Motorcycles have always offered a unique experience that can’t be achieved by riding any other type of vehicle. But this experience may come with a price, particularly in terms of safety.
The Popularity of Motorcycles
Motorcycles have always been popular with certain demographics. The freedom of the open road, a chance to enjoy the outdoors, and a sense of rebellion are all part of that popularity. The soaring cost of gas likely plays a part as well: as petroleum prices rise, many people turn to motorcycles to help offset the costs of driving a car. Some people simply ride motorcycles to have an easier commute; this may be particularly true in big cities where a motorcycle gives a rider a little more leeway to muddle through traffic.
The Safety of Motorcycles
Despite these alluring qualities, motorcycles have one major downfall: they aren’t always safe. In fact, according to the Washington Post, the past fifteen years have seen vehicular fatalities as a whole fall by 23 percent, but motorcycle deaths have doubled.
In the past year, these numbers were even more ominous: 2012 saw an increase in motorcycle deaths of nearly 9 percent when compared to the previous year. In the first nine months of 2012 alone, 3,922 motorcyclists died nationwide.
Yet, even with these stats, who is to blame: the motorcycle or the driver?
Contributing Factors in Motorcycle Deaths
It’s easy to conclude that the design of a motorcycle contributes to the fatality rate. Motocycles don’t have a protective cage surrounding the occupant. There is also no windshield, airbags, or seatbelts. However, the design isn’t the only factor that leads to death. Other factors include alcohol, speeding, and, most notably, the refusal to wear helmets.
According to the Washington Post, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 706 motorcyclists who died in 2010 would have survived had they been wearing helmets. Others may have survived had no alcohol or excess speed been involved: 29 percent of fatalities were discovered to have an alcohol content above the legal limit and 35 percent involved speeding.
The New York Times reports that half of the fatal motorcycle accidents that happened between 2002 and 2006 didn’t involve any type of collision with another vehicle; rather, the motorcyclist simply lost control and crashed. Both alcohol use and speeding could be underlying causes in this loss of control.
The Importance of Helmets
As mentioned above, the lack of helmets is a major factor in motorcycle deaths. Yet, unfortunately, only 19 states in the US require that all riders wear a helmet. In Michigan this law was repealed, resulting in an 18 percent increase in fatalities (had this law stayed in place, the state would have seen an estimated 21 percent decline in motorcycle fatalities).
Even with the importance of helmets known, many riders still refuse to wear them. According to the US Department of Transportation, a survey conducted by the National Center for Statistics of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has revealed a large fluctuation over the past several years in regards to wearing helmets. In 2000, 70 percent of riders were wearing helmets; in 2005, only 48 percent were wearing helmets; and in 2011, the numbers had risen back up to 66 percent. No reason was given for such variation.
Motorcycles do come with an inherent risk, but responsible riders can drastically reduce this risk. Wearing a helmet, driving at legal limits, and never driving while impaired can all help remove the dangerous stigma associated with motorcycles.
This article was provided by Rob Jensen, car enthusiast and safety expert. If you’ve been harmed or received brain injuries as a result of an auto or motorcycle accident, Rob urges you to seek medical and legal help immediately.