Motorcycle Crashes Leading Cause of Death Among U.S. Service Members

December 4, 2013

Each service of the U.S. military posted the lowest number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents in 2012 – although motorcycle-related fatalities continues to be a leading cause of death among service members unrelated to war, according to a new study of a15-year surveillance period.

In 2012, there were 184 motor vehicle-related deaths among service members, according to the study published in the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, a peer-reviewed journal on illnesses and injuries affecting service members from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC). Deaths in 2012 declined nearly 57.8 percent from a peak of 436 in 2004, the study said.

Dramatic declines in the numbers and rates of non-motorcycle-related MVA deaths were responsible for the fall in rates for all MVA-related deaths. For the entire 14-year surveillance period, slightly over 25 percent of all motor vehicle-related deaths were due to motorcycle accidents among active and reserve component service members combined. However, as a result of the decline in non-motorcycle-related MVA deaths since 2005, motorcycle-related deaths have become an increasingly higher proportion of all MVA-related deaths in the latter part of the surveillance period.

“The annual number of deaths related to motor vehicle accidents among members of the U.S. Armed Forces declined in 2012 to their lowest level during a 14-year surveillance period. This decrease is in lock-step with the decrease seen among the civilian community.” said Army Colonel William Corr, deputy director of the AFHSC’s division of Epidemiology and Analysis. “However, during that period, deaths from motorcycle accidents have not diminished. While motorcycle deaths constituted 26 percent of all motor vehicle-related deaths during the entire surveillance period, that proportion reached 47 percent in 2012. ”

There were 4,479 motor vehicle-related deaths among service members during the 14-year surveillance period from 1999 through 2012 (Table 1). These included 3,784 deaths in the active component (rate: 19.5 per 100,000 person-years [p-yrs]) and 695 deaths in the reserve component. The surveillance period was 1 January 1999 to 31 December 2012.

The surveillance population included all individuals who served on active duty as members of the active or reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces at any time during the surveillance period. This report updates previous summaries of numbers, rates, trends, and correlates of risk of motor vehicle accident related fatalities among service members since 1999. This report also describes military and demographic characteristics of service members who died in motorcycle and other motor vehicle accidents.

Among the 10 categories of underlying motor vehicle accident-associated cause of death used in this analysis, the largest number of service member deaths was associated with motorcycle accidents, the study noted. The second highest number of deaths in a single category of vehicle deaths was for “other and unspecified” motor vehicle accidents which accounted for 17.5 percent of all MVA deaths.

Male service members died as a result of MVAs at a higher rate overall when compared
to their female counterparts (male rate: 21.1 per 100,000 p-yrs vs. female rate: 8.3 per 100,000 p-yrs). Although there were more deaths (counts) among white, non-Hispanic service members and those aged 20-24 compared to their respective counterparts, the rates of MVA deaths were highest among black, non-Hispanic service members (rate: 22.0 per 100,000 p-yrs) and those under the age of 20 (rate: 29.5 per 100,000 p-yrs).

In 2012, among active component service members, the rate of motorcycle deaths (6.5 per 100,000 p-years) was almost that of non-motorcycle MVAs deaths (6.7 per 100,000 p-years). The largest numbers of motorcycle-related deaths affected active 38component service members, soldiers, those aged 20-24 years, males, and white, non-Hispanics. The highest rates were among Marines, those aged 20-24 years, and black, non-Hispanics.

Although the findings of this update are encouraging with respect to motor vehicle accidents overall, it is concerning that rates of motorcycle-related fatalities among service members have risen in the two years since 2010. Moreover, the counts and rates of motorcycle-related deaths among U.S. military service members have remained higher in recent years than they were at the beginning of the surveillance period. In 2012, counts and rates of deaths from motorcycle accidents among active component service members were nearly equal to those from non-motorcycle accidents for the first time.

Perhaps greater efforts need to be made to encourage those most at risk – young service members – to appreciate their own vulnerability with respect to motorcycle crashes and to modify their riding behaviors accordingly. Since 2009, the Department of Defense has required service members who intend to own a motorcycle to enroll and participate in motorcycle safety courses.

Source: Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC)

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