Illinois motorcycle deaths on the rise

By Dave Gomez

Illinois ranked sixth in the nation for motorcycle fatalities in 2003, with numbers up 47 percent from the previous year, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

The center’s report comes on the heels of nine fatal motorcycle accidents that have occurred in the Chicago area during the past month.

On Monday, a female passenger died after being thrown from a motorcycle on the Kennedy Expressway.

Motorcycle fatalities rose to 143 in 2003, up from 97 in 2002, placing the state behind California (383), Florida (365), Texas (323), Pennsylvania (156) and New York (153).

Last April, a former NIU student died after crashing his motorcycle on Lincoln Highway.

Factors contributing to the rise in deaths can be difficult to determine, said Lt. Lincoln Hampton of the Illinois State Police.

Motorcycles are becoming faster while the number of riders has gone up, Hampton said.

For about the price of a small car, riders can buy a high-end motorcycle, such as the 1300-cc Suzuki Hayabusa, capable of reaching speeds of nearly 200 mph.

The high-speed bikes are a greater risk, Hampton said, particularly when riders decide to evade police.

“It’s tough to catch those guys [when] they’re traveling at such high speeds,” he said.

Motorists also contribute to motorcycle accidents because they are unaware of motorcyclists or lose sight of them, Hampton said.

“Make sure people see you,” Hampton said, “Don’t take any extra chances; you don’t have as much protection.”

Robert Ritter, director of NIU’s Motorcycle Safety Project, said motorists often take the right-of-way from motorcyclists.

“The major issue is that 72 percent or more of the multi-vehicle accidents are the automotive public’s fault,” he said.

Single-vehicle accidents usually involve excessive speed and alcohol, which leads to the rider losing control, Ritter said.

“Those people are riding above their skill levels and possibly the capabilities of the motorcycles they are riding,” he said.

Nationwide last year, 52 percent of fatally-injured motorcyclists were not wearing a helmet, according to the NCSA. Two-thirds of unhelmeted fatalities were in states without a universal helmet law – Illinois is among them.

According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, a national nonprofit trade association, the rise in deaths comes during a decade-long swell in motorcycle popularity.

More than 846,000 motorcycles were sold across the nation in 2003. The sales marked a 6.5-percent increase from the previous year and the 11th-consecutive year of growth, according to the council.

The Motorcycle Safety Project, which offers riding courses, has struggled to accommodate all the new riders.Ritter said over the past eight years, course offerings have increased, yet they cannot keep up with demand.

The project offers two courses, one for novices and one for veterans. Both courses address accident avoidance techniques and the use of protective gear such as helmets.

For more information about NIU’s Motorcycle Safety Project, visit