Motorcycle Traffic Fatalities: California’s Decline Not a National Trend
While the incidence of motorcycle traffic fatalities has decreased slightly in California, the decline has not proven to be a national trend. A California motorcycle accident lawyer examines the problem.
Motorcycle accident deaths are a major problem in California and throughout the United States, with 318 riders losing their lives in California in 2012. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that motorcycle riders are thirty times as likely to die in a crash as passenger vehicle occupants and five times as likely to be injured, in large part because bikes provide limited or no protection from impact. Unfortunately, the motorcycle accident fatality rate in the United States has increased for fourteen years out of the past fifteen.
“The increase in motorcycle accident deaths has occurred during a time when fatality rates in most other categories of traffic-related deaths have declined,” explained California motorcycle accident lawyer James Ballidis.
The Governors Highway Safety Association projects that the motorcyclist fatality rate is projected to have increased by around nine percent from 2011 to 2012. This is a higher increase than was estimated by the National Safety Council (NSC) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In California, the fatality rate among motorcyclists declined slightly from 2011 to 2012. However, the GHSA indicates that this slight decline may have been caused by economic downturns and poor economic conditions. If this is the case, then economic improvements in California could result in more fatal motorcycle accidents.
The death rate of motorcycle riders has increased by wide margins. From 1997 to 2011, the number of motorcycle accident fatalities more than doubled while the total number of traffic fatalities declined by 23 percent.
Motorcyclist fatalities are close to the highest levels ever recorded and may be increasing because high gasoline prices prompt more use of motorcycles. Warmer weather patterns, an increase in discretionary income due to economic improvements, and an increase in the number of motorcycle riders may also be contributing factors to the rise in fatalities.
More lax universal helmet laws may also prove to be contributing factors. The Detroit Free Press, for example, indicates that Michigan recently changed requirements that had been in place for more than four decades. Under the new law, motorcycle riders over the age of 21 will no longer be legally required to wear helmets.
The Highway Loss Data Institute indicates that this change has increased the average payout of accident claims from $5,410 in the two years prior to the change in helmet laws to $7,257 in the years following the change. This is a 24 percent increase and indicates that fewer riders wearing helmets is leading to more serious injuries.
“With so many motorcycle riders losing their lives to devastating accidents, it is clear that more needs to be done to reduce the number of motorcycle crashes and resulting deaths,” explained California motorcycle accident lawyer James Ballidis.
The majority of motorcycle accidents, an estimated 55 percent, involve the motorcycle and at least one additional vehicle. In many cases the crashes occur because drivers do not know how to share the road in a safe way with motorcycle riders or do not wish to obey safety rules designed to protect motorcyclists. The Gold Wing Touring Association, for instance, indicates that around two-thirds of motorcycle crashes involve the driver of a vehicle violating right-of-way laws and encroaching on the space of motorcyclists.
Drivers often do not see motorcycle riders, especially if the drivers are distracted, and both turning and changing lanes are driver behaviors that often lead to crashes. The Look Twice, Save a Life Campaign is designed to encourage motorists to be more aware of motorcycle riders on the roads and the campaign features bumper stickers and road signs to remind drivers of their obligation to check for motorcyclists.
Motorcycle riders also play a role in causing crashes, with the NHTSA indicating that 42 percent of motorcycle riders who died in single vehicle accidents had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08. This is higher than the rate for any other driver and such crashes are especially common at nighttime. Making a commitment to sober driving is one way that many lives could be saved.
The NHTSA also provides some general tips to both motorcycle riders and drivers, recommending that both refrain from driving while distracted. Motorcyclists are also advised to wear DOT-compliant helmets and bright colors to be visible to drivers; to avoid riding in bad weather; to use turn and hand signals to communicate with drivers and to strategically ride in the area of the line where the bike is most visible to motorists.
Motorists are advised to allow a full lane width for motorcyclists; to signal before changing lanes or merging; to check blind spots before entering or leaving traffic; and to allow for at least three to four seconds of following distance when behind a motorcycle.
By following these safety tips and making a serious effort to improve safety, hopefully the motorcyclist death rate can continue to decline in California and can start to decline in the rest of the United States.
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