Motorcycle deaths rose sharply in N.H. in 2015 from a very low level the year before

  • CHSA chart Courtesy—

Monitor staff
Published: 5/20/2016 12:47:40 AM

The number of people who died in motorcycle accidents in New Hampshire in 2015 was significantly higher than in 2014, dashing hopes that the state had begun to curtail the road toll on bikers.

According to preliminary data from the Governors Highway Safety Association, 26 people died in motorcycle accidents in New Hampshire in 2015, about 50 percent more than the 2014 tally of 17.

That 2014 figure was the second-lowest number of motorcycle deaths in the state since at least 2004, according to federal data, and officials had hoped that it signaled a shift in the state’s relatively high figure in this category. But the 2015 tally pushes that hope aside, bringing it back to levels consistent with the number of deaths seen on roads over the past two decades.

All across the country, motorcycle death tallies fluctuate from year to year, more so than deaths in cars. They decline in bad economic times, because much motorcycle riding is recreational and people curtail it when times are hard. Fatalities go up in dry years, because wet weather reduces the number of people who go out riding.

The fluctuation seems greater in New Hampshire because the number of deaths is relatively small, so a few bad accidents can make a big difference.

Motorcycles have long been far more dangerous than cars or trucks. The Governors Highway Safety Association said that the death rate for motorcyclists is more than four times higher than it is for four-wheeled vehicles when you count the number of vehicles registered – and it’s a whopping 26 times higher when you total the number of miles driven, since motorcycles tend to average fewer miles than cars or trucks.

This disparity has grown in the past two decades, partly because cars and trucks are getting safer, whereas “motorcyclists remain just as susceptible to injuries when involved in a crash,” the association said in its report.

The report, titled “Motorcyclist Traffic Fatalities by State, 2015,” did note one improvement in motorcycle technology: “the increasing availability of anti-lock brakes, which have been shown to decrease fatal motorcycle crashes by preventing a motorcycle’s wheels from locking during braking and assisting with maintaining the stability of the motorcycle.”

The 2015 data in New Hampshire also continue a trend in which motorcycle fatalities make up more total road fatalities than is common in most other states. In 2015, 18 percent of all highway deaths in New Hampshire came from motorcycle accidents, compared with the national average of 14 percent.

New Hampshire has long been a motorcycle haven, a status cemented in part by Laconia Bike Week. A 2011 study indicated that it was second only to South Dakota in terms of per-capita motorcycle registrations.

New Hampshire does not require riders to wear helmets, but it’s unclear how that affects the fatality rate because 31 other states also do not require them for all riders – although most, unlike New Hampshire, do require helmets for riders under age 18 – and their death tallies are not easily calibrated.

The Governors Highway Safety Association strongly advocates helmet usage. It also advocates more training before a motorcycle license is issued.

In New Hampshire, adults can get a driver’s license by taking a two-day “basic rider class” or passing a Division of Motor Vehicles test.

The report said that motorcyclists are more likely to be driving under the influence, the report said, with 29 percent of riders having blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher, compared with 22 percent of drivers of cars or light trucks in fatal accidents.

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