While many enjoy the open road and the sense of adventure that comes with motorcycle riding, the fact is that motorcyclists are far more likely to die in a traffic accident than the occupants of other vehicle types. This piece provides information about fatal motorcycle crashes, ways to keep safe when you ride, and what legal options available to motorcycle crash victims.
The Danger of Motorcycles
Nearly 5,000 motorcyclists in the United States died in wrecks in one single recent year.
With only two wheels instead of four and lacking the protective features of a passenger car—such as a steel frame, seat belts, and airbags—motorcycles are less stable and protective than other vehicles, rendering motorcycle riders more vulnerable to fatal injuries in a crash. Given their smaller side, motorcycles are less visible than other vehicle types, with a higher risk of a deadly accident caused by a driver striking a motorcycle full force because they failed to see the motorcycle in time to take evasive maneuvers.
Motorcycle visibility is such an issue that it prompted the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (“GHSA”) to recently conduct a focus group study to understand whether motorcyclists use or do not use high-visibility gear and why. The focus group indicated that they would wear more attractive high-visibility gear to reduce their risk of injury or death and that manufacturers of motorcycle gear should incorporate high visibility designs in all gear to make it the norm.
Causes of Fatal Motorcycle Crashes
Fatal motorcycle crashes can occur from:
- Alcohol impairment: An estimated quarter of all fatal motorcycle accidents involve alcohol impairment by either a motorist or motorcyclist.
- Distracted driving: Driver distractions, such as texting and other cell phone use, are a major cause of traffic accidents in the U.S. as they lead drivers to take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, or attention away from the task of driving safely.
- Unsafe lane changes: Drivers often fail to complete small but important actions to make safe lane changes, such as checking their blind spot before changing lanes. This oversight often results in fatal motorcycle accidents, especially given the smaller size of motorcycles renders them even less visible in blind spots.
- Dooring: This type of accident occurs when the occupant of a car that is parked along the roadside opens the car door facing street traffic and in the path of an oncoming motorcycle.
- Speeding: Speeding is dangerous for motorcyclists, whether it is the rider or another motorist doing the speeding. Motorcycles already are harder to maneuver and control than four-wheeled vehicles are. Speeding makes it more difficult to control a vehicle, requires a longer distance to come to a safe stop, and increases the force and severity of collisions. In a recent year in the U.S., 32 percent of motorcycle riders in fatal motorcycle crashes were speeding.
- Lane splitting: Lane splitting is a common practice in which motorcyclists ride between two lanes, typically when traffic has come to a stop or slowed. The practice is dangerous, as drivers often are not aware of the motorcycle approaching them while sharing their lanes and can accidentally collide with the motorcycle.
- Left turn accidents: These occur when the motorcycle is traveling straight through an intersection and an on-coming motorist makes a left turn into the path of the motorcycle
- Inexperienced riders or drivers: Rider inexperience is one of the most common causes of accidents, as many beginner motorcyclists choose motorcycles that are too large or too high powered for their experience level. Inexperienced drivers are also to blame for errors that result in motorcycle accidents. Studies indicate that one of the driving skills that teen drivers struggle to master is adequate surveillance, which means looking for oncoming vehicles before pulling onto a roadway. Again, given motorcycles’ lesser visibility, the likelihood of an accident is greater, in some cases because an inexperienced young driver fails to adequately survey their surroundings.
- Defective motorcycle or automobile parts. The manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of motorcycles, automobiles, and motorcycle or automobile parts have a legal responsibility to ensure that the products work as intended and are safe when used according to label instructions. Defective vehicle parts, while not as common as many of the other common causes of motorcycle accidents, are nonetheless still a cause in some cases, as having a defective vehicle part fail while traveling at a high speed can result in the loss of control of the vehicle and an accident.
Frequency of Motorcycle Crash Fatalities
Motorcyclists are 27 times more likely to die in a traffic accident than occupants of other types of vehicles. While motorcycles account for only about 3 percent of all motor vehicle traffic and 0.6 percent of all vehicle miles traveled, motorcycle accidents account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities.
One recent year saw 5,172 fatal motorcycle accidents, meaning:
- Around 14 times a day, someone dies in a motorcycle crash in the U.S.
