Motorcyclist Death Rate on U.S. Roads Increases Again: Enough Already

Riding a motorcycle is fabulous. The freedom, the lure of the open road, the beauty of being one with the weather, with the earth, with the world, are all incredible attractions of this enjoyable sport.

For some riding a motorcycle is just a way to get to work or school, while for others it is a great vehicle for saving costly gasoline expenses. For others it is just about riding and being alive.

As a motorcyclist of more than 20 years, and as the managing partner of MyPhillyLawyer, I share many of those passions.

Sadly, though, the number of motorcyclists killed each year in crashes on public roads in the United States continues to climb, according to a new study released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), and it is something we all need to work on as a community.

In 2012, the fatality rate for motorcyclists increased about nine percent, to more than 5,000 lives lost, the report states. “This is greater than the overall traffic fatality increase projected by the federal government and would be the 14th out of the last 15 years in which motorcyclist deaths increased,” according to the GHSA. “Notably, this level of deaths closes in on an all-time high, and motorcyclists remain one of the few roadway user groups where no progress can be shown over the last decade.”

In Pennsylvania, 184 motorcyclists were killed in crashes in the first nine months of 2012, the report states, compared with 171 who died in crashes in the first nine months of 2011, an increase of 7.6 percent.

“All of the trends with motorcyclist deaths are really going in the wrong direction,” said GHSA Chairman Kendell Poole, who serves as director of Tennessee’s highway safety program. “This report is an urgent reminder that we must do more to address a problem that will only get worse with increased ridership. We are talking about 5,000 tragedies a year with no sign of progress.”

What’s needed, said Poole, is more rider training, stronger helmet laws and increased awareness by other vehicle drivers about the presence of motorcycles sharing the road.

What’s also needed, though, are programs to encourage motorcyclists to reduce their speeds and to stop operating their motorcycles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Poole added. According to GHSA figures from 2010, 35 percent of motorcycle riders in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to 23 percent for passenger car drivers and 19 percent for light truck drivers. At the same time, 29 percent of fatally injured motorcycle riders had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of .08 percent.

Both of those figures are outrageous.

More needs to be done by states to include motorcyclists in impaired driver programs, according to the GHSA, and more comprehensive rider training is needed to teach riders the dangers of speeding on public roadways.

“The good news is that we know how to prevent crashes and the resulting injuries and fatalities involving motorcycle riders and their passengers,” said Poole. “There are effective strategies that, when implemented, can make a difference.”

Across the nation, the number of motorcyclist fatalities increased in thirty-four states, decreased in sixteen states and remained the same in the District of Columbia, in the first nine months of 2012 compared to the first nine months of 2011, according to the report.

“The fatality increase is disheartening,” said Troy Costales, GHSA’s immediate past chairman and head of Oregon’s highway safety program. “Every motorcyclist deserves to arrive at their destination safely. These numbers represent real people – they are family, friends and neighbors.”

Across the United States, only 19 states currently require all riders to wear helmets, down from 26 in 1997, according to the report. Regrettably, there is a strong push in many states to repeal these laws, the report continued, and no state has enacted a universal helmet law since Louisiana reinstated its requirement in 2004.

That must also change to help reduce the number of motorcyclists who die on our roads each year, according to the group. Helmets are proven to be 37 percent effective at preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41 percent effective for passengers, according to the group’s figures.

With spring here and summer fast approaching, this is a great time for all vehicle drivers to remember that we share the road with motorcyclists and their motorcycles, which are no match for the weight, mass and power of our cars, SUVs and trucks when crashes occur.

As motorists, we all need to be careful and more aware to protect ourselves from legal liability in the event of an accident involving a motorcycle and its riders as well. A good way to accomplish this is to make adjustments for motorcycles and to be more aware and observant of their presence as we drive on seemingly quiet streets in our neighborhoods or along busier roads where hazards may be less obvious.

You and your loved ones certainly don’t want to become one of those tragic statistics. The monetary losses from those injuries and deaths are also significant and you certainly don’t want to be on the wrong end of any legal judgments in such cases.

As drivers of cars, trucks and SUVs, we always need to remember to watch carefully for smaller, less visible vehicles like motorcycles as we drive. Remember to double-check the blind spots surrounding your vehicle and try to anticipate what motorcyclists are going to do as they cross your path.

Motorcyclists have their own special safety needs on our roadways. When operating a motorcycle, you should wear full protective gear including a helmet, jacket, gloves, long pants and boots to protect you in the event of an accident, according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). The MSF also offers excellent rider training programs for beginning motorcyclists as well as advanced classes for expert riders to help build and maintain your survival skills on the roads. All motorcyclists should take advantage of such opportunities.

In addition, motorcyclists should always remember that one of the best ways to protect yourself on the road is to ride as though you are invisible to other motorists. Imagine that they can’t or don’t see you and ride defensively to protect yourself at all times.

Safety is the responsibility of all of us, from motorists of the four-wheeled kind to motorcyclists, too.

As you drive this summer, remember to practice safe driving habits by carefully watching for vehicles of all sizes and be sure to maintain adequate following distances. In addition, be sure to use caution around slower-moving vehicles and drive defensively rather than aggressively to help minimize the dangers to yourself and others on the roads.

A lawsuit or major injury from a collision or crash involving a bicyclist or motorcyclist would turn the joys of summer into a nightmare. Yes, accidents and injuries can happen anywhere and anytime, but if we all use more caution and remain more aware of the traffic situation around us, we can improve safety for everyone.

In the meantime, we here at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or someone you love is ever seriously injured in a motorcycle accident caused by someone else anywhere in the United States. At MyPhillyLawyer, you can consult with a qualified, experienced and compassionate attorney to explore all of your legal rights.

We represent the families of victims who are killed in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.

When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.

By Dean I. Weitzman, managing partner, MyPhillyLawyer