We have all seen the signs in yards and at busy intersections reminding us that there are motorcycles on our highways. As spring turns to summer, we see more and more motorcycles. Despite the effort of many motorcycle organizations such as ABATE, motorcycle accidents are on the rise and motorcycle fatalities continue to increase. In 2008 there were 5,290 motorcyclist fatalities which accounted for 14% of the total crash fatalities in the United States. This figure represents the 11th consecutive year that there has been an increase in motorcycle crash fatalities.
Many believe that the increase in motorcycle crashes and motorcycle fatalities is directly related to the increase in the number of motorcycles on our highways, while others attribute it to larger, faster motorcycles and the reluctance of many motorcycle operators and passengers to wear helmets. Nearly 50% of the motorcyclists killed were over the age of 40, nearly a third were under the age of 30 and approximately 25% involved riders with a blood alcohol over .8 percent.
While there are numerous reasons and causes for motorcycle crashes, the lack of awareness of automobile, pickup truck and SUV drivers has played a significant role in motorcycle accidents and motorcycle fatalities. As a biker, I know firsthand that some drivers just don’t see the motorcycles on the highway. I have discussed this dilemma with many bikers and all have relayed harrowing experiences when a car pulls out in front of them or nearly runs over them as they proceed slowly on a country road. I have personally represented numerous motorcyclists who were injured as a result of motor vehicle/motorcycle crashes, cases where the motorcyclist was stopped at a stop sign and struck by a motor vehicle turning into the same intersection or the motorcyclist was proceeding along the highway when a car pulls from a stop sign directly into his path. In nearly all of these cases, the crashes relate to the lack of awareness of the motor vehicle driver. In other words, the motor vehicle driver just did not see the motorcycle.
What can be done about the lack of awareness? Obviously, we must continually and repeatedly remind drivers, experienced and inexperienced, that there are motorcycles on our highways and they are truly everywhere. Perhaps drivers should be tested when obtaining their operators license or when seeking a renewal concerning motorcycle awareness. A simple operators simulation involving other cars and motorcycles on the highway could be used as a test and a reminder to be observant. In addition, motorcyclists should be encouraged to wear bright colored or reflective clothing. Finally, all of us should be reminded that motorcycles are truly everywhere and when determining whether there is a clear right to proceed, our minds must be focused not only on whether there are oncoming cars, pickup trucks or SUV’s, but also motorcycles.
James T. Davis, Esquire