St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/27/2011 : 3:53 PM
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released DOT HS 811 149, "Traffic Safety Facts Research Note: Motorcyclists Injured in Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes". It examines some very basic crash data from 1998-2007 using crashes that resulted in police-reports.
Since far more motorcyclists are injured than killed and injury is a far better outcome than death, it would be most beneficial to determine the key factors that make one crash outcome injury and another one fatal. So something like this has been long-overdue though this study looks at very few elements.
For the most part, the analysis found that while more riders are injured, the proportions in each element the study looked at are almost identical to what they were back in 1998. What NHTSA didn't do in all but two cases is compare those injury percentages to fatality percentages-and when we do that, the answer may be disturbing: the biggest difference between survivable and non-survivable crashes may only be the degree of injury and not different situations.
* Injuries have increased 110 percent while motorcycle registrations increased 84 percent.
* About half the injuries continue to occur in single-vehicle and half in multi-vehicle crashes
* About half (55%) of all injury crashes continue to occur during the week and half (45%) occur on the weekend. (However, weekend crashes occur 1.5 more often since the weekend is a much shorter length of time).
* About 60% of the crashes continue to happen during daylight hours,
* and 68% occur from April through September.
* Ninety-percent of injuries happen to riders and 10 percent to passengers.
* About 85% of all the injured are male and 15% female.
* Injuries increased among all age groups-but the age group with the largest number of injuries was in the 20-29 year-old age group.
* And almost the exact same percentage of riders were injured in alcohol-related crashes in 2007 (9%) as in 1998 (10%).
Helmet use The NHTSA report states, "Among the 103,000 motorcyclists injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2007, 65,000 (63%) were helmeted at the time of the crash, 31,000 (30%) were not helmeted, and helmet use was unknown for 7,000 (7%) of the motorcyclists injured. Helmet use from 1998-2007 among motorcyclists injured in crashes has ranged from a low of 55 percent in 2002 and 2003 to a high of 63 percent in 2007. Of the motorcyclists injured in crashes who were not helmeted, the proportion ranged from a high of 40 percent in 2002 to a low of 30 percent in 2006 and 2007."
Comparing injury crashes v. fatal crashes
NHTSA only compared injury analysis results with what's known about fatalities in two instances: First, the percentage of operators v. passengers injured is almost identical to the fatality data and secondly, the percentage of male v. female injured is almost the same as the percentage of men to women fatalities. Being a woman, I can't resist pointing out MIC reports women represent 23% of all who rode (front or back) on motorcycles last year. Iow, it appears women are under-represented as both operators and passengers in both injuries and fatalities-and thus may be safer operators and make male operators safer riders when we're on the back.
NHTSA didn't mention there's other aspects that reveal injury crashes are almost identical to their more lethal counterparts: the days of the week; the time of day; the time of year; the percentage of single-vehicle v. multi-vehicle crashes; age.
One very key-and crucial difference is the percentage of alcohol-involved crashes that result in injured riders (10%) versus dead riders (28% were at or over the legal limit and another 8% had between a trace and 0.07% BAC in 2007). It is unknown why such an enormous difference would exist-and it could be important how the researchers determined alcohol-involvement in injury crashes. But the data raises the question, in my mind at least, whether a crash after drinking is more likely to end in death than injury.
According to MIC, the <=30 age group increased about 8%. The existence of mandatory training requirements for young riders suggest of all age groups, more trained riders are likely to be found among these young riders. However, since 1998 but using NHTSA data, injuries in this age group increased 105% and fatalities increased almost 83%. In 2007, these young one-third of the riding population had almost 40% of the injury crashes. The author of the analysis points out that other age groups are catching up to younger rider injury numbers.
While we are well aware that fatalities among the Baby Boomers have dramatically increased in the past decade, they do represent more than 50% of the riding population and in 2007 had just under 43% of the injuries and just over 49% of the fatalities.
Comparison between injury and death when it comes to helmet use deserves its own entry because of the implications.
There but for the grace
The bottom line, though, is that NHTSA's limited injury data analysis reminds of what death by motor vehicle really is-one or more injuries that are so severe that life cannot be sustained. So it's not surprising that so many of the characteristics are exactly the same between injury and fatal crashes. both occur at the same times of days and in the same seasons to basically the same people.
If we look at only these few characteristics NHTSA chose to highlight, it suggests a "there but for the grace of God" scenario as if it random whether the rider was merely injured or injured so severely they died. And this would be very difficult for riders to accept. A further, more comprehensive analysis-and comparison must be done. Here's an idea-how about doing the long-delayed accident causation study that the motorcycle industry was forced to finance but doesn't want to be done?
Otoh, it suggests that most of these issues such as day and hour (with the possible exception of alcohol blood level) aren't what causes one crash to be fatal and another to be survivable. The answer may lie elsewhere-and now we know where not to look.
More injurious today than a decade ago
This new document is what it is-a research note. It does raise some issues though: While percentages of crash-involved riders stay the same in specific areas the analysis reveals a significant gap in a critical area: registration went up 84% while injuries went up 110%-a gap of 26% and that's a very significant change. Iow, it can't be just a matter of more motorcycles=more crashes=more injuries. Something else is going on-something that this analysis didn't pop out.
More deadly today than a decade ago
Crashes aren't just more injurious, they're more deadly than a decade ago. While injuries increased 110%, fatalities increased almost 125%. That's a difference of almost 15%. (It also means that fatalities increased 41% over registrations compared to that 26% disparity between registrations and injuries).
Ten years of data reveals that crashing out of proportion to the increase in motorcycles on the road-and more of those crashes are ending in injury and more of those injuries are deadly. That should concern us-and the more so after we look at the helmet issue in the next entry.