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New Motorcycle Safety Studies Show Fatal Accidents Up

Newly released federal statistics have bad news for motorcyclists. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency that studies traffic accidents, American motorcyclists continued their unfortunate trend toward more fatal accidents in 2007. The study (PDF) on fatal motorcycle accidents was part of a larger study the NHTSA does each year on the number of fatal traffic accidents overall. (Statistics for 2007 are issued in late 2008.)

The numbers for 2007 show that 5,154 motorcyclists (including passengers) were killed last year, a 7% jump over the 4,837 fatalities in 2006. Unfortunately, this continues a steady trend over the last 11 years toward more fatal motorcycle crashes. The number of motorcycles registered in the U.S. and the number of motorcycle miles traveled have both mostly also risen steadily throughout the last decade, which partially explains the trend toward more fatalities. However, the rates of fatalities per 100,000 registered motorcycles and per 100 million vehicle miles traveled have also risen steadily since 1997, until they saw a welcome drop in 2006. While the NHTSA has not been able to calculate rates for 2007, I hope they continue that downward trend.

The NHTSA goes into detail about the types of accidents that motorcycles are involved in — something that interests me greatly as a motorcyclist myself and as a Florida motorcycle accident lawyer. According to their numbers, half of all fatal motorcycle crashes in 2007 involved other moving vehicles (cars, trucks, vans and SUVs); another 25% were collisions with fixed objects like a tree, parked car or the road itself. Of the fatal two-vehicle crashes, 40% involved another vehicle turning left while a motorcycle went straight, passed or overtook it. While it’s difficult to extrapolate a specific accident from statistics, this statistic offers important guidance for motorcyclists: Be extra careful when a car is waiting to make a left turn. Far too many bikers have died because drivers don’t see motorcycles they’re not looking for.

The statistics also point toward a need for riders to be more responsible. According to the NHTSA’s study, a quarter of the motorcyclists killed in accidents in 2007 did not have valid licenses. Another 27% were legally drunk (with a BAC of .08% or higher), and that percentage rose to 41% when the agency looked only at single-vehicle motorcycle crashes, which are frequently a result of bad judgment with turning and speed. And 36% of riders killed in crashes were speeding. All of these rates are higher than the rates for passenger cars; the motorcycle licensing violations rate is actually double the rate for cars. While I have no desire to let careless drivers off the hook, I can only imagine how many lives we could save with better safety education and more careful behavior in our own community.

My wife and I both ride, so motorcycle safety is personal to me. And as a Florida motorcycle accident attorney, I have seen the damage that a car can do to a rider firsthand. If you or someone you love was hurt in a motorcycle crash caused by someone else’s careless or aggressive driving, I would like to help. Please contact my firm, Cohn, Smith & Cohn, for a free consultation on your case.

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