WASHINGTON -- No progress was made last year in reducing motorcyclist deaths, even though overall motor vehicle fatalities dropped to their lowest level since 1949, according to the Governors Highway Safety Assn.
One reason, the group said, may be that high gas prices are driving more people to ride motorcycles. But the group also sought to use the data to make the case for mandatory helmet laws, which are under attack in five states.
The group projects about 4,500 motorcycle fatalities for 2011, about the same as the year before.
Motorcycle deaths increased in 26 states for the first nine months of last year, rising 26% in South Carolina and 16% in Texas. They declined in 23 states -- dropping 37% in Connecticut -- while remaining unchanged in one state, Louisiana.
In California, 223 motorcyclists were killed from January through July last year, up roughly 10% from 202 for the same period a year earlier, according to the group. Unlike other states, figures for the first nine months of the year were not immediately available for California.
"States with fewer motorcyclist fatalities attributed the decrease to poor cycling weather, reduced motorcycle registrations and motorcycle travel, increased law enforcement, rider training, and motorcycle safety education," according to a report released by the group Tuesday. "States with more fatalities cited good cycling weather, increased motorcycle registrations and travel, and a return to normal levels after an abnormally low fatality count in 2010."
The report comes as seven states have repealed mandatory helmet laws since 1997, most recently Michigan, and legislation has been introduced in five other states to repeal their laws, according to the highway safety association.
Michigan officials who pushed for repeal argued that wearing a helmet was a matter of personal choice. They also contended that repealing the mandatory helmet law would boost the state’s tourism.
“If someone is 21 and has received the proper training, the choice to wear a motorcycle helmet or not should be left to them,” state Sen. Phil Pavlov, a Republican who sponsored the repeal bill, said last year in pushing the measure.
Pete terHorst, a spokesman for the American Motorcyclist Assn., told The Times that the group was encouraged by projections that motorcycle fatalities in 2011 will not be greater than 2010. He noted that fatalities dropped 16% in 2009.
"We do not agree with one of the report's recommendations that mandatory helmet laws are a solution,’’ he said. "The AMA strongly encourages helmet use, but helmets do nothing to prevent motorcycle crashes. Sadly, when helmet mandates are enforced, scarce resource dollars are often directed away from effective crash-prevention programs, such as rider training and motorist awareness."