Riding Headstrong for Safety in 2013

2012 was one of the deadliest years for motorcyclists in Wisconsin over the last two decades. The state recorded 114 motorcycle fatalities in 2012, the most since the all-time high of 123 in 1979. Motorcycles have high performance capabilities and are less stable and visible than cars. When motorcycles crash, their riders are ejected and lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle, making them more likely to be injured or killed.

According to Greg Patzer, manager of the Wisconsin Motorcycle Safety Program through the WI Department of Transportation, “The rise in fatalities in 2012  could be attributed to the extended nice weather we experienced last March all through mid- December.” The riding season typically runs from late April to October. He also pointed out that older riders were involved in fatal crashes. He said, “Some of those motorcycles, and their riders, had not been on the road in decades and the returning riders may have been rusty or have inadequate skills.” 

Older riders are also choosing to ride “trikes” or the new three-wheeled motorcycles. Handling and steering on these is much different from two-wheeled cycles and can surprise even the experienced cyclist. 

Speed and alcohol played a role in about 35% of the fatalities. Eleven riders were killed when their bikes hit deer. Approximately 70% of the motorcyclists killed were not wearing helmets. Patzer stated, “While I don’t believe every fatality might have been prevented by wearing a helmet, I wonder how many lives could have been saved.”

Head injury is the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes. Unhelmeted motorcyclists are more than three times as likely to suffer a brain injury as are those who were helmeted. Helmets decrease the severity of injury, the likelihood of death, and the overall cost of medical care. They're designed to cushion and protect riders' heads from the impact of a crash.

Like seat belts, helmets can't provide total protection against head injury or death, but they do reduce the incidence of both. Universal helmet laws, in place in 19 states, require all motorcyclists to wear helmets whenever they ride. Wisconsin has a partial helmet law requiring anyone under age 18 or with an instructional permit to wear a helmet.  

Motorcycle crash statistics show that helmets are about 37 percent effective in preventing crash fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates “an unhelmeted rider is 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury and 15 percent more likely to incur a nonfatal head injury than a helmeted motorcyclist.”

Greg Patzer ended by saying safety experts at the DOT are watching these statistics closely and are increasing their training efforts toward older and returning riders.  “As important as rider education is, teaching other motorists to be aware of motorcycles is equally important,” he said.