August 1, 2002

Motorcycle deaths rise during Sturgis motorcycle rally

Arlington, Virginia – The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said today that thirty-six of South Dakota’s 69 motorcyclist deaths during 1995-2000 occurred in August, the month of the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally which is attended by about 400,000 people.

Of the 36 cyclist deaths in August 1995-2000, 23 occurred in the four counties (Custer, Lawrence, Meade, and Pennington) in and around Sturgis. Furthermore, fifty-four of the 69 riders who died in South Dakota during 1995-2000 – and 28 of the 36 who died during August of those years – weren’t wearing helmets. In South Dakota and most other states, only cyclists younger than 18 have to wear helmets.

In the U.S., deaths of motorcyclists 40 and older jumped dramatically from 1997 to 2000, the latest year for which statistics are available. The increase during the last three years exceeds 65 percent, and the overall increase in deaths among older motorcyclists since 1990 exceeds 150 percent. Until 1997, the increase in deaths among older riders was more than offset by declining deaths among younger riders. But since then deaths among younger motorcyclists have been increasing.

The median age of motorcyclists killed is 36 years old, up from 27 in 1990. This shift isn’t because of the aging of the population, said the IIHS, but reflects the changing demographics of motorcycle riders. Surveys show cycle owners aren’t as young anymore. Increasingly they’re older, affluent professionals. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, the typical U.S. bike owner now is about 38 years old compared with 24 years old in 1980.

The repeal of helmet use laws in some states and weakening of the laws in other states are contributing to the increases in motorcyclist deaths. In the early 1970s, virtually all states had laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets, but by 1980 most states had abandoned or substantially limited their laws (usually by restricting coverage to riders younger than 18). Such efforts haven’t stopped – this year alone, at least 10 states have considered legislation to weaken or repeal motorcycle helmet laws.

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