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More than 5,000 people were killed in the U.S. on motorcycles in 2015 with fatalities projected to skyrocket by 10 percent over the previous year.

While total traffic fatalities continue to drop, motorcyclist fatalities in 2015 reached levels not often seen (5,010 deaths).  The year 2015 was only the third year in U.S. history that motorcyclist fatalities eclipsed 5,000 people, according to a new report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) called Motorcyclist Traffic Fatalities by State: 2015 Preliminary Data.

“These sobering findings provide a stark reminder of how susceptible motorcyclists are to fatal and life-threatening injuries,” says Richard Retting, who co-authored the report with Heather Rothenberg. “The risk of motorcycle crashes and fatalities is compounded by factors such as alcohol and drug use, increased speed limits, the repeal of state helmet laws, and a record number of vehicles on U.S. roads. Concerted efforts are needed to reduce this tragic loss of life.”

Why are motorcyclist fatalities on the rise?

Overall traffic fatalities have declined by more than 20 percent since the mid-1990s, but annual motorcycle fatalities have more than doubled during that time.

The GHSA suggests five reasons for the 2015 increase:

  1. Absence of helmet laws. Thirty-two states lack helmet use laws. Michigan’s motorcyclist fatality rate increased by 23 percent since the state repealed an all-rider helmet law in 2012. The GHSA reports that helmets reduce head and brain injuries and decrease the risk of dying in a crash by 37 percent. However, only 19 states require helmets for all riders and three states (Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire) have no helmet requirements.  The GHSA said every year bills are introduced across the country to “repeal or weaken universal helmet use laws.” The National Highways Traffic Safety Admission reports in a 2014 study that 89 percent of motorcyclists in “universal law states” use helmets, while 48 percent of motorcyclists in the other states wear a helmet.
  2. Alcohol. A higher percentage of motorcyclists were killed in alcohol-related crashes (29%) than people in passenger vehicles (22%), light trucks (22%) and large trucks (2%).
  3. Limited safety enhancements. Motorcyclists are just as susceptible to injuries in a crash as they were decades ago, while car-related fatalities have dropped because of “steady enhancements in vehicle crashworthiness and crash avoidance technology.” The GHSA says adding antilock brake system (ABS) to all motorcycles would decrease deaths because it would prevent wheels from locking.
  4. Speeding. As speed increases, accidents are more likely to result in serious injury or death.
  5. Invalid licensure. Unlicensed motorcycle drivers or those with invalid licenses may be less qualified to operate motorcycles and may be at greater risk of injury.

States with the most motorcyclist fatalities

The GHSA reports that 31 states saw their motorcyclist fatality numbers increase in 2015 with 16 states decreasing and three states and Washington D.C. remaining constant with fatalities in the previous year.

The following states had the most motorcyclist fatalities (California, Florida and Texas accounted for 31 percent of all the motorcyclist fatalities):

  • Florida – 550
  • California – 489
  • Texas – 455
  • North Carolina – 185
  • South Carolina – 184

These states had the highest percentage increase from 2014 to 2015:

  • Maine – 182%
  • Vermont – 71%
  • South Carolina – 53%
  • New Hampshire – 53%
  • Wyoming – 50%

When sorted by percentage of total traffic deaths, the following states had the highest percentages of motorcyclist deaths:

  • Hawaii – 26%
  • Connecticut – 22%
  • Nevada – 22%
  • Colorado – 19%
  • Rhode Island – 19%
  • Florida – 19%

5 ways motorcyclists can stay safe

The GHSA offers these suggestions to stay safe when riding a motorcycle:

  1. Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet, even when not required by state law.
  2. Wear bright-colored clothing to make it easier to be seen by other drivers.
  3. Never ride impaired by alcohol or other drugs.
  4. Obey posted speed limits.
  5. When buying a new motorcycle, choose one with antilock brakes, which have been shown to decrease fatal motorcycle crashes.

“State and national data illustrate that motorcyclists are far more likely to be injured or killed in a crash than motor vehicle occupants,” says GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “GHSA and its members will continue to support the development, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based motorcycle safety countermeasures to improve rider safety and, ultimately, save lives.”

Buy the right motorcycle insurance

Shop online to compare insurance quotes from several companies and take advantage of all discounts that may be available to you. Here are five ways you can save on motorcycle insurance:

  1. Bundle your motorcycle insurance with other insurance.
  2. Maintain a good driving record.
  3. Northern riders should look into a “lay-up” policy, which allows motorcyclists to suspend all but comprehensive coverage during the winter months.
  4. Most insurers provide discounts of at least 5 percent for those who complete a safety course.
  5. Equip your motorcycle with a GPS locating device, which can yield savings as much as 20 percent and may cause some companies to waive your deductible.

Safety statistics show that motorcyclists should make sure they have the right motorcycle insurance. The good news is that motorcycle insurance can be affordable – potentially costing less than $100 annually.

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