand full protection when riding a motorcycle. 100 % of real motorcyclists use a helmet. More than 80 % use full protection all the time. 60 % use back protection. http://www.svmc.se/upload/SMC%20centralt/Dokument/rapporter/ntf_SMC%20rapport_eng_low.pdf
      Result?Fatalities and seriously injured has dropped with more than 50 % at the same period as it’s doubled in USA. Personal protection is one important reason for the reduction.

    • alex

      As a member of both the nra and the ama I can say that your missing the point of both orginizations which is to fight on behalf of the members to maintain or restore there rights – not to force them to buy guns or ride without helmets.

    • http://twitter.com/DirtCrasherJB Joe Bar

      The AMA does not “lobby” against helmet laws, however, they (we) are pro-choice.

  • Pete terHorst

    This PBS feature aired in June 2012. As the AMA spokesperson, I provided extensive background to Mr. Schmitt on the AMA position via a number of email exchanges.

    Several weeks after the PBS broadcast, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
    Prevention issued a report promoting universal helmet laws. The information provided to Mr. Schmitt was also provided to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an op-ed by former US. Sen. Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations:

    A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claimed that annual cost savings in states with universal motorcycle helmet laws were nearly four times greater than in states without universal helmet laws. Unfortunately, the CDC conclusions were not based on independently sourced figures, but rather data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (a longtime proponent of universal helmet laws), including a discredited 2010 report on the economic costs saved by motorcycle helmet use.

    For many years, the AMA has strongly encouraged the voluntary use by adult riders of helmets certified by their manufacturers to meet the U.S. Department of Transportation standard as part of a comprehensive motorcycle safety program to help reduce injuries and fatalities in the event of a motorcycle crash.

    However, helmet mandates are not the solution because helmets do not prevent crashes. The AMA believes that comprehensive motorcycle safety programs must promote strategies that are designed to prevent motorcycle crashes from occurring in the first place.

    Helmet mandates have unintended consequences. Tragically, the enforcement of these mandates siphons away scarce funds from effective crash prevention programs such as rider education and motorist awareness.

    The efficacy of rider education has been documented by research, including the landmark “Hurt Study,” published in 1981. Even NHTSA has acknowledged this in its 2005 report, “Promising Practices in Motorcycle Rider Education and Licensing.”

    Motorist awareness programs have become an increasingly valuable strategy in reducing motorcycle crashes. One of the most frequent causes of motorcycle accidents is the violation of motorcyclists’ right-of-way by other drivers. As traffic density and the frequency of distracted vehicle operation have increased, motorcyclists benefit when drivers are regularly reminded to watch for motorcyclists. Many states do not dedicate funding for these kinds of programs throughout the riding season, and additional funding would be very welcome.

    Recent reports calling for helmet mandates have failed to note that the rate of motorcycle fatalities has been decreasing. NHTSA reported in October 2011 that the motorcycle fatality rate from 2000-2009 declined 15.59 percent per 100,000 registered vehicles, and 22.48 percent per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

    The wisdom of helmet mandates is questionable. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association reported in May 2012 that 11 states that do not have universal helmet requirements reported fewer motorcycle fatalities in 2011, and seven states that have universal helmet laws reported greater fatalities in 2011.

    Clearly there is a need for additional research to better understand the causes of crashes, which is why the AMA supports the comprehensive motorcycle crash causation study underway at Oklahoma State University. Scheduled for completion in 2014, the study is being conducted under a $2.8 million Federal Highway Administration grant approved by Congress, along with more than $125,000 committed by the AMA and a total of $750,000 from six state safety programs, including Wisconsin.

    In closing, we’d like to thank U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who for years has been taking on the powerful anti-motorcycling interest groups and working tirelessly to support the motorcycling lifestyle.


    For those who wish to parse the data, Matt Danielson, legal counsel for the Virginia Coalition of Motorcyclists, has accurately summarized the concerns of many in the motorcycling community regarding the CDC report, including the 2010 report by NHTSA, in this post:

    • AHA

      It makes little sense to attack compulsory helmet laws because they do not lead to the prevention of accidents. The purpose of compulsory helmet laws is to make riders wear helmets and thereby reduce their risk of serious injury and death. The laws directly achieve this everywhere they are in force so the AMA should support them. Prevention of accidents is a related but separate objective that is much more complex and difficult to achieve and clearly requires more than legislative action. The AMA is disingenuous in the extreme to confuse the two.

