Late spring and early summer is a good time for drivers to remind themselves that they share the road with motorcycles. They need to patiently proceed at intersections and be aware of blind spots. Just as important, motorcyclists must renew their dedication to driving smartly and defensively. Ridership is on the increase: recreational riders hit the open road on weekends to enjoy the countryside, and frugal commuters have plenty of incentive to brave traffic on anything from a Harley to a Vespa or moped. Any effort to reduce motorcycle accidents will pay dividends by helping some families avoid the heartache that follows a serious injury or fatal crash.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), an industry sponsored group, designates May as Motorcycle Awareness Month to promote basic rules that riders can follow to lessen the chance that they will be involved in an accident:
- Get properly trained and licensed. The MSF reports that only half of riders ever attend a certified safety course, and some never bother to get a motorcycle endorsement on their drivers license. Even experienced riders should take the time to brush up on skills such as countersteering and emergency stopping on a closed course.
- Always wear the right protective gear. Riders are encouraged to use a helmet and eye protection, and makes sure to don a heavy jacket, full length pants and high boots even for short rides. When you are secure and well protected, you can better focus your attention on road hazards.
- Never use alcohol or other drugs. Studies have shown that almost half of fatal motorcycle crashes involved a rider who had been drinking, and a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.05 percent – below legal levels for adult riders in all states – multiplies the risk of an accident forty times. The margin for error is razor thin, and there is no substitute for sober reflexes.
- Obey traffic laws and never exceed your skill limits. Even relatively small motorcycles accelerate much more quickly than cars, and the fastest can break the law with a flick of the wrist. A reckless impulse can lead to death in seconds when a rider misses a curve, runs a light or fails to notice a patch of gravel or other hazardous road condition.
But even the safest rider on the road faces risks beyond his or her control. When motorcycles collide with or are struck by other motor vehicles driven by people who never saw them, the laws of physics put riders at a distinct disadvantage. When a car, van or truck driver’s negligence or recklessness causes an accident, the responsibility lies squarely on their shoulders, but issues such as whether or not the rider was wearing a helmet can complicate the legal recovery process.
Safety and the Law: What Should Motorcycle Riders Know?
Only four states-Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire-currently have no helmet laws on the books. But many others, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky, don’t require helmets for experienced adult riders. Debates about the need for and effect of helmet laws have raged since helmet use was first included in federal funding mandates in 1967, and many states have enacted and repealed restrictions accordingly. But in a majority of the states, most adults still have every right to ride with the wind in their hair.
Motorcycle accident lawsuits involve a variety of factors, including weather, equipment failures, distracted drivers, intoxication and road conditions, but far too many can be summed up in one statement by the other driver: “I just did not see the motorcycle.” When a motor vehicle merges too quickly, lurches into an intersection or follows a motorcycle too closely, the results can be devastating.
If the result is severe road rash, multiple broken bones or paralysis, the rider will need intensive medical treatment for months or years to deal with the pain, trauma and disability. If the damage is fatal, surviving family members may need to engage an experienced attorney for a full explanation of their rights and legal options regarding a wrongful death action.
Highway safety is every driver’s responsibility. When precaution is not enough, personal injury litigation can be a rider’s first step to restoring the balance.