May is motorcycle safety awareness month, and the motorcycle accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm would like to highlight some of the gains we have made in safety and awareness. According to a new report, motorcycle fatalities declined in 2013 by about 7%, most notably in states with universal helmet laws.
Some experts believe, however, that this decline is due to unsuitable weather conditions in 2013, the year of the polar vortexes. This past winter was cold, long and treacherous, not exactly ideal weathers conditions. The year before, in 2012, the winder was considerably drier, driving fatality rates up.
The report by the Governors Highway Safety Association states that in the first nine months of 2013, there were just over 3,600 motorcycle fatalities, compared to more than 4,000 in the same period of 2012. Comparably, there were just over 2,100 motorcycle deaths in 1997.
It is important to note that fatality rates were much, much higher in states without mandatory helmet laws. Just 19 states require motorcycle riders of all ages to wear helmets – the remaining 31 states require helmets only for children, or do not require them at all. Government agencies estimate that there are 10 times more motorcycle fatalities in states without mandatory helmet laws, compared with the 19 states that do.
It is universally acknowledged that helmets save lives, and are the single most effective way to prevent serious injury and death in a crash, for both motorcycles and bicycles alike. Increased education for motorcyclists and others sharing the road would also help. A high percentage of fatal motorcycle crashes happen when a car fails to see a motorcyclist and turns left in front of a motorcycle.
The Governors Highway Safety Association has conducted a motorcycle safety study every year since 2009. The author of the study, a former NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) official, is not optimistic about the overall improvement in motorcycle safety.
Reports show that the number of intoxicated motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes is much greater than the number of intoxicated car drivers. This is somewhat surprising considering the amount of coordination and balance needed to operate a motorcycle.
Unfortunately, alcohol-involvement continues to be a significant factor in motorcycle crashes nationwide. Nearly 30% of all fatally-injured motorcyclists had a BAC of .08 or higher. The risk inherent in drinking and driving is amplified by the tendency for bikers to speed and rider without proper safety equipment. Sings that other motorists can look out for to detect a motorcyclist under-the-influence include:
• Drifting turn turns or curves • Trouble dismounting or balancing at a stop • Problems turning • Inattentive to surrounding • Inappropriate or unusual behavior
A summary chart of key provisions of state motorcycle safety laws can be found here, compiled by the NHTSA. This chart outlines the helmet laws, fines, jail time, and passenger restrictions for each state, and can be downloaded for free from the NHTSA website for motorcycle safety.
Some motorcyclists avoid wearing helmets because they believe it interferes with vision and hearing, however, crash statistics prove the opposite. In one study, 50 cyclists of various ages and skill drove their bikes down a test route while undergoing either a vision or hearing test. Each rider drove the route three times: one while wearing a helmet, one without a helmet, and one with partial coverage.
The hearing test showed no significant differences in the riders’ ability to hear, helmet or not. The only auditory hindering was increasing speed, due to wind noise. Similarly, the vision test showed that most riders recover blocked field of view from helmets by turning their heads a bit further. Overall, any negative interference of helmets was extremely minor, especially when considering the level of protection helmets provide should a crash occur.
The motorcycle accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have been working on these kinds of cases for nearly three decades, and have won millions of dollars for injured bikers and their families. If you or someone you love was seriously injured or killed in a motorcycle crash, contact our firm immediately for a free legal evaluation.