In 2015, the nation saw an overall upward trend in vehicle crashes and fatalities across all segments of the population. Overall, there was a 7.2 percent increase which is the largest percentage increase in almost 50 years. Increases in fatalities were seen in all types of vehicles and roadway users including SUVs, vans, trucks, pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. Specifically, motorcyclists’ fatalities in 2015 had an increase of 8.3%, the largest since 2012.
There were other statistics, specific to motorcycles that are of note:
- While the proportion of people killed ‘inside the vehicle’ (which includes drivers and passengers of cars, trucks, etc.) has declined by roughly 15% over the last decade, the proportion of people killed ‘outside the vehicle’ (which includes motorcyclists, pedestrians, etc.) has increased by roughly 15% over the last ten years.
- There were increases in motorcyclist fatalities in every age group except those 19 and under which saw fewer fatalities in 2015 than in 2014.
- Though not specific to motorcycles, the most common fatal crash type in 2015 was multi-vehicle rollovers.
- Data showed that crashes due to ‘human choice’ specifically distracted driving, increased by almost 9%.
- Other ‘human choice’ factors included alcohol impaired drivers in which fatalities increased overall by 3%.
- Interestingly, there was a half percentage point drop in motorcyclists who had been involved in fatal crashes due to alcohol-impairment. This may suggest that some of the recent motorcycle and alcohol awareness programs could be starting to take effect.
The NHTSA release offered some possible explanation for the overall upward trend in fatal crashes. Specifically, it linked economic trends like a recovering economy and lower gas prices as reasons more people were on the road, likely due to work travel and increased recreational travel. Warmer weather and milder winters which some of the nation saw in 2015 were also contributing factors.
Though no specific policy solutions were offered with the NHTSA release, it was noted that, “in States without universal helmet laws, 58 percent of motorcyclists killed in 2015 were not wearing helmets, as compared to 8% in States with universal helmet laws.” This is likely an indicator that NHTSA will continue its position in viewing universal helmet laws as a solution for highway safety. This emphasizes ‘safer crashing’ rather than crash prevention; of which many motorcyclists find fault.
In response to the release of the data, The White House and Department of Transportation are issuing a call to action to involve a wide range of stakeholders in helping determine the causes of the increases seen in the 2015 crash and fatality data. NHTSA announced plans to share the information with its safety partners, state and local officials, technologists, data scientists, and policy experts. States and the nation as a whole are likely to see policy solutions offered and initiatives brokered over the following weeks and months as a result of the newly released data.
The motorcyclist community is also in the process of responding to the recently released data through reviewing and confirming the information and preparing to work with the federal agencies to ensure that policy solutions are achieved through the lens of crash avoidance and do not infringe upon their personal rights. These activities will complement the already existing efforts being achieved at the federal and state levels like emphasis on rider education, alcohol awareness programs, share the road initiatives, motorcyclist awareness programs and reduced distraction efforts.
The raw data can be accessed via NHTSA’s website: ftp://ftp.nhtsa.dot.gov/fars/2015/