Gas vs. safety ... Are motorcycles worth it?

Thursday, June 5, 2008
Charles Windham is shelling out a lot less for gas thanks to his fuel-efficient motorcycle. More Americans are switching to motorcycles in order to curb the effects of increasing gas prices on their budgets. Photo by Terrah Baker

With over 30,000 deaths caused by motorcycle accidents since 1975, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, it may be hard for those seeking an alternate form of transportation to discern whether a motorcycle is a responsible purchase. With gas prices rising continuously, the fuel efficiency of motorcycles is a desirable attribute, but are the dangers of riding too much to risk to save dollars at the pump?

According to one user of All Things Motorcycle's Web site, a motorcycle can get roughly 33 percent better gas mileage than an average fuel burning automobile, so it is no surprise that consumers have turned to motorcycles for better fuel efficiency during times of wavering economic stability.

Charles Windham, a Salem resident and a 3-month owner of a Yamaha V-Star said that his bike gets between 50 to 60 miles a gallon. The average truck produced in 2008 with a 4-cylinder engine and 2.3 liter gas tank gets around 19 miles per gallon in town and 24 miles per gallon on the highway.

"I have to run and get parts and I bought it for that and for just local running in general. We enjoy it, too," Windham said.

Of course, there are other noted reasons for trading a car for a motorcycle such as price, and "the excitement of the wind blowing in your hair," as one motorcycle owner put it, but the issue of gas prices has brought even more buyers to the market.

According to Ann Whitehead, program manager over public information and education for the Arkansas State Police Department, the number of motorcycles registered in the state of Arkansas increased by 72 percent from 2002 to 2006 and the number of licensed motorcycle drivers has increased by 28 percent. Along with the growth of motorcycle sales, the number of fatalities in Arkansas due to motorcycle accidents has increased as well. In 2005 there were only 63 deaths according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and 76 deaths in 2006. That is a 20.6 percent increase in fatalities from motorcycle accidents in one year's time.

A representative from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department said that although the statistics for 2007 have been prepared, they have not been released yet. The representative also said there are possible explanations for the increased death toll due to motorcycle accidents besides increased reckless driving.

"The number of bikes on the road goes up historically a certain percentage every year. I'm not sure why, but it could be due to a number of factors like aging (baby boomers) and population growth," the representative said.

Across the nation there were over 90,000 motorcycle accidents in 2006, 4,810 of which were fatal according to the NHTSA. The number of accidents in Arkansas for 2008 is estimated by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportaion Department to increase similar to statistics from previous years.

Whitehead said that the Arkansas State Police has seen an increase in injuries that corresponds with the repeal of mandatory motorcycle laws for adults in 1999 mandating motorcyclists wear helmets while riding.

"There could be a variety of reasons for the increase, but our statistics in Arkansas show an increase in fatalities since the repeal of the mandatory laws. So, you combine the fact that there's more (motorcycles) on the road and they're not wearing helmets," Whitehead said.

The Arkansas Highway Safety Office suggests that potential riders do extensive research on what bike will fit them best -- in both size and necessity, never drink and drive and remember that motorcycles can be potentially dangerous when ridden carelessly and irresponsibly.

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