Fatal accidents involving motorcyclists in Florida dramatically increased in 2015.
AAA reports 554 motorcyclists died on Florida roads and highways last year, a 23 percent increase over the 449 killed in 2014.
A major reason is a majority of bikers do not wear recommended safety gear. According to the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR), more than half (50.4%) of motorcyclists were observed not wearing a helmet while riding in Florida.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says 37 percent of motorcyclist fatalities could have been prevented by wearing a helmet.
In 2000, the Florida Legislature changed the state's motorcycle law to no longer require a biker over the age of 21 to wear a helmet provided they are covered by an insurance policy covering a minimum of $10,000 in medical benefits for injuries incurred in a crash.
"Since the repeal of the helmet law in Florida, motorcycle fatalities have more than doubled," said Karen Morgan, Public Policy Manager for AAA. "While helmet laws are a controversial issue, AAA strongly supports helmet laws. Bottom line helmets save lives."
According to a recent AAA Consumer Pulse survey, nearly one in six motorcyclists (16%) do not carry motorcycle insurance. The same study also found 32 percent of Florida motorcyclists do not think they should be required to wear a helmet when riding.
The fallout from a motorcycle death is not just limited to the biker's immediate family. The NHTSA reports the estimated economic cost to society of each motorcycle fatality is $1.48 million for lost productivity; medical, legal, court, emergency services and insurance costs; property damage; and workplace losses.
There are steps drivers and motorcyclists can take to reduce fatal accidents.
"Bikers should do everything possible to make themselves visible to motorists while riding," said AAA spokesman Josh Carrasco. "Motorists need to keep their attention on the task of driving and be alert for increased motorcycle traffic."
AAA says safety gear, including helmets, eye wear, closed-toe footwear and protective clothing help reduce a motorcyclist's risk of injury or death in a crash. Bikers should make sure they are visible on roadways by using headlights, wearing bright clothing or using reflective strips.
AAA also asks motorcyclists get proper training and to use sound judgment by avoid weaving between lanes while riding.
The auto agency says motorists need to respect motorcyclists by giving them ample room and actively look for bikers in traffic. Because most car-versus-motorcycle crashes occur during left-hand turns, drivers need to take extra caution when making left-hand turns.
AAA warns every motorist to not drive distracted. A driver who takes their eyes off the road for any reason for two seconds doubles their risk of getting into a crash.