Motorcycle sales rising, along with amount of fatal accidents

Terry D. Carrell, of Sidney, Ill., loads a motorcycle onto a trailer Monday at the Motorcycle Rider Program, 4 Gerty Dr., Champaign. Carrell is the field coordinator for the program which teaches approximately 12,000 students in Illinois each year. Aaron Facemire

Terry D. Carrell, of Sidney, Ill., loads a motorcycle onto a trailer Monday at the Motorcycle Rider Program, 4 Gerty Dr., Champaign. Carrell is the field coordinator for the program which teaches approximately 12,000 students in Illinois each year. Aaron Facemire

By Emily Sokolik

Like leaving home for college, riding a motorcycle is associated with a feeling of freedom and independence.

“There’s something very relaxing and very different,” said Imre Szauter, legislative affairs specialist for the American Motorcyclist Association.

“When you commute on a motorcycle, there’s a certain thrill,” he added.

But motorcycle riding is not completely carefree.

As the New York Times recently reported, the number of fatal motorcycle accidents is on the rise, jumping 13 percent to 4,553 deaths in 2005 from 4,028 deaths in 2004.

John Sudlow is project coordinator for the Motorcycle Rider Program at Illinois, a free, state-recommended course that teaches fundamental motorcycle riding skills to beginning and advanced motorcyclists.

Sudlow said the rate of motorcycle fatalities has been steadily increasing since 1998, but there have been no conclusive studies conducted to determine the cause.

Sudlow speculates that the increase can be attributed to a variety of factors.

First, drivers are experiencing more distractions like cell phones and are also exposed to heavier traffic, Sudlow said.

He also pointed to the growing popularity of sport utility vehicles and pick-up trucks.

“Both motorcyclists and pedestrians have seen an increase in fatal crashes from these types of vehicles,” he said.

“When people cared about fuel efficiency, a lot of cars on the road were smaller,” he added.

Though the number of motorcycle accidents has been on the rise, more and more people are buying motorcycles.

“Motorcycle sales have been very good,” said Eric Brunk, business manager at Andrae’s Harley-Davidson, 2010 N. Lincoln Ave.

“I see more and more motorcycles out on the road,” he added.

He said the rising popularity of motorcycles comes from the riders’ sense of freedom, but also from their fuel efficiency.

Sudlow said, however, that some see motorcycles as a more economical form of transportation than SUVs, but asserts that the increased demand is not linked with lower prices at the pump.

While riding a motorcycle brings about greater risk, there are ways to stay protected, Szauter said.

“Get educated, get licensed and make sure you and the bike are in good condition,” he said.

It is important for all riders to enroll in state-approved motorcycle courses, like the Motorcycle Rider Program in Illinois, Szauter said.

He also stressed that riders should know their bike and keep it in good shape.

“You can’t beat the fun factor,” Sudlow said.

“Everything, though, has a cost and a benefit. Sure, the benefit is fun, but the cost is increased risk,” he added.