California Motorcyclist Fatalities Down

California motorcycle deaths have dropped 13 percent in the last two years, according to a study by the Governors Highway Safety Association released on Tuesday.

In 2012, California led all states in the number of motorcyclist traffic fatalities, with 345 deaths. In 2013, that number dropped to 299.

The study tracked motorcycle fatalities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia (PDF) and in the majority of states death rates have decreased. Researchers say that the biggest reason for the drop was weather. The report suggests that warmer temperatures in 2012 made more people want to strap on a helmet and zip around on their bikes, which resulted in more deadly accidents.

When winters in 2013 were considerably cooler and rainier in most parts of the United States, motorcycle deaths dropped, the report noted, because less bikers were outside.

Still, California's declining fatality rate is exempt from this conclusion, because the sunny state typically has good weather year round, and in 2012 and 2013 Californians were walking aroudn in above-normal temperatures.

So, then, what's the Golden State's secret?

“Long-term gains in motorcyclist safety won’t occur because riders are deterred by bad weather, but from consistent use of proven countermeasures,” Kendell Poole, the safety highway group's chairman, said in a news release.

California Office of Traffic Safety spokesman Chris Cochran said in an interview on Tuesday that there are a lot of different reasons for the decrease of motorcyclist deaths in California - and weather is not one.

“Over the last three years there has been an increase in motorist awareness," he said. "Increase in training, emphasis on DUI with motorcyclist, emphasis on riding with helmets and, just in the last year or so, an awareness of the lane splitting."

California has been working very hard to teach drivers aboput the sometimes dangerous - but legal - act of lane splitting, when motorcyclists pass cars in the same lane. Cochran said the California Highway Patrol has stepped up efforts to make sure safe passage occurs, through education and ticketing.

The study recommends that states take the obvious precautions to continue reducing these fatalities.  Reducing alcohol impairment, decreasing speed and ensuring proper licensing were among the suggestions. But helmets were outlines as the “single most effective strategy” to keep motorcyclist safe on the road. Helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries for motorcycle drivers and 41 percent effective for passengers, the report stated.

The need for proper motorcycle training was also strongly encouraged. Only three states have taken serious measures to implement strong training programs for motorcyclist. And California is one of them.

“We are very heavily promoting that motorcyclist get the proper training because a large percentage of those that get into the fatal accidents didn’t get training,” Cochran said.


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