Motorcycle fatalities nationwide have surged to their highest levels since 1987, even as overall highway deaths continue to decline, reports USA Today. Last year, 4,008 motorcycle riders were killed in highway accidents, up 7.9% from 2003 and 89% higher than in 1997, according to a new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report. Meanwhile, passenger car deaths dropped 3.2% to 19,091 last year.
Possible causes: a sharp rise in motorcycle ownership, rollback of mandatory helmet laws and an increase in inexperienced bikers riding powerful machines. A spokesman for the highway administration said blame may lie partly with states that have scaled back helmet laws. A study released by the agency Monday showed an 81% rise in motorcycle deaths in Florida in a three-year period after the state repealed its helmet law in 2000. In 2003, the motorcycle fatality rate was 38.38 per 100 million miles traveled, compared with less than 2 per 100 million miles traveled for all vehicles.