The year has yet to come to a close, but 2015 will already be one for the record books in South Dakota.
The Mount Rushmore State has already seen more motorcycle-related deaths this year than any in recent history. At 31 fatalities, South Dakota’s death toll for 2015 is the highest annual total to ever be recorded by the state, which began keeping track of motorcycle-related deaths in 1963.
The number nearly doubles last year’s motorcycle casualty count in South Dakota, which came to 17 losses.
A huge contributing factor this year may have been the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a meeting for motorcycle enthusiasts from across the country—and across the globe—that typically draws thousands of attendees.
Nearly half of this year’s casualties—14—occurred “in or around” the rally, which drew about 730,000 people this year, according to South Dakota’s director of highway safety, Lee Axdahl.
Overall, about 65 percent of this year’s deaths were residents age 50 and older, and, of that subset, almost 60 percent who died were not wearing a helmet, Axdahl added. In South Dakota, a rider is only required to wear a motorcycle helmet while he or she is under 18 years old.
Still, the increase reflects a greater upward trend in the number of the state’s motorcycle-related deaths. The average number from 1988-1999 was 13, while between 2000-2014, the annual total averaged 21. Previously, the record for deadliest year was 2007, when 28 people lost their lives while riding motorcycles.
But the amount of motorcycles in South Dakota in general has also risen over time. The number of licensed motorcycles in the state has increased 69 percent since 1994, while the number of bikes registered there has nearly tripled over the same time period.
When asked about the situation, Axdahl also pointed to South Dakota’s overall traffic fatalities for 2015, which is currently 11 percent lower than this time last year.
As far as the motorcycle-related causalities, however, Axdahl said he stresses riders of all ages to wear helmets and stay up-to-date on safety courses.