What’s Causing The Rise In Motorcycle Fatalities?

The thrill of riding a motorcycle also comes with inherent dangers. In 2020 alone, 5,579 motorcyclists died on the road and 84,000 suffered injuries, making motorcycle riders the most overrepresented group in fatal traffic crashes, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Before we get to the main causes of motorcycle accidents, let’s look at the statistics on why motorcyclists are more likely to be involved in an accident compared to any other motor vehicle.

What the motorcycle accident statistics say

More motorcycle fatalities in recent years

The most telling compilation comes from the National Safety Council (NSC): “Although motorcycles make up only 3% of all registered vehicles and 0.6% of all vehicle miles traveled in the United States, motorcyclists accounted for 14% of all traffic fatalities, 18% of all occupant fatalities, and 4% of all occupant injuries in 2020.”

That year also saw a marked uptick in both the death rate and number of motorcycle fatalities. After remaining relatively stable between 2007 and 2019, fatalities rose by 11% among motorcycle riders and passengers, while the rate per million vehicle miles traveled increased by 23%, NSC reports.

Injury rates have also trended up in the past two years after a few years of decline but NSC cautions against drawing any comparisons before 2016, the year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) transitioned to a new crash report system.

Mandatory helmet laws show notable impact

The presence of the universal helmet law — which requires all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, regardless of the rider’s age or experience — notably affects outcomes. In states where helmets are mandatory, 9% of motorcyclists killed did not wear a helmet compared to 57% in states that have not implemented the law.

California is one of 19 states that require drivers and passengers to wear a tested and approved DOT compliant helmet. As the most populous state, the Golden State also has the highest number of motorcycles registered in the country as well as the highest number of motorcycle accidents. The deadliest states, however, are Texas and Mississippi with a death rate of 12 per 10,000 motorcycles, which is twice as high as that of California.

Where fatal accidents tend to happen

So, where do the majority of motorcycle accidents with fatal outcomes occur? According to NSC data, a few trends stand out,:

  • On urban roads (60%)
  • In good weather (78%)
  • During daylight conditions (50%)
  • In crashes involving two vehicles (52%)

The top factors that raise the risk of motorcycle crashes

Drugs and alcohol

As to motorcycle accident causes, one variable stands out: whether the motorcyclist — or someone else involved — has consumed alcohol. In more than a third of deadly motorcycle accidents in 2020, the person killed had been drinking before getting on their motorcycle.

According to NHTSA, 26% of the total number of fatalities were legally intoxicated while 15% had a blood alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit. Impaired drivers are also less likely to wear a helmet and more likely to speed, which is another common factor in many motorcycle crashes. The use of alcohol and drugs by other drivers is a threat to motorcycle riders operating responsibly. It’s, in fact, one of the major factors in auto accidents today.

Reckless driving

A motorcyclist has, according to some estimates, less than 2 seconds to take actions to avoid a collision. If the party to blame is also driving recklessly that time frame shrinks to almost nothing. The reckless driver may be, for instance, aggressively switching lanes, neglecting to use turn signals, failing to keep a distance, or racing down the road.

For example: a plaintiff represented by Penney & Associates was, back in 2005, awarded $775,361 by a jury ($59,563 for medical costs, $15,798 in lost wages, and the rest in general damages) following a motorcycle accident that killed the motorcyclist (who was not represented by Penney & Associates) and left the passenger with injuries. The accident happened when the defendant made an illegal U-turn with his 10-ton flatbed truck directly into the path of the plaintiff’s motorcycle, causing the passenger to come off the bike and slide toward the truck. The truck impacted her right hip.

Distracted driving

Distracted driving is a substantial cause of serious accidents. The NHTSA notes that the number of people killed as a result is 3,142. When drivers take their eyes off the road to, for instance, eat, drink, fiddle with the navigation system, text, or talk to passengers, the risk of crashing increases. This is a substantial factor in causing motorcycle accidents.

Road hazards

For an SUV, a pothole may not be a big issue. However, a motorcyclist may crash due to hitting a pothole. Motorcycles are, in general, at much greater risk of suffering the consequences of poor road conditions. Everything from poorly lit roads and insufficient shoulders to a lack of dividers and dangerous bridge joints can lead to tragic outcomes. Similarly, icy roads or heavy rainfall can be difficult to navigate for a motorcyclist.

Manufacturing defects & Poor maintenance

Honda and Kawasaki have recently issued recalls on certain motorcycles. In early February, riders of Honda’s CBR1000RR Fireblades were advised to “slow down” and even stop riding because of an issue that could cause oil to dangerously leak on the back tire. Then, this past summer, Kawasaki Motors USA recalled certain KLX230 ABS and KLX230 S ABS models due to a brake rotor related issue. It goes without saying that a malfunctioning part at even low speeds can have dire consequences. Similarly, repair shops that overlook safety protocols or forget a single part can compromise the entire motorcycle.

Do you need help?

Have you or a loved one been injured in a motorcycle accident? We can help you receive the compensation that you deserve. The lawyers at Penney & Associates have decades of experience and are experts in wrongful death and personal injury law. Schedule a free consultation to learn more.

* This blog is not meant to dispense legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the facts, the law, this topic or cases related to the topic. For a full review of our disclaimer and policies, please click here.

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