Higher Gas Prices Means More Motorcyclists – but Also More Fatalities

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Fuel Prices Directly Impact Vehicle Choice

As the summer approaches many Pennsylvanians will uncover their motorcycles and seek out the open road.  While it seems self-evident that improved weather would increase the number of motorcycles on the road, researchers have discovered another factor that strongly correlates to the number of motorcycles:  gas prices.  As the Memorial Day approaches and gas prices rise and perhaps soar, Americans seek out more efficient vehicles to lessen the impact on their bottom-line. However, this financially motivated decision is not without costs.  Unfortunately, advances in motorcycle safety have been significantly outpaced by advances in car safety.  As more people transition from a car, truck or SUV to a motorcycle, thousands of people will be at an increased risk of serious injury or death.

Car Safety Versus Motorcycle Safety

Since the 1960s, federal regulations, muckrakers, and litigation have pushed automakers to improve the safety of their vehicles.  Ralph Nader’s seminal 1965 work, Unsafe at Any Speed, began this trend of improving vehicle safety first focusing on the means to improve safety such as seat belts and a redesigned gear-shift.  Since that time automobile safety advances have included:

  • Anti-lock braking system
  • Front and rear seat-belts
  • Three-point seat belts
  • Traction control system
  • Airbags
  • Electronic stability controls
  • Lane-assist systems
  • Braking-assist systems
  • Blind-spot detection

These safety advances have ushered in an era significantly improved automobile safety with the rate of fatalities being cut in a third of the rate 40 years ago.

In contrast, while motorcycle safety statistics have improved, they have not done so at the rate of automobile safety with the fatality rate dropping only 14 percent over the same time period.  According to the researcher James Hedland, “With motorcycles, there’s not much you can do to improve safety. They’re just out there, hanging on their own.” He states that the best precaution a motorcyclist can take is to wear a helmet.

However, and tragically, the national trend has been downward in regard to both rates of helmet use and legal requirements to wear a helmet. As recently as 1975, all but 3 states required motorcyclists to wear helmets.  Today, that number is only 19.  In Pennsylvania for example, you are not legally required to wear a helmet if you are age 21 or older, have been licensed for less than two years or have completed a certified safety course. Estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration state that approximately 1,600 lives were saved by wearing a helmet.  However, an additional 700 lives could have been saved if helmet use was universal.

What Are the Main Causes of Motorcycle Accidents?

While every accident is unique, there are typically several major factors that contribute to motorcycle accidents.  These factors include:

  • Lack of civility on the road – Both motorcyclists and automobile drivers can be guilty of a lack of civility.  Refusing to let other vehicles merge, cutting off other drivers, tailgating, and road rage all significantly increase the likelihood of an accident.
  • Speeding or reckless driving – Speeding or reckless driving also greatly increase the risk of injury.  Motorcyclists often split lanes in heavy traffic which can surprise other drivers or entice other motorists to retaliate.
  • Lower visibility of a motorcycle – Undoubtedly the motorcycle is a much smaller vehicle than even the most compact of cars.  While this smaller size creates a nimble and fuel-efficient vehicle, the reduced profile also reduces its visibility to other motorists.
  • Distracted driving – The proliferation of cell phones and other electronic devices has significantly improved our access to information but have also increased the temptation to take our eyes off of the road and traffic.  The CDC estimates that in 2010 and 2011 over 3,000 people were killed each year due to a distracted driver.  Further, in 2010 nearly one-fifth of all accidents involved distracted driving.
  • Inexperienced riders – Like the January 1st rush at your local gym, higher gas prices entice many people into purchasing a motorcycle for the first time.  With new riders come inexperienced riders who are at a higher risk of being in an accident.
  • Failure to wear a helmet or protective gear – If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a motorcycle accident, your decision to wear appropriate safety gear could protect you from catastrophic injury.  The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) states, “laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets are the only strategy proven to be effective in reducing fatalities.”
  • Driving while intoxicated (DUI) – Despite harsh DUI penalties, drivers and motorcyclists still choose to hit the road after exceeding the legal limit of .08 percent.  The CDC reports that among motorcyclists in fatal crashes, nearly 30% exceeded the legal BAC.

Thus as fuel prices continue to rise it is important that motorcyclists and drivers alike remain focused on the road while recognizing the glut of potentially inexperienced motorcyclists.  Vigilance on the road can prevent accidents and injuries ranging from minor scrapes and bruises to more serious broken bones, whiplash, or traumatic brain injuries.

Put Our Experience to Work for You

For more than 34 years The Reiff Law Firm have worked to secure compensation for Pennsylvanians injured in motorcycle and automobile accidents.  Our attorneys and staff speak to you first and then thoroughly investigate your case prior to formulating a legal strategy.  To schedule your free no-obligation consultation please contact us today by calling (215) 246-9000 or by using the contact us form.

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