As the weather warms, motorcycle riders are taking to the streets, but regardless of the season, it's always wise to keep safety in mind as well as ways you may be able to save on your motorcycle insurance policy.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) announced optimistic news this week -- motorcycle deaths dropped 7 percent nationwide in 2013.
But safety advocates can't cheer too loudly. The GHSA said bad weather from coast to coast, which meant fewer riders took to the road, is the prime reason for the decline.
There were 3,638 cyclist deaths recorded during the first nine months of 2013, a year marked by an unusually long and frigid winter in many states. By contrast, the GHSA said there were 4,046 fatalities during the same period in 2012, which had milder weather, especially during the winter.
The GHSA projects 4,610 deaths for 2013, about 7 percent less than the 4,957 recorded in the prior year. Despite the 2013 drop, deaths have mostly climbed over the years -- the GHSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) noted that there were 4,612 motorcycle fatalities in 2011, compared to 2,116 in 1997.
GHSA Chairman Kendell Poole said in a statement that the 2013 decline was "heartening," but added that "long-term gains in motorcyclist safety won't occur because riders are deterred by bad weather, but from consistent use of proven counter-measures."
James Hedlund, a former NHTSA official who authored the report based on state and federal statistics, stressed that universal helmet laws are needed to further curb deaths and serious injuries. Also, less drunken cycling, better motorcycle rider training and licensing, and more driver awareness of motorcycles would make roads safer.
The association study points out that fatality figures were higher in states that don't require riders and passengers to wear helmets. The association noted that 19 states and the District of Columbia require all riders to wear helmets, and 28 states require helmets for some motorcyclists, usually those 17 or younger. Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire do not have a helmet law.
"There were 10 times as many unhelmeted motorcyclist fatalities in states without universal helmet laws, compared to states with universal helmet laws, in 2012," the report states, drawing on information from the NHTSA.
But many cycling enthusiasts have fought mandatory helmet laws for several years, arguing that it should be a personal choice to wear one or not, regardless of risks. The main "anti-law" groups are the American Motorcyclist Association, the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and American Bikers Aimed Toward Education (ABATE), which have lobbied vigorously on the state and federal level.
Most insurance companies provide good driver discounts for riders who take a safety course -- which usually emphasizes wearing a helmet -- provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and others. GEICO, for example, offers a 10 percent cut for course certification. And Nationwide's discount is 5 percent. Many insurers offer similar discounts, some up to 15 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).
Nationwide adds that the insurer's standard motorcycle policy includes up to a $3,000 reimbursement for any damage done to safety gear. Other companies have similar provisions in varying amounts.
Motorcycle insurance discounts
Here are motorcycle discounts offered by Nationwide, but most carriers have similar provisions:
- Multi-vehicle discount: up to 35 percent
- Theft recovery device discount: up to 20 percent
- Homeowner discount: up to 19 percent
- Multi-policy discount: up to 14 percent
- Riding association member discount: up to 10 percent
- Paid in full discount: up to 10 percent
- Anti-lock brake discount: up to 5 percent
Bear in mind that some insurers limit the amount of discounts you get for certain coverages, so even if you qualify for all the discounts offered, your reduction amount may be capped at a certain percentage. Check with your insurance company to see if they cap discounts.
Here are other ways to save money when buying motorcycle insurance as a stand-alone policy or adding it to your auto coverage, according to the III:
- Costs can be cut by maintaining a good driving record with no moving violations.
- In many northern states, riders may save with a "lay-up" policy. All coverage except comprehensive is suspended during winter months with a lay-up.
- Search for mature rider discounts for experienced riders.
- Be aware that the annual miles you drive and where the motorcycle is parked or stored may affect the rate. Also, the motorcycle's age and type could impact the final cost.