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What Riders Should Know About Motorcycle Crashes

Riders swear by the freedom they feel as they cruise down the road atop their two-wheeled machines. While many enjoy riding their motorcycles for both work and pleasure, the reality is that motorcycles can be inherently dangerous to ride. Each year, thousands of cyclists are injured or killed when a pleasure ride turns into a nightmare.

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Government data from 2006 showed that when an accident occurs, motorcyclists are 35 times more likely to be killed in an accident than drivers of passenger vehicles. Motorcycle injury attorney's know this is because there is less protection surrounding riders, and cyclists are more likely to be thrown great distances over asphalt and other surfaces when they are involved in an accident.

Nationally, it's estimated that 11% of accidents on American roads involves a motorcycle. In 2014, 4,586 individuals died in motorcycle crashes. Of these, 94% were drivers of the motorcycle, and 6% were passengers either riding on the back of the motorcycle or in sidecars.

This was down 2.3% from the 4,692 who died in 2013. However, injury rates were considerably higher. In 2014, 92,000 cyclists were injured in accidents. This was an increase of 4.5% from 2013 when 88,000 were injured.

Common causes of motorcycle accidents include:

  • Head-On Collisions. 78% of motorcycle-vehicle accidents are head-on collisions. These contribute significantly to the 56% of cyclists who are killed in accidents involving another vehicle.
  • Left-Hand Turns. Roughly 42% of motorcycle-vehicle collisions involve a vehicle making a left-hand turn and striking the motorcycle in the drivers blind spot. This often occurs when the motorcycle is proceeding straight through an intersection.
  • Collisions with Fixed Objects. 25% of motorcyclist fatalities are caused with collisions with fixed objects such as buildings, ramps, and vehicles illegally parked within the lane of traffic.
  • Sport Cycles. Sport motorcycles are built for high-speed performance. This makes them considerably more dangerous. The fatality rate for riders of sport motorcycles is nearly twice that of riders of conventional motorcycles.
  • Road Hazards. Potholes, animals, ice, standing water, fallen branches, etc. pose a greater risk for cyclists than for drivers of passenger vehicles. These obstructions in the road can appear suddenly and cause a rider to lose control of their motorcycle and be thrown from the machine.
  • Alcohol. In 2014, roughly 29% of motorcyclists involved in fatal collisions had BAC levels greater than .08%. For comparison, only 22% of drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal collisions had BAC's in excess of the legal limit.
  • Lack of License. In 2013, 25% of motorcyclists involved in fatal collisions were driving without a valid license. This means that many motorcyclists did not have the training, knowledge, and legal permission required to safely operate their motorcycles.
  • Lane Splitting. Common in places such as California where lane splitting is legal, the close proximity of vehicles and the inability to maneuver makes lane splitting particularly dangerous. Lane splitting is not legal in Tennessee.

In 2013, drivers of the 8.4 million motorcycles in America were 26 times more likely to die in an accident than are the drivers or occupants of passenger vehicles. They were also 5 times more likely to be seriously injured. As the rates of motorcycle ownership continue to increase, it's expected that the number of injuries and fatalities will continue to rise.

Helmets Save Lives

In 2014, 39% of motorcyclists who died in accidents were not wearing helmets. The Tennessee Code requires motorcyclists under the age of 21 to wear crash helmets. Failure to do so constitutes a Class C misdemeanor and can result in a fine of $50 and up to 30 days in jail.

The National Highway Transportation Administration estimated that in 2013, helmets saved the lives of 1,630 riders. They also estimated that a further 715 would have been saved had they been wearing helmets at the time of their accident. Overall, the NHTSA estimates that helmets reduce the possibility of death by 37% and the risk of head trauma by 69%.

Age Plays a Role

The average age of motorcyclists killed in accidents is 42. In 2013, older motorcyclists accounted for more than half of all motorcycle fatalities. According to the National Highway Safety Administration 55% of cyclists killed in accidents were over the age of 40. This was down from 46% in 2004. From 2004 to 2013, there was a 39% increase in motorcycle accident fatalities within this demographic. By comparison, the fatality rate for motorcyclists of all ages rose only 16% over the same period.

Older riders are also more susceptible to serious injuries. As age increases, vision declines and reaction time decreases. Both can contribute to an accident. Coupled with larger bike sizes favored by older riders, this can increase the likelihood of serious injury. In one study conducted by Brown University, cyclists over 60 were three times more likely to sustain fractures, dislocations, or brain trauma than cyclists between the ages of 20-39.

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