Managing Partner Steven F. Fairlie is a long-time, avid motorcyclist himself. Owning several motorcycles and enjoying motorcycle riding in Montgomery and Bucks Counties, he is personally aware of the dangers presented by aggressive and careless motorists. We at Fairlie & Lippy, P.C., understand the risk factors of riding motorcycles, the body mechanics of how injuries are incurred, the unique characteristics of motorcycle accidents, and the best way to pursue a fair and full recovery.
The joys of riding a motorcycle are plentiful, but unfortunately, so too are the risks and consequences of an accident. Compared to passenger vehicle accidents, motorcycle accidents are more deadly, with injuries tending to be more serious, recovery being less likely, rehabilitation taking longer, medical costs being higher, and greater pain suffered. While there are a number of factors which contribute to motorcycle accidents, the single greatest is negligent driving by other motorists.
The good news is that according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, motorcycle crash fatalities fell approximately 10% from 2008 to 2009, from 5,290 down to 4,762. 2008 was a record high year since the United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began collecting data in 1975. However other findings of the NHTSA include:
- Motorcycle crash fatalities have increased every year for the 11 years leading up to 2009.
- Motorcyclists were 37 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash per vehicle mile traveled and nine times more likely to be injured.
- The fatality rate per registered vehicle for motorcyclists was 6 times the fatality rate for passenger car occupants.
In 2006, the NHTSA provided funds to the University of Southern California to conduct a study called “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures.” Included within the study’s findings were the following conclusions:
- Approximately three-fourths of motorcycle accidents involved collision with another vehicle, which was usually a passenger automobile.
- Vehicle failure accounted for less than 3% of motorcycle accidents.
- In multiple vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of accidents.
- The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in the collision with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until it was too late to avoid the collision.
- The most frequent accident configuration is a motorcycle proceeding straight while an automobile makes a left turn in front of the oncoming motorcycle.
- Intersections are the most likely place for a motorcycle accident, with the other vehicle violating the motorcycle right-of-way, and often violating traffic controls.
- Most motorcycle accidents involve a short trip associated with shopping, errands, friends, entertainment or recreation, and the accident is likely to happen in a very short span of time with relationship to the trip origin.
- The view of the motorcycle or the other vehicle involved in the accident is limited by glare or obstructed by other vehicles in almost half of multiple vehicle accidents.
- Conspicuity of the motorcycle is a critical factor in multiple vehicle accidents, and accident involvement is significantly reduced by the use of motorcycle headlamps (on in daylight) and the wearing of high visibility yellow, orange or bright red jackets.
- Fuel system leaks and spills are present in 62% of the motorcycle accidents in the post-crash phase. This represents an undue hazard for fire.
- The median pre-crash speed is 29.8 mph, the median crash speed is 21.5 mph, and the one-in-a-thousand crash speed is approximately 86 mph.
- The typical motorcycle accident allows the motorcyclist just less than 2 seconds to complete all collision avoidance action.
- Large-displacement motorcycles are under-represented in accidents but they are associated with higher injury severity when involved in accidents.
- The likelihood of injury is extremely high in motorcycle accidents. 98% of multiple vehicle collisions and 96% of single vehicle accidents resulted in some kind of injury to the motorcycle rider; 45% resulted in more than a minor injury.
As the statistics indicate, there are a number of risk factors which motorcycle riders are particularly susceptible to. These include, but are not limited to:
- Negligent drivers Aggressive, inattentive, careless, or reckless driving habits of other drivers.
- Limited visibility – Intersections, buildings, trucks, buses, automobiles, parked vehicles, trees, shrubbery, signs, etc.
- Invisibility of motorcyclists – The smaller profile of motorcycles makes it easier for other motorists to detect them. The relative size differential between motorcycles and trucks is even greater, and trucks have greater blind spots than passenger vehicles. Therefore, it is even easier for motorcycles to be shrouded in such blind spots.
- Road hazards – Potholes, oil slicks, puddles, debris, and uneven pavement.
- Motorcycle defects – Fuel system leaks, which present an increased risk of fire in the post-crash phase.
- Weather - Heavy rain, snow, hail, etc. can lead to decreased visibility and hazardous driving conditions.
- Handling when presented with danger - It is often difficult if not impossible for a motorcycle rider to avoid an imminent accident by braking or steering. By the time a dangerous situation presents itself, it is often too late.
These dangers are present for all vehicles on the road, but are enhanced with respect to motorcycles. More than one of them may contribute simultaneously to an accident. Most importantly, other motorists all-too-often neglect to pay attention to and heed these risk factors.
Motorcycle riders are also particularly susceptible to greater injury from a given impact than a comparable passenger vehicle occupant. A motorcycle rider is more exposed to begin with, and has less buffering layers to absorb an impact. Since a motorcycle rider is not contained within the cabin of a vehicle, he/she often suffers from multiple sources of trauma. While the occupant of a passenger vehicle may be subjected to the force of the initial impact, and then the secondary impact of the body meeting the internal cabin, a motorcycle rider suffers from a more direct and exposed initial impact, and the substantial forces of secondary or tertiary collisions with either another vehicle or object, and almost invariably, the road itself. In the meantime, the contortions a motorcycle rider’s body experiences throughout the series of impacts affects the injuries that are suffered, as awkward and exposed positioning enhances the likelihood of severe harm to the brain, spinal cord, and vital organs. The sciences of physics and anatomy are central to understanding the how the magnitude and angles of the forces of impact on specific locations on the body contribute to resulting injuries and long-term recovery potential.
When seeking recovery following a motorcycle accident, it is important to understand the mechanics of what contributed to it, and the medical minutiae of the short-term and long-term effects. It is crucial to pay attention to the elements that are unique to motorcycle accidents with respect to accidents in general. It is only by focusing on these pivotal details that the contributing factors of the accident may be reconstructed, that the injuries may be fully accounted for, and that an accurate and vigorous claim may be formulated. In doing so, it is important for an attorney to have the experience and knowledge to isolate the evidence which will result in successful recovery.