Next time you see a group of motorcyclists on the highway, look closely. You may notice more women. The number of women buying and riding motorcycles has soared in recent years. At the same time, fatal motorcycle crashes in Virginia have gone down. Is there a correlation?
Audra Davenport has been selling motorcycles at Harley Davidson, but never planned to become a rider until just two years ago.
"It is a very freeing experience, a very empowering experience," said Davenport. "You're on your own bike. It's a stress reliever."
Nationwide, the Motorcycle Industry Council reports female riders shot up from 4.3 million in 2003 to 7.1 million in 2009.
"It was traditionally a man's thing to do. Women have been riding for years. But it's gained popularity over the last five or ten years," Davenport said.
In Virginia, between 2011 and 2013, AAA Mid-Atlantic reports that women getting license endorsements to ride motorcycles increased 10%, while the same licenses for men increased just under 6%.
Even AAA's spokesperson Martha Meade has begun riding. "I started about two years ago. I started because I wanted to be safer. My husband is fun, but he's a guy. So he's a little more aggressive on the bike than I would like to be," she explained.
Women are buying their own bikes, spending anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, but saving money on gas and saving time looking for car-sized parking spaces.
Meantime, the Department of Motor Vehicles reports fatalities from motorcycle accidents in Virginia are down 33% since 2011. Meade says some of that is attributed to campaigns educating drivers and motorcycle riders about safety, including the Richmond Ambulance Authority's RiderAlert program, encouraging bikers to keep a note about their medical needs in their helmets.
Meade also believes the fatality decrease may also be linked to the increase in female riders. "Women are more protective. Often they're mothers, when they're old enough to have enough money to ride," she said.
Added Davenport, "Personally speaking, I'm more cautious than any of the male riders I ride with. They ride faster than I do. I definitely am more cautious coming to stop lights, being around traffic."
Women's interest in riding may continue to grow, as they rev their engines, feel the wind in their hair, and take to the open road.