Motorcycle safety is back in the news again, due to an article in the September 20, 2013, issue of BMC Public Health entitled "How do motorcyclists manage mental tensions of risky riding?" A team of researchers from Los Angeles, California, and Tehran, Iran, interviewed 34 Iranian male motorcyclists over the age of 18 in order to gain insight into risky riding behavior. The researchers identified four different "types" among the riders interviewed, and recommend that road safety advocates consider different approaches for educating each type.
Globally, motorcyclists are 37 times more likely to die in traffic accidents than four-wheeled vehicle riders. In Pennsylvania, between 150 and 236 motorcycle driver / rider fatalities have occurred each year in the past decade. However, risks to life and limb come from different behaviors. Research published in the journal Accident: Analysis and Prevention points to several potentially life-saving safety strategies: education regarding alcohol use, promotion of helmet use, enforcement of heavy vehicle and speed violations, road improvement, improvement of signage and street lights, and motorcyclist education.
Alcohol is a major factor in motorcycle safety. In 2012, 29% of fatal motorcycle accidents in Pennsylvania involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Motorcyclist advocacy group ABATE (Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education) has promulgated a safe-driving message that features alcohol-free driving. "ABATE believes all ... alcohol-related fatalities to be unnecessary and avoidable," the group says on its Web site. "We recognize that alcohol is part of American society," the statement continues, "but it must not be a part of riding motorcycles or any other vehicle."
Helmet use has been debated in Pennsylvania for more than a decade. In 2003, Pennsylvania changed its helmet law to make motorcycle helmets mandatory for riders under 21 years of age as well as any rider licensed for less than two years. Helmet use by other riders, although popular, is voluntary. ABATE has taken a public stand in favor of free choice by experienced adult motorcyclists, citing the overwhelming importance of driver education, the general reality that motorcyclist helmet use does not affect whether other vehicles involved in an accident experience fatalities, and Americans' general right to pursue happiness. Indeed, Pennsylvania does not currently restrict food consumption that leads to chronic illness that affects everyone's health care costs, so mandatory helmet use for experienced adult motorcyclists would seem out of place.
Distracted driving is a concern for car drivers and for motorcyclists. Despite a general preference for driver freedom, ABATE has taken a position in favor of cell phone bans for motorcycle drivers because of the potential risk to others on the road. Distracted driving poses a danger for individuals other than the motorcyclist, and ABATE "will continue to support legislation that ... maximizes the probability that irresponsible drivers will be held fully accountable for the consequences of their actions."
Both ABATE and PennDOT support driver education, and in Pennsylvania, surcharges on motorcycle permits and licenses fund such education. The most recent public health research regarding motorcyclists recommends framing education for four different audiences: "risk managers," who believe their own abilities reduce their risk of bad outcomes; "risk utilizers," who believe dangerous driving helps train them to handle all risks better; "risk calculators," who may choose to take a risk in order to avoid a perceived greater risk; and "risk takers," who indulge in risky behavior for its own sake. It may be that enhanced driver safety education can benefit both motorcyclists and car drivers -- a goal everyone can support.