Motorcycle fatalities on U.S. roadways dropped dramatically in 2013 for the first time since 2009.
It's only the second time annual deaths have fallen since 1997. But as automobile deaths continue to fall, with better safety features in cars, motorcycle fatalities for 2013 accounted for a growing share of all traffic deaths -- 14%, up from 9% a decade ago.
The National Highway Safety Transportation Administration takes a year to compile and release its annual survey of accident data, so the 2013 figures are the latest available.
The survey said 4,668 motorcyclists lost their lives on U.S. roads in 2013, down from 4,986 in 2012, a 6.4% decrease.
That compares with a 3.1% decrease in all U.S. traffic fatalities.
Fewer motorcyclists died in states with helmet laws – by a wide margin. In states without helmet laws, 1,704 riders lost their lives while riding without a helmet, compared with 150 in states with helmet laws, the report said.
Older motorcyclists, who increasingly make up the largest cohort of motorcycle riders, also scored significant improvements in safety.
The 50-to-69-year-old riders showed a 60% decrease in motorcycle fatalities from 2012 to 2013.
The NHTSA report said 32,719 people died in traffic accidents in 2013, down from 33,782 in 2012.
Driving in the U.S. has gotten safer each year for the past decade, for an overall 25% decline in fatalities. Based on the rate of fatalities per vehicle miles traveled, 2013 tied with 2011 as the safest driving year on record.
Pedestrians were also safer in 2013, when deaths dropped 1.7% from 2012, and injuries fell 13%.
Bicycles did not fare as well. The "pedal cyclist" category was the only one in the NHTSA study that showed an increase in fatalities from 2012 to 2013. The NHTSA said deaths rose 1.2%, though injuries declined 2%.