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This data is disturbingly misleading. As someone else pointed out, the curve is preselected by using 1997 as the baseline. In 1990, about 3200 fatalities on bikes were reported by NHTSA, about the same as this year. There are more bikes now, but I haven't easily found registrations for 2002. In 1980, there were over 5000 fatalities on bikes. Using vehicle miles is ludicrous, since these are not even estimates -more like guesstimates, but even so, there are a lot more vehicle miles now anyway with more bikes. The real question is not why we have the current fatality rate which demonstrates dramatic improvement over the last 20 years and relative stability over the last 10; rather, why was there a downward blip in the late 1990's when the fatality improvement was so much better than the general 20 year trend. In other words, there is no epidemic of death on motorcycles at this time - we're right where one would statistically expect us to be. We should just try to figure out what was going on right in 1996-99, as well as why we improved so much from 1980.
 

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Anyone remember the front page headline plastered in every newspaper in 1997: MOTORCYCLES BECOMING DRAMATICALLY SAFER SINCE 1980 WITH FATALITIES CUT BY OVER 50%.



I can't seem to find the clippings.
 

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The reason that mileage is a poor denominator (as stated above by someone else) is that it is too difficult to determine. I concur that bike registrations are a somewhat better, if imperfect means of assessing CHANGES in risk, though not absolute risk. And by that criteria the risk assessment is not nearly so horrific.



It's a bit like assessing airplane flight risk. It turns out that the majority of crashes occur during take-off and landing, not in-flight, thus many have criticized using flight miles in the equation. I have read that using number of flights as their denominator results in a five fold increase in flight death risk and is more accurate in terms of assessment compared to other modes of travel.



I think a lot of people have made good points. Clearly, regardless of whether or not the risks have changed a little or a lot, riding a bike is inherently dangerous. Similarly, we should always be doing everything we can to make it safer (education, licensing requirements, better gear, safer bikes, car driver training, etc., etc.) no matter what the trends are.



I think an important point is that this article was not written to promote a renewed agenda to improve motorcycle safety but to sell papers with another gloom and doom, bikers are wackos, grab the kids and get them inside, orientation. And it worked, as every person I spoke with who doesn't ride, commented to me how insane it was to ride a bike.



In Tucson, this ran as the front page lead article - meaning the editors were calling this the most important news story in the world for that day. I'm sure it helped sell papers to their target population, a demographic not composed of a lot of riders.
 
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