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Motorcycle deaths rise after years of decline

SHARE Motorcycle deaths rise after years of decline

WASHINGTON — More motorcycle riders are dying in crashes, and federal officials want to know why.

A National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study released Tuesday shows that 2,472 people were killed in motorcycle accidents in 1999, the largest number of fatalities since 1991. It was the second straight year that the number rose over the year before.

The number of deaths rose 17 percent between 1997 and 1999.

The increase mirrors a rise in the number of motorcycles on the road. There were 4.2 million motorcycles registered in 1999, up 9 percent from 3.8 million in 1997.

"Unfortunately, the increase in motorcycle popularity has been followed by a rise in fatalities," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said.

Motorcyclists are much more likely to die in a crash than the driver of a passenger car. For every 100 million miles traveled, 1.9 automobile drivers died in an accident compared with 36.5 motorcyclists.

NHTSA, along with state officials, motorcycle manufacturers and others, are trying to find out why the death rates are rising again.

The federal agency has proposed a safety program that would include letting the states, who license motorcyclists, learn of the best training programs; pushing anew for motorcyclists to wear helmets and to not drink and drive; teaching car and truck drivers to be more aware of motorcyclists; and studying new braking systems for motorcycles.

The NHTSA study found that 41 percent of motorcyclists in fatal crashes were speeding, that almost half who died in single vehicle crashes were driving under the influence of alcohol, and that almost one in six motorcycle riders were driving without a valid license.

Most of the increases in deaths occurred among motorcyclists at least 40 years old. Deaths among those aged 40 to 49 rose from 405 in 1997 to 567 in 1999, and those over 49 from 294 to 401 during the same two-year period. But the greatest number of fatalities remain among riders between the ages of 20 and 29, growing from 694 in 1997 to 758 in 1999.

At the same time, older motorcyclists had a lower fatality rate than those aged 20 to 39.

Almost 52 percent of fatal accidents occurred on rural roads in 1999, as compared with 47 percent on urban streets. In 1990, 55 percent of fatal motorcycle crashes took place in urban areas, compared with 45 percent in rural areas.

Motorcycles are also getting bigger. In 1990, the average size of a motorcycle in a fatal crash was 769 cubic centimeters. In 1999, the average size was 922 cc.