2013 Motorcycle Fatalities and Injuries in Slight Decline, More Detailed Data Needed

Motorcycle safety is a very complex concept 1 photo
The beginning of the year brings, as usual, data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) interpreted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and this time the reports are a bit less alarming than the previous ones. While the same papers which surfaced this time of year in 2014 indicated an alarming increase of accidents and fatalities among riders, the figures for 2013 show a slight decline.
Still, it looks like a more detailed data breakdown is needed to offer a more comprehensive understanding of what is really happening on the road in the period of time analyzed. Until such info becomes available, we just have to show you the bare numbers and try to understand as much as possible from them. In the absence of such analytical data, jumping to conclusions may be a hazardous undertaking so that’s why we’re not going to do it.

Less people died on the roads in 2013

If there is good news when talking about death, here it is: 2013 saw 3.1 percent less people killed in road accidents. The figure might seem very small, but judging in context, these 3.1 percent account for no less than 1,063 people who made it alive after being involved in crashes. From 33,782 casualties in 2012 to 32,719 in 2013, the jump is not huge, but we all know that this means quite a lot of families who did not have to organize funerals for their members.

When it comes to motorcyclists, the decline in the fatality figures is more than double the overall numbers. 6.4% less motorcyclists lost their lives in 2013 compared to 2012. From 4,986 funerals, the numbers dropped by 318 to 4,668, and this is a good thing. Speaking about injuries among motorcycle riders, their number also decreased by 5.4 percent, from 93,000 to 88,000. The decrease is also bigger than the same total figure. Overall, only 2.1% less people were injured in 2013.

Band news for the passengers in the last decade

The study is also telling about the changes in the vehicle occupants/passengers fatalities, with a comparison between the 2013 figures and the ones recorded a decade ago. Unfortunately, the math is on the dismal side this time, as the fatality composition for motorcycle passengers shows an increase from 9% to 14 % in the total number of deaths. Remember, we’re not talking about blunt numbers, but about percentage. It’s obvious that more motorcycles have traveled a significantly bigger number of miles in 2013 than in 2004, so the absolute values are naturally higher. Still, the composition tells us about the percentage of dead passengers in the overall number of casualties, whichever this number might be.

One of the first interesting details about these figures we’d like to find out and which would help the safety regulators finely calibrate their strategies would be finding out the riding experience of the people operating the bikes when the crash which killed their passengers occurred. As gloomy such details could seem to some, there is invaluable data within the numbers.

That is, because learning about the distribution of passenger fatalities among young and inexperienced riders and seasoned ones could provide important insight into the riding and safety courses’ efficiency and could even offer a new perspective on how they must be changed to respond to the current traffic paradigm.

At the same time, determining who caused the accidents which killed the said passengers is yet another important side of the bigger picture, with equally interesting result possibly waiting “around the serendipity corner.” Speaking of passenger casualties, the car passengers fatalities dropped from 45% to 37% in the mentioned decade. The cars have definitely grown safer all these years, and it’s worth taking a look what makes bikes differ from this, aside from their inherent lack of a surrounding structure.

Helmets are a risk factor… when they’re not worn

This small chapter has a lot of potential to sparkle the old feud between those who would wear a helmet and those opposing helmet laws. Anyway, the purpose of the present piece is not to emanate universal truths, as we already said, so here are the blunt facts.

No less than 1,854 unhelmeted motorcyclists lost their lives in2013, accounting for 41% of the total bike casualties. That is one percent less than in 2012, with these numbers representing only the cases where the helmet use was known. Honestly, the fact that almost half of the motorcycle fatalities involve unhelmeted riders should be pretty self-explanatory, but in places where helmet laws do not require head protection, this is a matter of personal choice.

To make things weirder and require even more detailed data, we’ll add that the states with the most overall casualties are Florida (2,407), followed by California (3,000) and both led by Texas, with 3,382 deaths recorded. Now, helmets are mandatory in California, while Florida and Texas will only require that riders and passenger wear a helmet as long as they are under 21 and have proof of insurance covering for motorcycle injuries.

Again, it would be very constructive to know the proportions between helmeted and unhelmeted dead riders in “helmet- free” states (yes, some choose to protect their heads even if the law does not require it) and the casualties in places where wearing a helmet is mandatory.

Booze is not a rider’s best friend

In the motorcycle segment, the number of alcohol-impaired drivers who lost their lives was 8.3% smaller in 2013 than what the records show for 2012. 1,296 lives have been claimed in crashes involving alcohol, 117 less than in the previous year. In brute numbers, this accounts for around 27% of the total motorcycle casualties, and this is huge.

Too bad, the FARS data is not specific enough as to tell us how many of the people who died in motorcycle crashes were under the influence themselves, or have been killed by other drunk motorists… simply because this is a very valuable piece of information which can shed more light on the road conditions.

Even if the figures for 2013 are better than the 2012 ones, we’re still far from the safe roads we all dream about, and unfortunately, the solution is a most complex equation with multiple unknowns and sometimes strange relationships between them.

In fact, the way to make roads safer involves countless actions on so many levels, with the motorists themselves being the pivotal element which makes the biggest difference. Safety is also a matter of choice because most crashes start from a bad choice. For more info check with the NHTSA report
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