Perhaps inspired by the 1969 film classic “Easy Rider,” today’s baby boomers account for nearly two-thirds of all motorcyclists in Michigan—and, unfortunately, a rising number of crashes and deaths.
According to a new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), the number of motorcyclists 45 and older killed in crashes nearly quadrupled from 2001 to 2005 (the last year for which data is available). Crashes among this age group increased more than 60 percent during that time, compared with a 6 percent drop in the number of crashes for younger motorcycle riders.
“The aging of the motorcycling population in Michigan may be contributing to the increase in motorcycle fatalities,” said UMTRI researcher Lidia Kostyniuk. “As people age, their bodies become more fragile and their chances of dying as a result of a crash increase. This may well explain the increase in overall motorcycle fatalities that occurred in Michigan in 2005—a 54 percent increase from the year before.”
In their study of motorcycle crash trends in Michigan since 2001, Kostyniuk and colleague Adam Nation found that the number of motorcycle crashes overall increased 9 percent, while motorcycle registrations have risen 33 percent (to more than 250,000) and licensed motorcyclists have increased 9 percent (to nearly 500,000).
During that time, the crash rate per licensed rider has jumped more than 30 percent for older motorcyclists, but just 6 percent for motorcycle riders under 45, the study shows. However, younger bikers are still nearly three times as likely to be involved in a crash than their older counterparts and are more likely to be cited for hazardous actions, such as speeding, reckless driving and careless or negligent driving.
According to the study, about half of all motorcycle crashes, for both younger and older riders, involve other vehicles—whose drivers are more likely to be at fault. More than 60 percent of drivers of these other vehicles engaged in hazardous actions, such as failing to yield or failing to maintain a clear distance between their vehicle and the motorcycle, and about 30 percent of them were ticketed. Conversely, about half of motorcyclists involved in a crash with another car or truck drove hazardously, though only about 15 percent were cited.
Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of fatalities and about half of all injuries to motorcycle riders in Michigan occur in crashes with other vehicles, Kostyniuk and Nation say.
Overall, the UMTRI study found that motorcycles were involved in about 12 percent of all fatal vehicle crashes in 2005—a 32 percent increase since 2001. The total number of all vehicle crashes resulting in death decreased by 15 percent over the same period. Likewise, the number of non-fatal injury motorcycle crashes increased by 11 percent during that time, but decreased 18 percent for all vehicles.
The researchers say that about 97 percent of motorcyclists involved in crashes since 2001 wore a helmet. About 3 percent of these riders were killed, 20 percent sustained severe injuries, 54 percent suffered minor injuries and 23 percent were not injured at all. Among helmet-less bikers who crashed, 5 percent were killed, 30 percent were severely injured, 53 percent had other injuries and 12 percent were not hurt.
They also found that most motorcycle crashes occur on dry roads (more than 90 percent), in good weather (more than 75 percent) and during the day (about 70 percent). And, in motorcycle crashes involving other vehicles in which either the rider or vehicle driver had been drinking, the biker was under the influence of alcohol 70 percent of the time.
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