Florida's Increasing Problem with Motorcycle Fatalities

This article was first published November 5th, 2010. Some of the laws may have changed since this that date.

The same qualities that make Florida so attractive for residents and tourists alike -- warm weather, plenty of sun and beautiful scenery -- also make it an especially popular state for motorcyclists. Unfortunately for motorcycle riders, the number of motorcycle accidents, and especially the number of fatal motorcycle accidents, has increased for ten straight years. This is especially troubling for the one state that sometimes leads the nation in motorcycle fatalities: Florida.

The rise in motorcycle fatalities nationwide is staggering. In 1997, 2116 people were killed in motorcycle accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). By 2007, that number had increased to 5,154. In Florida, the state's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports an 18 percent increase in motorcycle fatalities from 2005 to 2006, alone. Why, then, do motorcyclists in Florida appear to be at such risk?

The Rising Number of Motorcyclists in the State

Many experts believe that the increasing number of fatalities involving motorcyclists is mainly tied to the increase in riders on the road. In 2000, Florida had just over 255,000 registered motorcycles on its highways; by 2005, that number had more than doubled, to over 515,000.

This increase in motorcycle riders may be tied to any number of things. Florida's rising baby boomer population means that more households have children that have already left the home, and studies show that these so-called "empty nesters" are more likely to purchase motorcycles than homes with children, as the need for transporting three or more household members at a time has passed.

The rise in motorcyclists may also be one of the secondary effects of Florida's struggling economy. As more homes are forced to make tough budget decisions, transportation costs are often among the first expenses that are cut. Motorcycles, in general, are not only less expensive than cars to purchase, their much lesser weight leads to greatly reduced fuel costs as well. Motorcycles present an especially attractive transportation alternative to rural Floridians, for whom public transportation is often not an option.

Unsafe Driving Habits

The increasing number of motorcyclists in Florida is not the only factor in the rising motorcyclist fatalities. Again according to the NHTSA, over 40 percent of motorcyclists that are killed in accidents were not wearing a helmet at the time. In 2002 Florida repealed its Universal Helmet Law for motorcycle riders. Now, Florida only requires helmets for riders under the age of 21. For motorcyclists over the age of 21 that wish to ride without a helmet, the state only requires that they carry at least $10,000 of medical payment coverage -- to cover the cost of their injuries should they get in an accident -- and wear some type of eye protection.

Further, while Florida law requires riders under 21 to take a safety course prior to receiving a license, until recently older riders merely had to take a written test. This can be especially problematic for the baby boomers who are riding a motorcycle again for the first time in many years, and are overconfident in their abilities.

Florida is taking steps to curtail the troubling rise in motorcycle fatalities. Just recently, the state began requiring all drivers to pass a basic ride course before receiving a license. Florida also recently made an increased effort to highlight motorcycle safety awareness, with its "Ride Proud, Dress Loud" campaign, urging motorcyclists to pay attention to their visibility on the road to other drivers -- the lack of visibility being often cited as the leading cause of accidents between motorcyclists and automobile drivers.

Of course, there are steps motorcycle riders themselves can take to increase their safety. First and foremost, all motorcycle riders should be encouraged to wear a helmet -- this is the single most important thing they can do to decrease their risk. Motorcycle riders should also be aware that, while it may be the responsibility of automobile drivers to notice them, driving with their lights on or wearing bright colors can go a long way to increasing visibility, helping other motorists. Collisions between motorcycles and even small automobiles pose a much greater threat to the motorcyclist than to the other driver; any steps motorcyclists can take to avoid these accidents are steps worth taking.

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