Pennsylvania is a great state for motorcycle riders. Tons of websites out there boast of the spectacular day trips available to riders of all skill levels, from the mountain vistas and idyllic Amish country, to the bustling streets and bridges of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, motorcycle riders have thrilling opportunities for adventure and freedom. Motorcycles have been a popular form of transportation and enjoyment for well over 100 years, and despite reports that motorcycle ridership is declining in the United States, today’s motorcycle enthusiast has better quality bikes to choose from and the most advanced safety equipment ever developed to help protect themselves in the event of an accident.
Pennsylvania has the fifth highest number of registered motorcycles in the nation according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). A total of 378,668 motorcycles were registered in 2018, declining from a peak in 2012, when more than 409,000 bikes were registered. Pennsylvania registered approximately 4.6 million cars, trucks and motorcycles in 2016, meaning bikes make up only about 10 percent of all vehicles on the road.
Causes and Consequences of Motorcycle Accidents
An old saying among motorcycle riders goes something like “It isn’t a matter of if you crash, but a matter of when.”
Despite being a small percentage of vehicles on the road, motorcycles account for a large number of the fatalities recorded each year. PennDOT recorded 1,137 fatalities on Pennsylvania roads in 2017, of which 192 were motorcycle riders.
Almost every motorcycle rider has at least one story of a time when they “put it down.” Many of these crashes are minor and result in little more than a damaged bike and a bruised ego. That is not always the case, and nationally, 5,286 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2016. The data, organized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that fatalities for 2017 decreased over the previous year for the first time since peaking in 2008, when more than 5,300 riders died. Declines in deaths can be attributed to fewer riders, as evidenced by fewer licensed riders and fewer registered motorcycles, and also a result of better helmets, padded clothing and better rider education.
Despite the decline in deaths, the United States Department of Transportation, Highway Safety Administration (USDOT) reports that injuries have remained fairly consistent, averaging 84,000 injuries per year from 2006 to 2016. Injuries are very common in motorcycle crashes, and even a minor crash can result in broken bones, concussions and other serious, but medically minor injuries.
Motorcycles offer practically no protection in the event of a crash, a major reason motorcyclists are 28 times more likely to be killed in an accident than drivers of automobiles according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). Despite decades of science demonstrating the importance of wearing a helmet, not all riders do, and not all states require riders to wear a helmet. Pennsylvania requires only riders under the age of 21 and riders with less than two years experience to wear a helmet.
Most Common Types of Motorcycle Accidents
The most common situation in which a motorcycle rider is involved in a collision is when entering an intersection with traffic turning across the riders path of travel according to the motorcycle safety website RideApart.com. Known as a left-hand turn accident, these are not just dangerous for motorcycle riders. The vast majority of car accidents that occur at intersections also happen during left-hand turn events.
Left-turn accidents are particularly dangerous for motorcycles because drivers are less likely to see the rider before committing to turn across the intersection, and this puts the vehicle at a near head-on position of impact. For riders, this is the most difficult evasive riding technique to execute, and frequently results in riders being struck by a car or losing control of their motorcycle in an attempt to avoid being hit.
Motorcycle safety training courses emphasis the left-turn accident more than any other scenario, and it is the most serious situation in which a rider’s skills are put to the test. Automobile drivers who have attended a safety course that emphasizes defensive driving techniques also learn similar skills. The key is to slow down when the likelihood of an accident exists. For a rider approaching an intersection, watching the wheels of the vehicle waiting to turn is often the first indication the driver does not see the motorcyclist. Safety courses advise riders to cover their brakes going into intersections to be prepared for a sudden stop.
Many experienced motorcycle riders will tell you that when a situation like this happens, the safest thing to do is lay the bike down and kick it away. This is never the right thing to do. A riders best chance is to reduce speed as much as possible, even if an impact is imminent. To do so safely, a motorcycle must be upright with the handlebars straight ahead. RideApart states that learning to use a motorcycles front brake right to the point of locking up the front wheel is an essential and difficult skill that should be mastered by all riders. In terms of mechanical ability, the front brake on a motorcycle can alter the speed of the bike greater than any other component. Too much front brake, and a rider will be pitched forward onto the ground as their bike cartwheels down the road.
