WASHINGTON — After rising steadily for nearly a dozen years to set a record in 2008, the number of people killed nationally in motorcycle accidents dropped dramatically last year, according to a report issued yesterday.
The Governors Highway Safety Association report found that fatal crashes declined nearly 16 percent in the first nine months of 2009, compared with the same period the year before.
There was no ready explanation for the drop, a year after 5,290 motorcycle fatalities set a record. Some speculated that the economy was keeping motorcyclists off the road, that a 42 percent drop in new motorcycle sales last year resulted in fewer novice riders, and that publicity about deaths had heightened the awareness of both motorcyclists and motorists.
“It’s good news that fatalities are decreasing, but I really don’t have a clue as to why,’’ said Samir Ahmed, an Oklahoma State University expert who is leading a four-year, $3 million research project on the cause of motorcycle accidents. “I really don’t see anything that would cause that, unless people are just not riding.’’
During the nine-month period of the comparison, most states and the District of Columbia reported a drop in motorcycle deaths. California had 133 fewer deaths, Florida had 111 fewer, and Ohio had 48 fewer.
Deaths in Massachusetts, however, rose from 34 to 43. Two states — Hawaii and Rhode Island — had double-digit increases. Once numbers for the final three months of 2009 are factored in, the report projects, the annual fatality decline would be 10 percent.