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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - As gas prices rise, more people switch to motorcycles -- and the number of people dying in motorcycle accidents rises, according to a U.S. study.
"If gas prices increase by a dollar, that leads to about 1,500 more people dying a year on motorcycles," Dr. Fernando Wilson of the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth told Reuters Health.
While deaths in car crashes have been falling steadily since the 1990s, motorcycle accident fatalities have risen, Wilson and his team note in the latest issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
To investigate whether price increases at the pump might be a factor, they looked at data from the Fatality Accident Reporting System, which covers every single vehicle-related death on U.S. roads.
Gas prices, in 2007 dollars, fell from $2.06 a gallon in 1990 to $1.36 a gallon in 1998, the researchers found, while the percentage of registered vehicles represented by motorcycles dropped from 2.3 percent to 1.8 percent during that time.
But from 1998 to 2006, gas prices nearly doubled, to $2.70 a gallon -- and the percentage of motorcycles representing registered vehicles rose too, to 2.7 percent.
Annual motorcycle fatalities followed a similar pattern, Wilson and his team found, rising from 2,116 in 1997 to 5,154 in 2007.
The researchers said some people have suggested that the repeal of helmet laws in six states may explain the rise in motorcycle deaths but when they removed these states from their analysis, the pattern they had observed "did not change much."
Reporting by Anne Harding of Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith