Motorcycle Riding Season Be Safe

This is the next of a series of columns on how the law can impact your life. Each month we will focus on various aspects of the law relating to personal injuries, those that happen both on-the-job and otherwise, including mishaps which occur in driving vehicles, using products and receiving medical care. The column will also respond to legal questions relating to personal injury that are sent to us.

Healy Scanlon Law Firm is comprised of eight trial attorneys, two of whom are from Ireland. We are located downtown at 111 West Washington Street, Suite 1425, Chicago, Illinois 60602 (800-787-5431 or 312-324-0409). www.HealyLawFirm.com. The firm concentrates in the representation of injured victims of all types of accidents.

Readers are encouraged to call or write with questions concerning personal injury law.

Summer Is Motorcycle Riding Season. Be Safe!

Summer is traditionally a popular time for motorcycle riding. Nationwide, motorcycle ridership increased 51% between 2000 and 2005. As gasoline prices continue to increase, there will be increased incentive to use them. In the Chicagoland area, the motorcycle riding season is short, but all too often, as statistics show, can be deadly.

Because many view any motorcycle riding as dangerous or even reckless, they assume motorcycle riders are at fault in most crashes. The reality is that some crashes are the result of rider error, some are the fault of other drivers that do not see or react appropriately to nearby motorcycles, and some others are due to defects in the bike or the roadway.

NEWLY RELEASED STATISTICS

Some newly published statistics point out instances of rider error:

  • Speeding is involved in 35% of fatal motorcycle crashes, compared to 23% for passenger cars and 19% for light trucks.
  • Alcohol is present in about 1/3 of total fatal crashes. In 2009, 29% of fatally injured motorcycle riders had a blood alcohol level above the legal limit of .08. An additional 7% had alcohol in the system but at lower levels.

HELMET USE

The majority of all fatal motorcycle crashes were single vehicle accidents. Motorcycle helmets have been shown to be very effective in preventing death, but many motorcyclists do not wear them.

Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that helmets are 37% effective in preventing fatalities to operators. In 2008, 42% of fatally injured riders were not wearing helmets. NHTSA estimated 822 of these riders would have lived if they had worn a helmet. Nevertheless, helmet use rates dropped 13% in the first nine months of 2010.

Twenty states have adopted mandatory helmet laws for all riders. An additional twenty-seven have helmet laws but only applying to minors. Three states, Illinois, Iowa and New Hampshire, have no helmet laws at all.

In addition to the helmet usage rates dropping, those using helmets are not necessarily getting the proper protection. Internet and retail sales of helmets that look similar to helmets that comply with Department of Transportation (DOT) helmet standards have increased. Riders wearing lightweight, non-DOT compliant "novelty helmets" rose 9%. These so-called "novelty helmets" which come in many shapes and styles, are made to look like protective helmets. Unfortunately, such helmets offer little or no protection. Such helmets are banned from sale in certain states, including Virginia.

The DOT publishes guidelines for helmet selection to assist consumers in purchasing a safe helmet. Novelty helmets typically have a thin outer shell and little or no foam padding inside. Chinstraps may be absent or fastened with flimsy rivets. Novelty helmets typically weigh a pound or less whereas DOT helmets typically weigh 3 pounds or more. Careful examination is warranted, since counterfeit DOT stickers are widely available on eBay and used inappropriately.

Since the DOT does not test all helmets on the market, helmets sold as compliant sometimes fail to offer adequate protection in a crash.

DEFECTS IN MOTORCYCLES

Sometimes, riders who take appropriate precautions and operate properly are involved in crashes because of defects in the bike. Due to the way motorcycles operate, even relatively minor equipment failures can lead to catastrophic crashes. Loss of throttle control, stalling or brake failure are subjects of frequent recalls and service campaigns by manufacturers. Each year, nearly every motorcycle manufacturer typically has several recalls on the books. Failures including fuel fires, frame failures, brake failures and stuck throttles or engine stalling are not uncommon. Any such failure can quickly lead to a crash through no fault of the rider. Careful examination of the motorcycle and awareness of recalls can help minimize the risk.

Any time there is a suspicion that equipment failure played a part in a crash involving serious injury or death, first, if possible, ensure that the motorcycle is preserved and not changed, disassembled, or altered before a professional inspection. Then contact a law firm experienced with motorcycle accidents for advice.

The increasing popularity of motorcycle riding is proof that it is a fun, exiting activity. However, because of the nature of motorcycles and the potential dangers posed by riding in a car dominated environment, much care must be taken. Proper precautions, equipment, training and common sense riding will, hopefully, ensure a safe, fun summer of riding.

DAVID P. HUBER