When gasoline topped $4 a gallon, motorcycles became a popular alternative for drivers looking to be more fuel efficient and save money. While most cars average around 22 miles per gallon, motorcycles easily average 50 to 60 miles per gallon. It is hard to know for certain how many new riders chose to ride a motorcycle or scooter. But motorcycle registrations keep rising with more than six million motorcycles registered in the United States, compared to about four million only 10 years ago.
According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, a trade association, 1.1 million motorcycles were sold in the United States last year — 30 percent more over 2001, when 850,000 motorcycles were sold. But the increase in motorcycle sales and registrations has coincided with a marked increase in motorcycle-related deaths, which jumped 50 percent nationally over the same period.
“These increases cancel out any benefits we’ve realized from reducing the number of passenger car deaths,” says Associate Research Scientist Patricia Turner with the Center for Transportation Safety (CTS) at the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI). Turner leads the Center’s motorcycle safety efforts.
In 2007 — the last year for which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has figures — car occupant fatalities declined by 5 percent, while motorcyclist fatalities increased by 7 percent over the previous year. Motorcyclists alone account for 13 percent of all deaths related to traffic crashes in the United States.
Last year, Texas had 431,571 registered motorcyclists. Of those, 526 were killed, according to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) preliminary crash data. While motorcycle registrations in Texas rose 13 percent between 2007 and 2008, motorcycle fatalities increased 31 percent.
“Because there are a lot more motorcycles out there, we’re seeing more motorcycle crashes,” Turner said. Due to their size, motorcycles can easily be overlooked in traffic, and crashes often result in injury or even death.
To reduce these crashes, TTI partnered with TxDOT and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Over the past three years the team has worked to develop educational materials for drivers and riders to improve safety for motorcyclists. The Look.Learn.Live campaign — first launched in 2007 — is a three-tiered approach to increase motorist awareness of motorcycles (Look), rider training (Learn) and rider awareness (Live). TTI launched a website — http://www.looklearnlive.org/ — to provide a centralized location for campaign messages, public service announcements (PSAs) and safety information for drivers and motorcyclists.
In conjunction with the International Ride to Work Day (http://www.ridetowork.org/) in June, TTI launched the Look Twice for Motorcycles campaign message to remind drivers to be more aware of motorcycles on the roadway and to share the road safely.
The message speaks straight to the issue since 50 percent of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle. More often a vehicle turns left in front of a motorcycle or hits the motorcycle while the rider is passing or overtaking the vehicle. “I never saw the rider” is one of the most common responses the driver says after he or she has struck a motorcyclist.
The Look Twice for Motorcycles campaign message will reach residents via billboards, transit bus wraps, and radio and television PSAs. The message also incorporates the “Share the Road” decal displayed on TxDOT roadway signs across the state.
“We want to reach as many people as we can,” explains TxDOT Motorcycle Program Manager Gonzalo Ponce. “Registered motorcycles are at an all-time high in Texas. A motorcycle may not have been there when you looked before.”
The campaign runs throughout the summer and includes messages directed at motorists and motorcyclists. “We’re reminding drivers to be on the lookout for the nearly 400,000 motorcyclists on Texas roadways, especially at intersections where many crashes happen,” says Ponce.