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According to the chart on page 4 of the NHTSA document Motorcycle Safety Program, motorcycle deaths per 100,000 registrations dropped something like 25% from 1990 to 1997 while the rate for all vehicles dropped only 13%. Were we showered with kudos on that news? Not that I can recall. But now that the rate has bounced back from that extraordinarily low level, we've got hand-wringing all around. Yet the reduction in fatality rate over the longer term--from 1990 to 2001--is the same from motorcycles and all other vehicles, around 15%.

As I wrote recently in another thread: When the motorcycle riding population grows as it did from from 1997 to 2001 (registrations increased nationally by 28%), average risk--not just total risk--will grow. Harry Hurt found that newbies are about 50% more likely to crash than experienced riders. So when the sport booms, the greater percentage of newbies will increase average risk, and fatality rates, not just raw numbers, will rise.

Conversely, when the sport declines as it did from 1980 to 1997 (registrations dropped by 34%), a smaller percentage of newbies will cause average risk in the population decline, and both fatality numbers and rates will fall. And that's exactly what happened from 1980 to 1997; deaths per 100,000 registrations dropped 39%.

So the increase in rates seen recently is the mirror image of the decrease seen through 1997. However, rates are still reasonably low even by historical comparison. The 2001 fatality rate per 100,000 registrations is still well below the 1980 rate.
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