First, the numbers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are over 7 million motorcycles registered for road use in the United States. NHTSA data states that between 1997 and 2006 registered motorcycles jumped from 3.8 million to 6.2 million. A staggering 63% increase in motorcycles in less than a decade.
Although there was a significant drop in new bike sales from 2007 to 2010 (likely due to economic conditions), the trend is finally reversing and European and American motorcycle sales are now increasing steadily. The reason for the decline of bike sales during this period was most likely due to people shifting their lifestyle during the recession.
The 1997-2006 statistics represent a significant jump in sales for a mode of transportation that Americans consider to be a hobby. Sadly, the motorcycle "hobby" accounts for over 103,000 motorcycle injuries annually. The United States Department of Transportation Action Plan reports that fatalities jumped 41% from 2,116 to 5,154 between 1997 and 2010. But according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association, fatalities fell to 4,376 in 2010.
The youngest of riders still account for the highest fatality rates, but it's the "boomer" generation that account for the majority of injuries. This is due to the classic "mid-life crisis" scenario and the fact that this age group has more disposable income.
In January 2005, The Journal of Safety Research began a long term study to identify the increases in accidents and fatalities. The initial study release states, "Although causes remain unclear, motorcycle education and licensing play a key role in reducing motorcycle related crashes and injuries. Yet, little is known about what constitutes effective rider training." Training is one key, but there is more than one key.
Most American Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV) operations are woefully inadequate in licensing procedures for today's motorized life. Since it's nearly impossible to change the way we license automobile drivers in America, the solution is to train motorcyclists to be better motorcyclists.
Right now, in order to obtain a motorcycle "learner's" permit all you have to do is take a written test (multiple choice). If you pass, the DMV will issue a "provisional" (MP) license that allows you to operate on state and federal highways, but you are not supposed to ride on Interstates, at night or have a passenger. Most of these "provisions" are ignored by the newly licensed.
When you return to take your "road/skills" test you will be placed in a parking lot at the DMV and asked to execute a series or stop and go procedures at a speed of around 15 mph. Often administered by examiners that have no motorcycle experience at all. If you successfully complete these low speed skills you are issued your full M class permit. How does riding at 15 mph in a parking lot ready you for riding in Georgia or Atlanta traffic and avoid injury or accident? It doesn't. We need an updated testing procedure!
Skills aren't of much value if you don't know the motorcycle operational laws and standards. The Georgia Motorcycle Operator's Manual is a very important piece of material for the riding community in this respect. However, compared to British, EU or Japanese operator's manuals, it short changes us as rider's as to how to be prepared for the road.
In my view, our licensing procedures are far too easy compared to the majority of the riding world. It's time to make our standards tougher in the name of safety and this doesn't apply to just young riders -- it applies to ALL riders.
The Law Offices of P. Charles Scholle, sponsors Georgia on Two Wheels for the enjoyment and safety of Georgia's biking community. As all riders know, we need to stick together as a community and this blog is dedicated to all Georgia riders. If you ever need legal advice about an injury or accident on your bike, please contact our law offices for a free consultation with Charles.