Better helmet laws would be the real silver lining
Everyone looks for a silver lining during protracted periods of bad weather. Well, here's one: the cold and rain that stole much of 2013's summer across the country, following a warmed and dry 2012, helped to save the lives of some motorcycle riders.
According to The Governors Highway Safety Association, the number of motorcyclist fatalities during the first nine months of 2013 indicates that, for the entire year, fatalities declined by 7 percent from 2012. That decline was the first since 1997.
But the reason for the decline, the GSHA said, was as gloomy as the weather itself. There was no increase in motorcycle or rider safety. Rather, 2012's unusually warm and dry weather produced a spike in motorcycle riding and fatalities. The 2013 weather, cooler and wetter in most of the country kept more motorcycles off the road for longer periods than in 2012.
Pennsylvania reported 158 motorcycle fatalities during the first nine months of 2013, a decline of 27 from the first nine months of 2012.
Overall, the report emphasized that motorcycle safety has not improved as automobile safety has improved dramatically. A car passenger was twice as safe in 2011 as in 1997, measured by fatalities per registered vehicle, whereas motorcycle safety remained consistent.
In 2011 and 2012, motorcycles accounted for six times more occupant fatalities per registration than passenger vehicles, even though most motorcycles carry only one or two people.
Some of the fatal crashes involved speeding, some involved drinking and driving. But the most important factor, the report said, was whether the victim was wearing a helmet.
"Helmets are 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41 percent effective for passengers, the report said. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that helmets saved the lives of 1,617 motorcyclists in 2011. If all motorcyclists had worn helmets, an additional 703 lives could have been saved."
Yet only 19 states and the District of Columbia have universal helmet laws; 28 others, including Pennsylvania, require only younger and beginner riders to wear helmets.
"By far, helmets are the single most effective way to prevent serious injury and death in the event of a motorcycle crash," said Kendell Poole, GHSA chairman and director of the Tennessee Office of Highway Safety.
Pennsylvania is among the states that have gone in the wrong direction. Lawmakers should reinstate mandatory helmet use instead of relying on the weather to reduce the carnage.