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Spike in PA motorcycle deaths: who is to blame?

In 2003, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives saw heated debate over whether to pass the proposed bill that would make it legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. Some congressmen were staunchly against the bill, predicting it would certainly lead to a steep increase in traffic fatalities.

In the intervening 15 years since the bill was passed into law, the statistics are not encouraging. In Pennsylvania, motorcycles account for 3 percent of all registered vehicles on the road, but they make up 16 percent of all motor vehicle deaths. In addition, the state has seen a 63 percent increase in motorcycle fatalities since the helmet ban was lifted.

However, supporters of the no-helmet law warn against jumping to conclusions based on the math. For one thing, only about half of the state’s motorcycle fatalities involved motorcyclists who weren’t wearing a helmet. They also point to other trends that could also have influenced the sharp rise in motorcycle deaths. They cite a parallel increase in registered motorcycles on the road, as well as an increase in smart phones and distracted driving over the last decade and a half.

They make a fair point. With the nearly limitless distractions smart phones now offer, the resulting spike in distracted driving has had disastrous impacts on traffic safety. Between 2014 and 2016, Pennsylvania saw a 52 percent increase in distracted driving citations. While the state passed a law that bans texting while driving in 2012, it did not follow the example of other states in issuing a ban on using hand-held phones while driving. Some have criticized this omission, holding that any activity that takes your hands off of the wheel is a dangerous distraction.

The cause of Pennsylvania’s growing motorcycle fatalities is debatable. However, to maximize safety on the road, wearing the proper protective gear and staying alert and attentive while driving are always good practice.

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