Reducing Motorcycle Fatalities in the United States of America
By Max Bibeau
Despite accounting for only 0.34% of vehicle miles traveled, motorcycles made up a whopping 14% of motor vehicle crash deaths in 2017 . An individual driving a motorcycle is 28 times more likely to suffer a fatal accident per mile traveled than a car driver . The appeal of motorcycles is clear. The speed, agility, and stereotypes associated with motorcycle drivers all make them an appealing choice for people of any age. The dangers, however, cannot be ignored. In order to reduce the amount of motorcycle fatalities across the United States, it is critical that motorcycle drivers encourage wearing helmets, support professional training requirements, and demand the development and use of anti-lock braking systems.
The simple act of putting on a helmet can literally be the difference between life and death for thousands of motorcycle drivers within the US. The head, specifically the frontal lobe, is the most vulnerable area on the body, and also happens to be the most exposed and used parts of the brain . By wearing a helmet, drivers can reduce their chances of injury by 69%, and reduce their chances of fatality by 34%. And, if all cyclists wore helmets, it is estimated that over 800 lives could have been saved in 2016 . Despite this clear evidence, only around 60% of motorcycle riders choose to wear a helmet . The reasons for this vary, from the “macho” culture within the biking community, to simply not wishing to lug a helmet around on short trips. What is clear, however, is that states that have mandatory helmet laws have around 10 times fewer fatalities than states without a universal helmet law . The impact of these universal laws was made clear in the year 2000, when Florida repealed their universal helmet law. In the two years after the repeal, the motorcycle fatality death rate jumped 21%, the number of riders under the age of 21 that were killed in a motorcycle accident nearly tripled, and hospital admissions of motorcyclists with injuries to the head, brain, and skull increased by 82% . The numbers don’t lie. The simple act of putting on a helmet does save lives. Motorcycle drivers should work to destroy the negative stigma surrounding wearing a helmet, and should support state legislation that mandates wearing a helmet. Currently, only 19 states have a universal helmet law . If motorcycle drivers care about the lives of their fellow riders, and wish to drastically slow the ever-rising death toll of motorcycles, it is critical that they speak out in favor of universal helmet laws.
Compared to a car, the operation and use of a motorcycle has many nuances that can be extremely difficult to get a hang of. Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of motorcycle drivers decline to learn from a professional, and are either self-taught or were taught by a nonprofessional (family member or friend). While learning from a nonprofessional can be much cheaper, it is not worth the drastically higher risk associated with it. A whopping 90+% of motorcycle accidents involved a rider who was not professionally trained . However, there is an easy solution. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has been working to provide professional teachers to young riders since 1973. The course is offered across the country, and costs less than $100 for the full 2-3 weekend program. There are over 20,000 MSF certified instructors across the nation, all of whom are ready and willing to professionally train aspiring bikers of any age . With the power of the internet, and the current ease and inexpensive nature of meeting up with a professional instructor, there is no excuse to rely on unreliable teachers like family members or friends to learn how to ride. The MSF has trained over 8 million riders, and has proven its capabilities to create riders who are safe and strategic about their riding. Motorcycle and car drivers alike should support the foundation, by encouraging any aspiring riders to take their course, and by urging any experienced riders in the community to receive their MSF certification to become an instructor. By taking these steps, an incalculable number of accidents could be avoided, saving the lives of hundreds across the country.
When motorcycles brake in high-pressure situations, such as those right before a crash, skidding is a very common problem that plagues drivers, and can often worsen the crash . While a solution for this was sought after for years, it wasn’t until the 1970s that a solution was found and put into action, called the “anti-lock braking system.” . The benefits of this system have been clear for years. It was found early on that the implementation of ABS systems in motorcycles could avoid up to 48% of all severe and fatal motorcycle accidents . However, it wasn’t until up to 43 years after, in 2016, that legislation was finally implemented in the EU that mandated the use of ABS on all new motorcycles released to the public . The US still has yet to pass significant legislation that requires the use of ABS on motorcycles. While some companies have taken it upon themselves to independently outfit their cycles with ABS, many have not. In older models, ABS is nearly unheard of due to the cost and weight. This becomes even more problematic when it is seen that over 20% of motorcycles being used as a primary mode of transportation were built in or before 1994, when ABS was an extremely niche and uncommon feature . These older bikes are also usually the ones that beginners start with, as they are cheapest. This means that beginners, the people who should be using the most up to date safety features on the market are the people using older bikes that were made before this feature became popular. In order to help reduce motorcycle fatalities, motorcycle drivers and citizens across the US should demand that anti-lock braking systems should be mandated to be used in all new bikes developed. In addition, fellow bikers should encourage beginners to use bikes that already have ABS built in. This could prevent up to 48% of current motorcycle fatalities, saving thousands of lives.
The appeal of motorcycles is clear, and when used correctly, can be a safe and fun form of transportation for all ages. In order to help promote the safety and proper use of these vehicles, motorcycle and car drivers should advocate for the use of helmets, encourage proper training for beginners, and demand the implementation of anti-lock braking system in bikes. Through these three simple solutions, thousands of lives could be saved across the United States, and motorcycles could be used without the current disproportional fatality and injury rates.
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