RideApart found the second and third most common cause of accidents to be rider-related, and both involve going too fast for conditions and not being prepared. A major obstacle for motorcycle riders, particularly those who ride on twisty mountain roads is gravel that accumulates on the road surface in corners. The third most common cause of crashes: riding too fast through a corner.
Speed and Loose Dirt / Gravel
Gravel is a particular problem, as motorcycle riders usually apply the brakes, mainly the front, as they enter a corner, then switch from braking to accelerating at the apex of the curve. When gravel is encountered suddenly, especially right when the brakes have been released, can cause the front tire to slide away from the corner, causing the rider to lose control.
When a rider enters a corner too fast, or does not apply the brakes correctly through a corner, the weight of the motorcycle pushes away from the corner, and can cause a rider to go off the road or cross into oncoming traffic.
Both scenarios can be dangerous at any speed, but slowing down can make a major difference between avoiding gravel and maintaining a corner and crashing.
Cars Changing Lanes
Similar to left-turn accidents, motorcycles are commonly involved in accidents in which a driver changes lanes into them or pulls out of a driveway in front of a rider. These situations are extremely common and lead to more close-calls than any other riding scenario. Almost always, the driver of the car involved does not see the motorcyclist. Many drivers casually glance at mirrors before making lane changes, looking for the common and obvious cars, trucks and buses around drivers all the time. A motorcycle is notably smaller than a car, and when viewed from a rearview mirror, may be as difficult to see as a telephone pole.
At 70 miles per hour on the freeway, it is very easy to not see a motorcyclist approaching in a lane. In some states, motorcyclists are permitted to ride between lanes of traffic, a maneuver known as lane splitting. Lane splitting is controversial because some riders find it to be safer, while others identify the inherent danger of driving between cars. Drivers frequently make lane changes in traffic in front of or on top of motorcycle riders lane splitting.
Avoiding Crashes, Injuries and Death
Defensive driving schools teach riders to watch the wheels of a vehicle in a lane next to them for the first indication the driver does not see them. Depending on the scenario and the layout of the road, accelerating past is often the safest course of action. Hard braking can cause vehicles behind to react unexpectedly, can cause a lose of control and reduces the ability of the rider to safely maneuver a motorcycle. When braking hard, a skilled rider will use as much force on the front brake as possible to drop speed and will use the rear brake to maintain stability. Even a drop of 10 or 20 miles per hour before an impact can make a tremendous difference in the survivability of an accident.
Unfortunately, it is the case that around 50 percent of motorcycle fatalities happen to riders who are intoxicated. Drinking and driving is a persistent problem on America’s roads, and motorcycle riders are as likely to be involved in an accident while drunk or on drugs as a person driving a car. Statistically, motorcycle riders who are intoxicated and involved in a crash are also the least likely to wear protective equipment such as a helmet and proper riding attire.
In states that have legalized marijuana and track crash data accordingly, motorcycle riders are at an increased risk of crashing while high. Marijuana has been shown to reduce reaction speed and causes delays in the processing of information, meaning it takes longer to make a decision. When riding a motorcycle and faced with a possible crash scenario, seconds count. Among the least studied of drugs that regularly impact our lives, opiod pain killers have been shown to create as many problems with perception and decision making as alcohol. For the first time in history, more Americans died last year from prescription medication abuse than alcohol. The effects are so poorly understood that as recently as 2015, major motorcycle enthusiast websites recommended that older riders who have back pain while riding use percocet and similar drugs to manage pain and make the ride more enjoyable.
Riders who have not taken a defensive driving class should consider signing up for one. The cost is often reasonable, the skills taught are invaluable and many insurance companies offer a discount to riders who complete a safety course.
The Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program offers courses for every skill level of rider, with advanced riding courses available. Being a safer rider can make the enjoyment of a ride even better by reducing near-miss crashes and preventing “Oh Sh*t” moments. Training courses will help riders of all skill levels be more confident, practice defensive driving techniques and avoid the common situations that lead to many motorcycle crashes.
Motorcycle helmets have been around for a very long time and come in a variety of shapes and styles to suit almost any rider. In almost all motorcycle crashes, a helmet is a primary reason a rider did not suffer a fatality. Today, most states enforce laws that require all riders to wear helmets at all times. Pennsylvania, bucking the trend of increasing laws, reversed the law requiring helmets in 2003, and now permits riders over the age of 21 who have more than two years experience, or who have passed a state-approved training course to ride without a helmet. Passengers are not required to wear a helmet if the operator is exempt and they are over the age of 21.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institute of Health (NCBI) analyzed helmet laws in states that have partial requirements, such as Pennsylvania, and those with universal helmet laws. They found emergency room visits by helmeted motorcycle riders were more than 10 percent less likely, and the three common injuries helmets are known to reduce, skull injuries, facial injuries and traumatic brain injuries, were substantially reduced in helmet-law states. NCBI found that riders who wear a helmet have a 62 percent less chance of suffering a head injury and a 42 percent less chance of fatality. States that require helmet use saw compliance of between 85 and 92 percent in the NCBI study, while states with partial laws saw use average 44 percent.
Riders who do not wear helmets often claim they are uncomfortable, block views and reduce hearing, though studies conducted on modern helmets refute these ideas emphatically.
Pennsylvania law requires that all riders wear protective eyewear, either as an incorporated element of a helmet, or approved goggles or glasses. Today’s riders have an immense amount of options for eyewear. Many top name brands of sunglasses offer protective eyewear intended specifically for motorcycle riding.
Too many motorcycle riders do not wear the appropriate clothing for riding. Now an international fashion icon, the old-school leather motorcycle jacket is an example of form following function. Few materials are better at withstanding the intense friction experienced by a motorcycle rider sliding across asphalt. Today, riders can buy jackets and pants with removable synthetic “sliders,” essentially a plastic-like piece of armor that can be inserted into pouches of specially-designed jackets and pants. this allows riders the effortlessly cool ability to dress normal, while giving the kind of protection found in a professional-style racing suit. Injuries to the extremities, arms, legs, hands and feet, are the most commonly seen injuries in hospital emergency rooms, and frequently lead to long-term health issues. A well-made riding jacket and pants will prevent numerous injuries in a crash and can make the difference between a minor injury and an amputation or even death.
Wearing the appropriate footwear and gloves is extremely important, as both items will make for a safer rider and provide protection in the event of an accident. Gloves intended for riding increase the riders ability to operate the hand lever clutch and front brake, while boots designed for riding give positive grip on the shifter and rear brake pedal. Many single-vehicle motorcycle crashes happen as a result of a rider not wearing appropriate hand and foot wear and losing control of their motorcycle.
How We Can Help
If you or a loved one has been involved in a motorcycle accident, either as a rider or passenger or as the driver of a car that was in an accident with a motorcycle, the car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky can help sort through the legal issues surrounding your claim. Our accident lawyers will work with insurance companies, law enforcement and experts to ensure you receive the medical care and financial compensation you are entitled to receive.
Many factors will be involved in settling an accident claim involving a motorcycle. Pennsylvania laws that regulate car insurance can significantly impact motorcycle claims. Under Pennsylvania’s no-fault, limited tort insurance, drivers at fault in an accident with a motorcycle lose protections and are liable for injuries and lost wages suffered by the injured rider. A personal injury attorney who knows the car insurance laws relating to motorcycles can discuss the facts of your case with you and determine the best course of action.
Our personal injury attorneys have more than 60 years combined experience handling accident claims in Pennsylvania. We know the nuances of the laws that impact motorcycle accident claims and have the experience to fight for you and your family. Pennsylvania has strict time limits for filing accident claims, so do not delay contacting the professional accident lawyers with the Law Offices of Joel J. Kofsky.