Drop in motorcycle deaths may be due to luck, not better driving

California motorcycle deaths plunged 28 percent last year, but that may not indicate safer driving conditions.

Motorcycle fatalities have been climbing at an alarming rate in recent years. Nationwide, fatalities due to motorcycle accidents have soared from just over 2,000 in 1996 to close to 5,000 in 2016, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, 2017 may offer a break in that distressing upward trend. That's because last year motorcycle fatalities fell dramatically, both in California and across the U.S. Unfortunately, while any decrease in such fatalities is good news, safety experts caution that it may be due more to luck and bad weather than an improvement in people's driving and riding skills.

Motorcycle fatalities shift downwards

According to the Mercury News, 2017's motorcycle fatality rate showed a huge turnaround from just the year before. Nationwide, for example, from 2015 to 2016 the number of U.S. motorcycle deaths jumped by six percent, seemingly continuing what had been a long-term trend. However, from 2016 to 2017, those fatalities suddenly dropped by 5.6 percent.

The decline in California was even more dramatic. From 2015 to 2016, California motorcycle deaths jumped by 11 percent. However, in the following year they plunged more than 28 percent. In 2017, there were 406 people killed in motorcycle accidents in California compared to the 566 who were killed the year before.

Are conditions getting safer?

It is tempting to think that the long-term increase in motorcycle accidents may finally be over. However, safety officials are urging caution in how to interpret the statistics. Motorcycle accident data is notoriously variable, meaning there may be an occasional year that sees a dramatic spike either upwards or downwards, but which does not counteract the more long-term trends. In other words, it is too early to say whether motorcycle deaths are finally trending downwards.

However, there is one likely explanation for why motorcycle deaths declined so rapidly in California in 2017 and it has nothing to do with motorists driving better. Bad weather may have been a major reason why many people decided not to take their bikes out of the garage for much of the year. Early in 2017, for example, the state, especially the Bay Area, saw huge amounts of precipitation. Later in the year, meanwhile, wildfires likely discouraged many would-be riders, especially in Southern California.

Personal injury law

In other words, one year's drop in motorcycle fatalities is no guarantee that the roads are actually getting any safer for bikers. The risk of injury and death for motorcyclists is still many times higher than it is for other motorists. For motorcyclists who have been hurt in an accident, it is important to talk to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help clients understand what compensation may be open to them and how to go about making a potential claim.

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