Fatal Motorcycle Accidents

January 2, 2024
By Michael Padway

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Few things are as liberating as riding a bike. The open road and the wind whistling past your helmet as you gun the throttle make each ride a unique and exhilarating experience.

However, this open nature that makes motorcycles such an exciting experience can also be its biggest weakness. The relative lack of safety features plus the small profile of motorbikes often results in grave accidents where the rider loses.

Factors that Contribute to Fatal Motorcycle Accidents

  • Lack of enclosed compartment
  • No fenders or crumple zones to absorb impact forces
  • Lack of airbags and seatbelts
  • Lower mass and weight: the average bike weighs 4x less than a typical car
  • Smaller profiles that make motorcycles harder to see, especially head on 
  • Higher sidebelts and thicker A-pillars on modern vehicles, which result in greater blind spots
  • Motorcycles need a longer braking distance compared to four-wheel vehicles
  • Low visibility at night or in inclement weather
  • Inattentive drivers that fail to account for lane sharing or lane splitting motorcycles
  • Reckless driving behavior and disregard for safety, such as not wearing helmets
  • Intoxicated driving
  • Equipment failure on either party

Fatal Motorcycle Accidents by the Numbers

The Top Causes of Motorcycle Deaths

Some accidents are worse than others. In the worst case scenario, riders may end up losing their lives. These are the scenarios that commonly result in a dead rider or passenger.

  1. Not wearing helmets
  • Head injuries are the leading cause of motorcycle fatalities among all types of accident injuries, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Research shows that helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by 69%.
  • The NHTSA estimates that helmets are 37% effective in preventing fatal injuries for riders, and 41% for passengers.
  • Helmets saved the lives of almost 1,900 motorcyclists in 2017, and could have saved an additional 749 lives if they had worn helmets.
  1. Intoxicated driving
  • 43% of riders who died in single-vehicle crashes were alcohol-impaired. Of those, 61% occured on a weekend night.
  • Motorcycles had the highest rate of intoxicated driving accidents of any vehicle type at 27%, compared to 21% for passenger cars and 20% for light trucks.
  • Alcohol has been proven to impair judgement, slow reflexes, and affect motor skills and coordination — all critical factors when riding a motorcycle.
  1. Head-on collisions
  • Head-on crashes are the worst possible scenario for motorcycle riders due to the amount of forces involved. 57% of rider deaths are due to crashes with other vehicles on the road.
  • 76% of two-vehicle collisions involving motorcycles are frontal impacts, compared to just 7% for rear-end impacts.
  1. Left turn accidents
  • 42% of two-vehicle fatal crashes are due to a left turn accident, where one vehicle was turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing or incoming.
  1. Distracted driving
  • Motorcycles had the highest rate of fatal collisions with fixed objects than all other vehicles.
  • In most cases, bikers have less than 2 seconds to try to avoid a collision.
  • Most accidents occur on short trips, usually at the very beginning, so fatigue is less of a factor than distracted driving.
  • Motorcycle deaths are more likely to occur in a busy urban area (53%) than in rural settings (47%).
  1. Speeding
  • Faster speed results in greater impact forces at play, less reaction, and more braking distance needed.
  • Motorcycles have the highest death rate of any vehicle type due to speeding at 32%, compared to 18% for passenger cars and 14% for light trucks.
  • Bikes with 501-1,000cc engines accounted for 36% of fatalities in 2017, while bikes up to 1,500cc accounted for 26%, compared to just 7% of deaths for bikes 500cc and below.
  1. Unsafe driving behavior
  • Lane splitting and abrupt swerving between traffic continue to be one of the main causes of motorcycle accidents.
  • Among all vehicle types, motorcycles have the highest percentage of fatalities where the driver had previous driving convictions.
  • Riders involved in a fatal accident are 1.3x more likely than car drivers to have previous license suspensions or revocations.
  • 29% of riders involved in fatal crashes did not have a valid license at the time of the accident, compared to just 13% for car drivers.

Have You Been Involved In A Motorcycle Accident?

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What Makes Fatal Motorcycle Accidents More Difficult

Fatal vehicle accidents are always challenging, and motorcycle accidents resulting in deaths even more so. This is due to higher risk faced by motorcycle riders, as well as the perceived recklessness caused by the statistics above.

To protect their bottom line, insurance companies will try to minimize their financial liability in the event of a claim. Investigators will examine potential faults on the part of the rider, such as driving record, maintenance history, gear and equipment use, and even aftermarket accessories.

For two-vehicle crashes, it is common practice for the other party’s insurance provider to dispute liability. They may also seek comparative negligence in states where it is practiced, to reduce damages that can be claimed by the rider or their next of kin.

In such cases, a lawyer that specializes in motorcycle accidents is essential. They can handle the legal complexities, deal with insurance, and claim rightful compensation after a thorough review of the facts. Fatal accidents are always a difficult time for loved ones, and professional legal help can take care of the representation so the family can focus on grieving and recovering from the accident.

Have you been involved in a motorcycle accident?

Our professional legal team screens submissions and assigns cases to some of the best motorcycle lawyers in the US.

Find a Motorcycle Attorney

Michael Padway

Michael Padway uses his expertise in personal injury and motorcycle accidents to represent a broad spectrum of clients dealing with life-changing and permanent injuries for the first time. His offices are located at 235 Montgomery St., Ste 668, San Francisco, CA 94104 and at 3140 Chapman St. Oakland, CA 94601. For more information, please call (800) 928-1511.

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