- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently published some interesting data regarding an alarming uptick in motorcycle accidents and fatalities. According to NHTSA, motorcycle registrations have increased substantially during the past few years, from 3.8 million to 4.2 million between 1997 and 1999, which is also exactly the same time period during which motorcycle accident fatality rates rose significantly as well up to 23.4 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 1999 from 21.0 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 1997. Many of these fatalities involved older riders, those aged 40 and above, many of whom did not previously hold motorcycle licenses. Today, the average age of a motorcycle rider is 38.5 years, whereas it was 26.9 in 1980.

It's almost certain that the increase in crashes noted by NHTSA these past several years is the result of rider inexperience putting a relative novice on a huge bike that was probably chosen because it looked cool and the middle-aged guy buying it couldn't see himself putt-putting around on a lighter "starter bike." Most guys who don't get into cycling in their teenage or college years aren't likely to start out on the kinds of bikes that someone 16-22 years old would. That's not because of the inherent sensibility of the under-25 crowd. It's just simple economics: Under-25s don't have the money to buy a big bike, so they get what they can afford, which is almost always something smaller, lighter and less powerful than they'd get if they had the extra money. But a 35-year-old who is looking to buy his first bike is probably indulging himself with a "toy" and has disposable income to burn. He can afford the $8,000-$15,000 or more to buy a big cruiser, so he does.

The results are predictable. It would probably be a good thing if either motorcycling license requirements were a bit tougher (they're laughable in most states), or if people simply exercised better judgment and kept within their limits. There's no shame in acquiring valuable motorcycling skills on a "starter bike" before moving up. Your life may depend upon your prudence.

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