Statistics released in a 2011 preliminary study by the Governors Highway Safety Association indicate that the number of motorcycle fatalities has decreased overall nationwide. While these statistics are exciting, unfortunately, the number of fatalities in Illinois rose dramatically that year — more than any other state statistically. Early indicators suggest that the increase in the rise of motorcycle accident deaths is attributed to better weather, which likely translates to more motorcyclists on Illinois roads for work and pleasure.
Nationwide, the states with the fewest biker fatalities are those that have poor weather conditions that minimize motorcycle travel. In addition, the states withfewer motorcycle registrations and an increase in enforcing the laws along with motorcycle safety education programs and rider training available to everyone.
More Bike Registrations Equals More Bike Fatalities
According to statistics, the cost of gasoline tracks closely to the number of motorcycle registrations and the number of biker fatalities. These numbers suggest that unless active safety measures are developed and enforced, the number of motorcycle fatalities will likely continue to rise in Illinois. This is because as long as the price of gasoline remains steady there will be more bikers who register motorcycles and use them for travel or as a commute option to work.
However, the data also highlights the significant decrease of motorcycle accident fatalities in Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin, four states that have universal or partial motorcycle helmet laws. Currently, Illinois has no helmet law on the books nor any real indicator that any helmet laws will be proposed and enacted in the near future. Only Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire have no legal requirement to wear a helmet, even though the federal government makes highway construction funds and federal safety programs available to states that enact laws that mandate helmet use.
The Years Ahead
The economic decline over the last few years has finally turned around, the stock markets have been at their highest points in history and the cost of gasoline remains steady or is dropping. If these trends continue to maintain their levels, Illinois will likely see an even greater increase of motorcycle travel in the state and a continuing rise of motorcycle accident-related fatalities unless the government take stronger safety measures.
Fortunately, the number of fatalities can decrease with effort. Federal and state governments have long known how to enforce effective strategies that can prevent motorcycle accidents with serious injuries and fatalities by placing safety as the highest priority. The Governors Highway Safety Association recommends that every state adopt specific measures to minimize the number of motorcycle accident-related injuries and accidents. These recommendations include:
- Mandate Helmet Use – After three decades of mandated helmet use laws, government agencies know that wearing a helmet while operating or riding on a motorcycle saves lives. Simply telling bikers to wear a helmet appears not to work. This is because since 1997 when the universal helmet laws were repealed in seven states there was a significant decrease in helmet use and an increase in the rise of motorcycle accidents with injuries and fatalities.
- Reduce Alcohol Impairment – Operating any type of vehicle puts the public at risk. Statistically, out of all the motorcycle rider fatalities, 29 percent of all bike crashes involved motorcyclists who were riding above the legal limit of 0.08 blood-alcohol concentration.
- Reduce Speeding – Statistically, more than one out of every three motorcyclists involved in a fatal accident in 2008 was speeding.
- Make Motorcyclists Training Available – Every novice motorcyclists needs to have effective training to develop basic motorcycle operating skills and understand the safest riding practices to save their life and the lives of those sharing the roadway.
- Teach Drivers to Share the Road – Most vehicle/motorcycle collisions are the result of a vehicle driver violating the biker’s right-of-way. Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that outreach campaigns and communication programs designed to increase driver awareness of motorcycles sharing the roads helps to save lives.
By far, the most effective strategy to reduce the number of motorcycle accident -related deaths is for Illinois to enact a universal or partial helmet use law. Statistics show that using a helmet while operating a motorcycle can prevent 37 percent of all accident-related biker fatalities and 41 percent of all motorcycle passenger deaths.