A report released May 22 by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) concludes that no progress was made in reducing motorcyclist deaths in 2011. Based upon preliminary data from 50 states and the District of Columbia, GHSA projects that motorcycle fatalities remained at about 4,500 in 2011, the same level as 2010.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projected that overall motor vehicle fatalities declined 1.7% in 2011, reaching their lowest level since 1949. But motorcycle deaths remain one of the few areas in highway safety where progress is not being made.

The new report — the first state-by-state look at motorcycle fatalities occurring in 2011 — was authored by Dr. James Hedlund of Highway Safety North. Most states have reasonably complete fatality counts for at least the first nine months of 2011, enabling GHSA to confidently project the full year. Hedlund completed similar projections for GHSA in 2009 and 2010, with both being very close to the final fatality numbers, GHSA said.

Comparing the first nine months of 2010 to 2011, motorcyclist fatalities decreased in 23 states, with notable declines in many. In Connecticut, for example, motorcycle deaths dropped 37%, while in New York and North Carolina they fell 16% and 21%, respectively.

GHSA's member in New York State is the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC). Barbara J. Fiala, commissioner of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and chair of GTSC, noted that the decrease in fatal motorcycle crashes in the state is due to a mix of countermeasures focusing on enforcement, education and engineering.

"In New York, we are educating motorists to watch for motorcycles, riders to wear bright protective gear to make themselves more visible, and law enforcement officers on conducting efficient and effective motorcycle checks," Fiala said. "It is encouraging to see that these efforts, which have been conducted with our state and local partners, are making a difference."

Twenty-six states and the District Columbia, on the other hand, reported an increase in motorcyclist deaths. In South Carolina and Texas, they rose 26% and 16%, respectively, while in California they increased 10%.

In light of the report’s findings, now is a good time for fleet managers to remind their drivers to be mindful of sharing the road safely with motorcyclists.

Here are some safety tips from the California DMV:

  • When you change lanes or enter a major thoroughfare, make a visual check for motorcycles. Also use your mirrors. Motorcycles are small and they can easily disappear into a vehicle’s blind spot.
  • Allow a four-second following distance. Drivers need this space to avoid hitting the motorcyclist if they brake suddenly or fall off the motorcycle. Motorcycles generally can stop faster than passenger vehicles.
  • Allow the motorcycle a full lane width. Although it is not illegal to share lanes with motorcycles, it is unsafe.
  • Never try to pass a motorcycle in the same lane you are sharing with the motorcycle.
  • When you make a turn, check for motorcyclists and gauge their speed before turning.
  • Look carefully for motorcyclists before opening doors next to moving traffic or before turning right.
  • Remember that motorcycles may travel faster than traffic during congested road conditions and can legally travel in the unused space between two lines of moving or stationary vehicles; this is commonly called "lane splitting."
  • Remember that road conditions, which are minor annoyances to you, pose major hazards to motorcyclists. Potholes, gravel, wet or slippery surfaces, pavement seams, railroad crossings and grooved pavement can cause motorcyclists to change speed or direction suddenly. If you are aware of the effect of these conditions and drive with care and attention, you can help reduce motorcyclist injuries and fatalities.