By THE NEW YORK TIMES
September 30, 2009
Motor vehicle deaths dropped nearly 10 percent in 2008 compared with 2007, pushing down all transportation deaths, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday.
Highway fatalities, which dominate the toll, dropped to 37,261, from 41,259. But motorcycle deaths rose for the 11th year, to 5,290, and now account for one in seven motor vehicle deaths.
The report covers a year of record-high gasoline prices, and then recession, conditions that cut the number of miles traveled. But the rate of deaths per million miles also dropped sharply, by 7 percent, suggesting that driving got safer over all.
High gas prices may also have increased motorcycle miles. The number of miles traveled by motorcycles is uncertain, although the number of registrations is up. Many states have repealed helmet laws, which experts say has led to a higher death toll.
The highway death toll in 2008 was the lowest since 1961.
Motorcycle deaths: one in every seven fatal highway accidents.
Even accounting for high gas prices, the rate of automobile deaths per miles driven has dropped...driving cars has gotten safer while motorcycle deaths have climbed.
Motorcyclists have a right to operate their vehicle in the way they deem best, right? They have a right to ride without a helmet, without a jacket, without chaps, right? We have the right to exceed the speed limit by 10 mph, right? I don't think so.
Public opinion, formed by newspaper headlines and third-person experiences, may well erode our rights to the point where motorcycling will be regulated out of existence.
I can easily foresee taxes levied on motorcycle-related purchases "to pay for excessive accident rates". I can foresee sky-high insurance rates "for statistically risky behavior". I can foresee signs along our favorite twisty highways: "No Motorcycles Allowed".
We motorcyclists must begin to "police" ourselves before we are regulated out of existence by public opinion. This requires each of us to model exemplary motorcycling skills:
Every motorcycle death and every motorcycle-related accident becomes evidence that motorcycles are only appropriate for extreme sports and daring risk-takers.
If we can lower our death and accident rate, we not only will return home after each ride to our families and friends, but we will be showing our community that motorcycling is a great recreational activity.