WASHINGTON (AP) _ More motorcyclists are dying on the nation's highways, new federal statistics show.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released a study Tuesday showing that 2,472 people were killed in motorcycle accidents in 1999, the largest number of fatalities since 1991. It was the second straight year that the number rose over the year before.
NHTSA, which has proposed a motorcycle safety program, is joining with other interested groups to study why more motorcycle riders are being killed in accidents.
The increase mirrors a rise in the number of motorcycles on the road. There were 4.2 million motorcycles registered in 1999, up 9 percent from 3.8 million in 1997.
``Unfortunately, the increase in motorcycle popularity has been followed by a rise in fatalities,'' Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said.
Motorcyclists are much more likely to die in a crash than the driver of a passenger car. For every 100 million miles traveled, 1.9 automobile drivers died in an accident compared with 36.5 motorcyclists.
Congress in 1995 repealed a law that diverted some federal highway money to safety programs in those states that didn't require motorcyclists to wear helmets.
But the number of helmetless victims dropped from 940 in 1995 to 879 in 1997 before rising again. In 1999, 1,082 people killed on motorcyclists were not wearing helmets, 44 percent of the total number of fatalities. In 1998, 45 percent of victims did not wear helmets. Those were the highest percentages since 1991.
The NHTSA study found that 41 percent of motorcyclists in fatal crashes were speeding, that almost half who died in single vehicle crashes were driving under the influence of alcohol, and that almost one in six motorcycle riders were driving without a valid license.
Most of the increases in deaths occurred among motorcyclists at least 40 years old. Deaths among those aged 40 to 49 rose from 405 in 1997 to 567 in 1999, and those over 49 from 294 to 401 during the same two-year period. But the greatest number of fatalities remain among riders between the ages of 20 and 29, growing from 694 in 1997 to 758 in 1999.
``These findings underscore the importance of rider training, proper licensing and wearing protective gear,'' said the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, a nonprofit group funded by motorcycle manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson and Kawasaki.
NHTSA has proposed a safety program that would include letting the states, who license motorcyclists, learn of the best training programs; pushing anew for motorcyclists to wear helmets and to not drink and drive; teaching car and truck drivers to be more aware of motorcyclists; and studying new braking systems for motorcycles.