As gas prices rise, so do motorcycle fatalities
The National Transportation Safety Board released figures for 2007 showing that the number of motorcycle fatalities increased dramatically. According to the NTSB, combined with a reduction in car and truck occupant deaths, this increase in bike fatalities means that motorcycle deaths now account for almost one traffic fatality in eight.
For the tenth straight year, the number of bike deaths increased, last year by almost seven percent. 5,154 people were killed on motorcyles in 2007 and it appears that while miles driven by car and truck have declined, motorcycle miles have increased with the price of gas. Last year, alcohol-related deaths dropped, as did motor-vehicle-related deaths of occupants of cars and trucks. A bit of historical perspective: in 1966, 50,000 people died on our highways (for a rate of more than five deaths per 100 million miles traveled); last year total deaths were just over 41,000 for a rate of 1.37 per 100 million miles.
While the rate of motorcycle fatalities has increased from about 5 percent of all motor-vehicle deaths to about 13 percent, there has been an increase of about 75 percent in the number of registered bikes. No one seems to have a reliable figure with regard to the number of miles actually driven, but experts in our prior cases have documented that a substantial number of leisure-bikers put very few hours on their machines.
The NTSB also noted that a number of states have given up mandatory helmet requirements. In 1975, 47 states required helmets; today, only 20 require helmets. A representative of motorcycle manufacturers told the New York Times on August 15 that alcohol plays a substantial role in motorcycle fatalities, as does inadequate training and improper licensure. While this is probably true, it has been our experience that the overwhelming majority of motorcycle injuries and fatalities result from another's (motorist's) error.
The fact that motorcyclists often pay dearly for other driver's errors was thoroughly documented in 1974, when the Michigan Legislature created an entirely separate scheme to provide motorcyclists with insurance coverage and personal injury benefits. In short, they normally receive benefits from the insurance coverage of any car "involved" in causing the injuries, rather than from the household of the victim, regardless of fault.