(HealthDay News) — Motorcyclist deaths in the United States dropped for the second straight year in 2014, but they are still higher than they were a decade ago, according to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

Preliminary data from the first nine months of last year indicate that more than 4,500 motorcyclists died in 2014, almost a 2 percent decrease from the slightly more than 4,600 deaths in 2013, the researchers found. Last year, motorcyclist deaths fell in 27 states, increased in 19 states, and remained the same in four states and the District of Columbia. While 2014 was the second straight year with a decline in motorcyclist deaths, it was only the third decrease since 1997. Also, motorcyclist deaths are still 26 percent higher than they were a decade ago, while there has been a 28 percent drop in other motor vehicle deaths.

A large portion of the decline in motor vehicle deaths is due to safety improvements such as structural upgrades, increased seat belt use, electronic stability controls, and policies such as graduated driver licensing, the report authors said. Fluctuations in motorcyclist deaths likely have more to do with factors such as the state of the economy (which affects how many people can afford motorcycles) and weather patterns.

In a news release from the association, Kendell Poole, GHSA Chairman and Director of the Tennessee Office of Highway Safety, said that all states should implement mandatory helmet laws. “By far, helmets are the single most effective way to prevent serious injury and death in the event of a motorcycle crash,” Poole said. Currently, only 19 states and the District of Columbia require all riders to wear helmets. Another 28 states require riders younger than 21 or 18 to wear helmets, and three states have no helmet requirements. Along with increasing helmet use, the report highlighted the need to reduce alcohol impairment among motorcyclists. In 2013, 28 percent of riders who died had blood alcohol concentrations above the legal limit. Speeding is another major problem. About one-third of riders killed in crashes were speeding, compared with about 21 percent of passenger vehicle drivers killed in crashes.

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