- Someone in the U.S. dies in a motorcycle accident slightly less than every two hours.
Don’t Be One of the Fourteen Motorcycle Accident Deaths a Day: How to Stay Alive When You Ride
With so many dangers present that can result in a motorcycle accident, and with motorcyclists facing a far higher risk of experiencing fatal accidents than occupants of other motor vehicles, the prospects of riding a motorcycle can seem bleak.
But you can prevent a fatal injury when riding if you:
- Always wear your helmet. Motorcyclists’ use of helmets, which protect the rider’s head, face, and neck during a crash, save more than 1,800 lives each year. Helmets reduce the risk of dying in an accident by 37 percent for riders and 41 percent for their passengers. Helmets also dramatically reduce the risk of a traumatic brain injury. When selecting a helmet, ensure that it fits your head properly. The helmet should also include a certain label, including the following: “DOT,” which indicates that the helmet has received the Department of Transportation certification for safety; “FMVSS 218,” which is the compliance standards for helmets; the word “CERTIFIED”; the model designation; and the manufacturer’s name or brand.
- Protect your face by using a DOT-certified helmet that features a full face shield to further protect you from injury. Never purchase a used helmet, particularly if you don’t know if it has been in an accident, dropped, or otherwise damaged. Replace your helmet after any accident, if you dropped it, or at least once every five years.
- Protect the rest of your body with strong riding gear made of leather or ballistic nylon to prevent road rash and other injuries.
- Be visible. Many motorcycle accidents occur because the driver did not see or did not look for a motorcyclist, so avoid riding in other motorists’ blind spots. More motorcycle accidents happen at night, when motorcyclists are even harder to see. Continue wearing brightly colored riding gear or even purchasing a brightly colored motorcycle. You may also consider purchasing additional lights for your vehicle to better capture the attention of motorists at night.
- Never drink and ride. Nearly half of all single-vehicle motorcycle accidents involve riders who are alcohol-impaired, and one-quarter of all fatal motorcycle accidents involve either an intoxicated rider or driver. Motorcyclists killed in crashes at nighttime were three times more likely to be alcohol-impaired at the time of the crash than those whose accidents occurred during the daytime hours.
- Hone your skill. Rider inexperience is a major factor in motorcycle crash fatalities. In fact, 29 percent of the motorcyclists killed in crashes are not properly licensed to operate a motorcycle. Obtaining a license to ride your motorcycle not only ensures that you are enjoying your hobby legally, but also requires you to undergo a test that shows you know how to safely operate the vehicle. There are many options for refresher courses for more experienced riders as well as classes that teach new techniques that riders can use to make their trips safer and more enjoyable. Consider continued motorcycle riding courses as an ongoing investment into your own safety and well-being. Many insurance companies offer an insurance discount to riders who take refresher courses, as well.
- Stay alert. Distracted driving, due to things such as smartphone use, is one of the most common factors in traffic accidents. Look out for drivers who fail to notice you on your motorcycle, or who are distracted and failing to pay attention to anything else going on around them.
Recovering Compensation After a Fatal Motorcycle Accident
If you lost a loved one from a fatal motorcycle accident that the careless, reckless, or intentional actions of someone else caused, you can pursue compensation for the impacts and expenses brought about by the accident through a wrongful death lawsuit.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal claim filed in civil court. The time you have to file such a lawsuit depends on the state you are in, but in many states is within two years after the date of the accident. This type of lawsuit must be filed by an appointed administrator of the deceased’s estate, on behalf of both the estate as well as the deceased’s family members.
Surviving family members that can benefit from this type of action include:
- The deceased’s spouse, children, or parents.
- Any other blood relative or adoptive sibling who was wholly or partially dependent on the deceased for support and services.
Some of the damages—the legal term for monetary compensation for injury—frequently claimed in a wrongful death action include:
- Any medical expenses the deceased incurred before death
- The loss of support and services provided by the deceased to his or her family members.
- The loss of companionship, care, and guidance that the deceased provided.
- Emotional and mental pain and suffering resulting from the loss of a child.
- Reimbursement of funeral expenses, as well as the costs associated with burial or cremation that were paid directly by a family member or by the estate.
- Lost wages and benefits that the deceased would have earned had it not been for the accident.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814