Motorcycle deaths in Iowa declined in 2009, but not as significantly as the drop nationwide. The number of Americans who died in motorcycle crashes last year dropped at least 10% from the year before. Scott Falb of the Iowa Department of Transportation keeps track of the number of motorcycle crash fatalities.
“Iowa saw a decline, but it wasn’t quite 10 percent,” Falb says. “We went down from 53 in 2008 to 49 in 2009.” That’s a seven percent drop. The Governors Highway Safety Association says the bad economy kept many from riding their motorcycles as much last year, and that was the major factor in the drop in motorcycle fatalities. Falb saw another factor at work in Iowa: the unseasonably cool summer weather in 2009.
“Our 49 (motorcycle) fatalities weren’t very evenly disbursed over the summer,” Falb says. “We had whole two week periods where nobody died and then we would have several the next week when the weather was better.” Nice, sunny days are better for motorcycle riding than cool, rainy days according Falb, a motorcyclist who’s been caught “once of twice” in rainstorm.
“If you’ve ever been on a motorcycle or seen motorcyclists in the rest room wringing out their clothes because they got caught in a shower, you know it’s not a fun thing to be doing,” Falb says. “You not only get soaked from the rain, but you get soaked from the splatter of other vehicles.”
The high price of gasoline and the recession haven’t prompted many Iowans to opt for a fuel-conserving motorcycle or a scooter as their primary source of transportation according to Falb. Just over a third of the motorcycles registered in Iowa last year were Harley Davidsons.
“Those are all 1,000-cc or larger engines and to kind of give you a perspective on that, until recently I had a Honda Civic that had a 1,500-cc engine in it and that’s a four-wheel sedan,” Falb says. “So these are large engines on these vehicles.” Falb says another 30% of the motorcycle market is made up of Gold Wings or Silver Wings, made by Honda. The high-end bikes cost up to $20,000 dollars or more, which is the price of a medium-sized car.
There were five motorcycle fatalities in Iowa in the first two week of April. “That’s never a good sign when we lose that many, especially since we had three in one weekend,” Falb says. “So we want people that drive four-wheel vehicles to make sure that they are looking for two-wheel vehicles whether they’re motorcycles or bicyclists because bicyclists are also out on our roadways now.”
Over half of motorcycle crashes are single-vehicle accidents, however, where the motorcyclist loses control. “So we want motorcyclists to keep your speed down, to ride sober and know your route — anticipate where the curves are — and wear your protection,” Falb says. “Wear your helmet and wear protective clothing because we lose far fewer helmeted motorcyclists than we do helmeted motorcyclists.”
None of the people who have died in motorcycle crashes so far this year in Iowa were wearing a helmet.