Down year-on-year, but here's why the overall trend needs improvement.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration just released its annual report on fatal motor vehicle crashes, and there’s some good-ish news for motorcyclists. For 2018, there were 244 fewer motorcycle fatalities than there were in 2017. That’s a 4.7-percent decrease when both years are compared. In total, 4,985 US motorcycle fatalities were reported in 2018.

There’s more good news, too. In addition to overall numbers of motorcycle fatalities decreasing, fatalities specifically involving alcohol-impaired motorcyclists also declined from 2017 to 2018. Overall, there were 145 fewer alcohol-impaired motorcyclist fatalities in 2018, which is a 10.1-percent decrease as compared to 2017. 

Why would I characterize these decreases as only being “good-ish”? Unfortunately, while the 2017 to 2018 decrease is definitely a step in the right direction, zooming out and examining the larger picture of motorcycle fatality trends in the US isn’t so pretty. 

According to NHTSA’s Motorcycle Safety Five-Year Plan—which was released earlier in 2019, prior to the 2018 fatalities report’s release—the percentage of motorcycle fatalities versus other types of vehicle fatalities has been on the rise since 1997. 

In 1997, motorcycle fatalities comprised seven percent of all vehicular fatalities, and a total of 2,116 such motorcycle fatalities were reported. By 2017, however, motorcycle fatalities rose to 17 percent of all vehicular fatalities, with a total of 5,172 motorcycle fatalities reported.

Several factors affect the shifting percentages noted above, including passenger vehicle safety improvements. Regarding the overall numbers, however, the Five Year Safety Plan also points out the following: “Motorcyclist fatalities are nearing their highest in recorded history. Rider demographics are changing, and aging and returning riders are now overrepresented in fatalities, surpassing their younger cohorts.”

There’s a case to be made for other vehicular involvement in motorcycle crashes, both fatal and non-fatal—and that’s certainly true of the majority of fatal ones. However, it’s also worth noting that in 2017, 23 percent of total fatal motorcycle crashes were single-vehicle ones involving fixed objects. That’s nearly a quarter of total motorcycle crashes that resulted in fatalities. 

If you’re wondering where helmets fit into all this, wonder no more. NHTSA estimates that around 37 rider fatalities per every 100 fatal motorcycle crashes could be prevented if all 100 riders wore helmets certified to FMVSS No. 218 standards. 

Not all crashes involve head injuries. According to NHTSA’s findings, an estimated 22 percent of nonfatal motorcycle injuries primarily involve the head and neck, but an additional 18 percent primarily involve the arms and head. That’s a 40 percent chance of primary head injury. 

As we all know, depending on the crash, you may be injured in multiple parts of your body at once. Declaring one part or another to be the primarily injured portion doesn’t mean the other parts of your body are suddenly not injured at all. ATGATT clearly can’t prevent all injuries, but it can certainly help. 

This is a multi-pronged problem, with multiple areas in which we can all stand to improve. According to the 2018 fatalities report, pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities are on a sharper rise than motorcyclists. Clearly, there’s a lot that needs doing with regard to driver education regarding sharing the road safely with other road users.  

Sources: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, NHTSA Motorcycle Safety Five-Year Plan