The number of people dying on motorcycles is creeping back up in Florida after three straight years of dramatic declines in motorcycle crashes.
And safety officials are raising a red flag about a new shift in those being injured: Middle-aged and older motorcycle riders hopping back in the saddle and dying in increasing numbers.
“We’re starting to see many older riders getting hurt,” said Chanyoung Lee, a senior researcher at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research.
Florida Motorcycle Fatalities by Age
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But it’s not clear if they’re driving the significant jump in motorcycles deaths.
The number of people who died from motorcycles crashes increased 18 percent statewide in 2011, according to recently released data by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
In Broward County, motorcycles deaths increased 80 percent, from 21 in 2010 to 38 last year. While Palm Beach County motorcycle deaths dropped from 23 to 19. Miami-Dade County saw a slight jump from 30 to 35, a 16 percent increase.
Young motorcycle riders tend to make up the largest percentage of motorcycle crashes and deaths. But a shift has been occurring in recent years, Lee said.
“Riding motorcycles has become a major hobby for retired Baby Boomers,” Lee said.
In analyzing Florida motorcycle crash data, Lee found an increasing percentage of bikers 45 and older are crashing and dying. At the same, there has been a decline among younger motorcycle riders.
Between 2005 and 2007, bikers 45 to 54 accounted for 17.8 percent of all motorcycle deaths. Between 2009 and 2011, they made up 19.9 percent of motorcycle deaths.
Motorcycle riders 55 to 64 accounted for 10.3 percent of motorcycle deaths between 2005 and 2007. But between 2009 and 2011, they made up 16.6 percent of motorcycle fatalities.
Yet, young riders aged 25 to 34 saw their proportion of deaths decline from 22.5 percent between 2005 and 2007 to 21.7 percent between 2009 and 2011.
And riders aged 35 to 44 went from 20.3 percent of motorcycle deaths to 16.2 percent.
Part of the reason for that shift, Lee believes, is that those who used to ride when they were younger are coming back to motorcycling, but their riding skills have diminished in that time.
“They’re kind of rusty,” Lee said.
Ray Vega, a motorcycle instructor with the Safety Council of Palm Beach County, said he sees a lot of 50-somethings in his classes. Many are returning to a ride they enjoyed before they were married and had kids. Now that the children are out of the house, they’re going back to it. Others are trying it for the first time.
“We call it mid-life crisis,” he said.
Besides needing a refresher course, older bikers need to be aware that they have physically changed, Vega said.
“As we get older, our reflexes slow down; our vision is weaker,” he said. “Age plays a big part on the skills. You need to slow down, pay more attention to what you’re doing.”
Speed typically isn’t the problem with older riders. It’s the younger riders who gravitate toward sport bikes — nicknamed “crotch rockets” because of their speed.