      • http://twitter.com/threefour Victor Lombardi


    • http://www.facebook.com/dan.sciannameo Dan Sciannameo

      As an AMA member, I think your argument that enforcement of helmet laws siphons funds away from other motorcycle safety issues is an empty one.

      • Tyler 250

        Working in local government, I agree. We PROFIT from vehicular law enforcement. If the fines for riding without a helmet are high enough, they can FUND rider training. It’s a stupid argument.

    • HoldenL

      Like karlin SanDiego, I haven’t joined AMA because of its policy on mandatory helmet laws. Maybe you would collect more dues if you changed your mind.

      Ironically, I suppose that, by joining, I could help persuade the AMA to stop lobbying against helmet laws. But that argument isn’t strong enough to get me to send a check.

    • contender

      The AMA reads HFL???!?


      • http://twitter.com/threefour Victor Lombardi


      • KevinB


    • KevinB

      When the AMA figures out that all these weekend warrior types dressed up as butt pirates are a dying breed and comes calling on the dollars of young motorcyclist like myself, you’re going to find a very different crowd; one that’s not particularly receptive to deceptive positions like this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Travisty07 Travis Ruff

    My taxes are paying for stupid people everyday. If a few of them lose their lives because they will not wear a helmet…Well, so be it.

    • http://twitter.com/Ricardo_Gozinya Ricardo Gozinya

      The problem is, they don’t all die. They end up cripples, or vegetables, and we all have to pay for that.

      • http://twitter.com/DirtCrasherJB Joe Bar

        This is a miniscule problem compared to obesity, smoking, and other ills.

  • Mirrory

    I wonder why they didn’t look at this:

    Since the 1990s cell phones have increased in popularity. It is now common to use your phone while driving. More people do than don’t. The roads are more or less filled with momentary DUI drivers. It was visited in a 2006 study by the University of Utah which confirmed it was as dangerous, and in some cases, worse, than driving drunk. So basically traffic is now full of ‘drunk’ drivers thanks to the increase of smart phones. It’s also been attributed to the drop in education. I know when I was in school it was hard not to zone out and just browse through my phone.

    • http://www.facebook.com/afonsomata Afonso Mata

      In Portugal, Europe, you get the same penalty for drunk-driving as you do for using a cellphone while driving.

      • http://twitter.com/adrenalnjunky Chris Patterson

        and it is probably just as impossible to police and enforce there as it is in the states. There are siginificant fines and penalties in many/most states now for being the cause of an accident where a cellphone was involved as a contributing factor. In Louisiana, I believe it actually doubles your fine. Given that, here’s how that exchange goes:
        Officer – Driver, I see you just ran over a guy on a motorcycle. What happened?
        Driver – Officer, I didn’t see him, I mist have looked away for a moment at something shiny.
        Officer – Was there a cellphone involved in your distraction?
        Driver – Uhhhhhhhh…….nope?
        Officer – Very well then.

        Biker – unggggghhhhh……

      • houleskis

        According to some studies, the distraction caused by being on the phone while driving can be equated to driving while slightly intoxicated (e.g: around the legal limit here in Ontario).

        I wish I had a source for that but it comes from a friend who consults in traffic accidents and such things.

  • Christopher Holloway

    I think regarding helmet laws there is an emotional and mental cost that can affect others, if a crash occurs between a car and motorbike, regardless of speed and who caused the accident, the biker wearing the helmet will come off better than the biker who doesn’t, if not wearing it results in the bikers death/brain damage, that is going to mess up the driver who hit them (or got hit), knowing you caused someone brain damage, paralysis, or death would be a horrible feeling, accidents on roads do.
    I think its the duty of all people who are using public roads to ride both safely and in a way that minimizes risks, if all drivers stopped wearing seat belts, then not only would more people die (assuming they stayed driving at same speeds) but more fellow drivers would have their “deaths” on their concience…well that’s my view anyway, what do you guys think?

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcus.poisson.50 Marcus Poisson

    I am curiious as to what % of motorcycle fatalities are not head related injuries. Personally, I think only an idiot would not wear a helmet. Also a selfish act. If you die, or worse, become paralized or a vegtable you leave family & friends to deal with the fall out

  • madmusk

    The takeaway from all of this can really be construed in all sorts of ways.

