Today’s vehicles are safer than ever before – well, unless it has those Takata airbags that explode. (My Honda is parked in the garage until it can be fixed.)
Riding a motorcycle, on the other hand, is still far more dangerous than driving a car. And deaths are spiking – up about 10 percent last year, with more than 5,000 fatalities across the country.
It’s only the third year, and the first time since 2008, that the death toll topped 5,000, the Governors Highway Safety Association warned in a report this month.
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It’s a good time for the safety reminder, with motorcyclists yearning for the open road and summer beckoning with the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
According to the preliminary figures, motorcycle deaths increased by more than 450 nationally over 2014. The number increased in 31 states; the biggest jump was 182 percent in Maine.
Fortunately, California was one of 16 states where deaths declined in 2015, by 7 percent to 489. That was still the second highest of any state, behind only Florida.
The study surmises that relatively good weather and lower gas prices put more motorcyclists on the road for more miles in 2015, increasing the chances for crashes. But the deadlier toll is part of a longer trend.
While total traffic fatalities have dropped by more than 20 percent over the last 20 years, motorcycle deaths are double the number in the mid-1990s. They account for nearly 15 percent of all road deaths, though they represent only 3 percent of registered vehicles and less than 1 percent of vehicle miles traveled.
The fatality rate for motorcyclists is 26 times higher per mile driven than for drivers of passenger cars, largely because cyclists are far less protected than someone inside a car if there is a collision.
The same holds true for pedestrians. The governors safety group says that pedestrian deaths also spiked by about 10 percent last year, the largest increase in 40 years.
I hesitate to write about motorcycle safety again. When I’ve questioned lane-splitting – only legal in California – I’ve been bombarded with emails and comments from bikers. So I’m glad this study doesn’t get into that issue.
Rather, it stresses some common-sense safety tips: Never ride while using alcohol or drugs, don’t speed, wear high-visibility clothing. And most of all, wear a helmet.
California is one of 19 states that require all riders to wear them. Helmets reduce the risk of dying in a crash by 37 percent, according to the latest federal study. The feds estimate that more than 700 lives could have been saved in 2013 if all cyclists in fatal collisions had worn them.
Before I hear from angry bikers again, I just want everyone to be safer on the road. For most of us, it’s the most dangerous thing we do in our daily lives, whether we’re in a big SUV or on a Harley.
By the numbers
Motorcycle deaths in 2015 and percentage change from 2014 in selected states:
- Florida: 550, up 22 percent
- California: 489, down 7 percent
- Texas: 455, up 1 percent
- New York: 156, up 16 percent
- Arizona: 130, no change
- Colorado: 106, up 13 percent
- Oregon: 57, up 24 percent
- Nevada: 54, down 11 percent
Source: Governors Highway Safety Association