WASHINGTON, DC– Last week, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released its preliminary data and findings regarding motorcycle fatalities in 2015. The GHSA represents the state and territorial highway safety offices that implement programs to address highway safety. Although GHSA’s primary mission is to improve traffic safety, their latest report appears to be more focused on thinly veiled demands for nationwide universal helmet laws despite their failure to provide real data demonstrating the effectiveness of such laws.
While the report highlights that the preliminary data suggests a 10% increase in motorcycle fatalities in 2015, it fails to connect the presence or lack of universal helmet laws to the projected increase. In fact, there are a number of other factors that may explain the projected increase, including the climate, education and experience of the motorists involved, and the inclusion of faulty data in the making of this report.
In 2015 many parts of the country enjoyed a longer riding season than in previous years. Warmer and dryer weather leads to additional time and riding hours on the road. While the report does address this possible explanation, it does not conclude that it has the same influence as the absence of a universal helmet laws.
Education & Experience
Another issue that GHSA barley addresses is the consideration of education and experience. For example, one of the most populace states that experienced a decrease in motorcycle related fatalities was California. While the state has not had any changes to their helmet law, the state did engage in a motorcycle awareness campaign for motorists. This suggests that perhaps other factors, such as motorist education and awareness initiatives, impact fatalities. Further, the report identifies a connection between riding experience and increases in fatalities. It states that roughly 25% of all motorcycle fatalities are the result of invalid motorcycle licensure. These statistics underscore the belief long held by the Motorcycle Rider’s Foundation that training and education is a crucial component to motorcycle safety.
Perhaps one of the biggest questions raised from reading the report is the data itself and specifically, what “counts” as a motorcycle. According to federal statute, a motorcycle is defined as, “a motor vehicle with motive power having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider and designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground.” With the rise of autocycles, a new class of vehicle that has attributes of both a car and motorcycle, it raises the question if this type of vehicle was included in the data supporting the statistics in the GHSA report. As this type of vehicle continues to emerge as a form of transportation, it will be critical that they are addressed independently, and not unfairly categorized with motorcycles or any other form as transportation so as not to skew the data. It is not clear from the report that this consideration is given.
Failure to Connect the Projected Increase to the Lack of Universal Helmet Laws
Despite the report’s effort to relate the projected increase in motorcycle fatalities to the lack of universal helmet laws, it fails to provide any data suggesting a connection between those who were wearing helmets versus those who were not wearing helmets when the fatality occurred. Of the nineteen states that currently have a universal helmet law in place; twelve experienced an increase in motorcycle fatalities between 2014 and 2015. Of the sixteen states that saw a decrease in motorcycle fatalities in 2015, only six have a universal helmet law. The other ten either allow adults to make their own choice or have no law at all.
The report also suggests that the increase in motorcycle fatalities in Michigan is due to the state’s modification of its helmet law in 2012, which allowed adult riders to choose whether to wear a helmet. The report suggests that the 2015 increase in motorcycle fatalities in Michigan is due to fewer riders wearing a motorcycle helmet but have not provided any data to support this claim. However, the report fails to explain the 18.8% decrease in motorcycle fatalities between 2013 and 2014. According to the National Highway Transportation & Safety Administration (NHTSA), Michigan motorcycle fatalities dropped from 138 to 112 in 2014 despite the change to the state’s motorcycle helmet law.
In conclusion, despite its best efforts, the GHSA report fails to make any connection between the rise in motorcycle fatalities in 2015 and the implementation of universal helmet laws. It is unfortunate that entities such as the GHSA continue to hold such a myopic view when it comes to motorcycle safety. The Motorcycle Rider’s Foundation encourages the GHSA and other groups interested in a meaningful campaign to enhance motorcycle safety to adopt a strategy that focuses on avoiding motorcycle crashes and not merely surviving them.