    On the one hand the number of motorcycle deaths has doubled and motorcycle safety is obviously not keeping pace with car safety.

    On the other hand the percentage of people dying while riding motorcycles has slightly decreased despite a big increase in the number of people not wearing helmets. This could mean that motorcycle awareness and training programs may be doing their job, as anti-helmet law folks are suggesting. Either way, I don’t think Fair Warning is being very neutral in presenting the data.

  • Jake Bunger

    I also agree that people should make their own choices, and stupid is as stupid does. Have a $5 head? Then by all means, wear a $5 helmet. I choose to wear a full face helmet, even in states where there is no helmet law. My wife and kids worry about me because I ride; why would I just make the odds greater against me by not wearing gear?

    I would rather see money spent on educating the non-motorcycle commuting audience. Fines for TXTing or ‘smartphoning’ while driving should be exorbitant, and should escalate with each infraction, and enforcement should be stringent. Use those fees to offset the education & vehicle-motorcycle accident costs.

    I am confused though: there are 5-6x the number of cars on the road compared to 30 years ago, but the number of car-accident-related deaths has stayed the same? I find that hard to believe (cars have gotten safer, but not that safe). Whereas, while there are more than double the # of motorcycles on the road, the number of motorcycle-related deaths has decreased, by percentages. Perhaps, when looking at the number of deaths alone (i.e. without the context of the growing number of motorcyclists) – I’d have to say that I’m impressed that number hasn’t grown larger & faster considering there are that many more cars on the road now compared to then.

    • nick2ny

      Your head is only worth about $450 lol

  • enzomedici

    No helmet = a brain too stupid to protect itself.

  • KeithB

    So, apparently, this helmet law issue, vis a vis personal right to wear or not, is soooo fucking important that we waste all kinds of time and money lobbying and discussing and waving the constitution in the air to make sure we get it “right” and don’t hurt any ones feelings.
    Really? Are you kidding me!!??
    Pass the law, country wide and be fucking done with it.
    There are WAYYYY more important things to worry about that this!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tony.shipley.38 Tony Shipley

    When gas is $10 a gallon and the fill up in your car is $150-200 everybody will start thinking about bikes.

  • appliance5000

    On the other hand, you guys in the US are the most civilized, most advanced country in the world.

    I think you’re confusing us with Sweden. Pretty savage world here.

  • Slowtire

    yawn…yet again.

  • Khali

    In Germany wearing a seatbelt is not mandatory. But if you crash not wearing one, your insurance wont cover anything. Now, Germany is a civilized country so mostly everyone wears their seatbelt, and those who dont, know the consequences and agree with them.

    I think the “helmet issue” is about all those people not being conscious about the risks of not wearing a proper helmet and the benefits of wearing it. How can a real motorcyclist not being aware of that?

    Then, the most civilized thing would be to make something like the germans: If you dont wear a proper certified helmet, you will have to pay for yourself the medical costs for any injuries on your head. Simple and civilized. Problem solved.

    • HyperLemon

      Wait…what? What are you talking about? It is mandatory in Germany, check StVO $21a. In that paragraph the exceptions are listed when you don’t have to wear a seatbelt in Germany, other than that, if you car is fitted with a seatbelt, which became mandatory for manufacturers some time in the 70s, you have to wear it.

      The fine is 30€ if you don’t wear your seatbelt.

      • Khali

        That is what i had heard…anyway you get the idea :P

  • http://twitter.com/ttxgpfan ttxgpfan

    Yeah, people are doing their best to bring back the wild wild west so they can pretend to be badasses. The thing the don’t understand is that they are not making a decision just for themselves, it affects everyone and they are driving up insurance rates, and taxes every time one of them dies. I think this subject was popular about 10 years ago as well. Seemed like the people who were really dieing were middle-aged men riding cruisers poorly and refusing to wear a helmet. I’m still waiting for my uncle to hit a moose. If I could just get the squirrels to co-operate.

  • http://twitter.com/tuscanfoodie Tuscan Foodie

    I always use a helmet even now that I live in a place where it is not mandatory, but here is my issue: if we mandate helmets, then why not back protectors? Or reflective jackets? These things are now being mandated in some European countries. So when do we stop?

    Again, don’t get me wrong: I wear a helmet, a leather protective jacket, a backprotector all the freaking time. But should they be mandated? Why not, if we say that helmets should? Protecting our spine is not as important as our head?