Why are motorcycle deaths down in the US but up in Pennsylvania?

PennDOT collects similar numbers for Pennsylvania, and ours didn’t look nearly as good. We had at least five more motorcycle deaths in 2014 than in 2013 — 186, as opposed to 181. The only good news is that 2012 was even worse, with 210.

Why would Pennsylvania have a higher rate of motorcycle fatalities than the rest of the U.S.?

Well, it’s not entirely clear that motorcyclists are actually less safe in Pennsylvania. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in fact, these fluctuations are pretty small and could be the result of weather patterns or even the economy, which can affect people’s decisions about riding.

What is clear is that motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to be killed in traffic accidents than occupants of passenger vehicles. What could make them safer?

This subject of motorcycling risks arose last July in the context of traffic congestion. We heard a lot of the same advice as usual — be sober, maintain your bike, keep up your skills and wear a helmet. Some advocates, however, proposed that Pennsylvania follow California’s lead and allow lane-splitting.

Lane-splitting is when motorcyclists travel in the spaces between cars on a highway or Interstate. It can be disconcerting for drivers of cars and trucks, but it doesn’t appear to create any significant risk to the occupants of passenger vehicles. The big question has been whether it’s too risky for motorcyclists.

When researchers at the University of California at Berkeley studied the issue in an exhaustive review of real accidents, they found that lane-splitting can be safer than not, depending on the situation. What really drives up the risk for motorcyclists wasn’t lane-splitting, but speed — particularly a high speed-differential between the motorcycle of the car. The greater the difference in speed between the two vehicles, the more serious the accident is likely to be.

Do you think Pennsylvania should allow lane-splitting by motorcyclists? Tell us what you think.