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Cagle Law Firm
Attorney Zane Cagle

Posted on April 14th, 2021,
by Zane Cagle

Protect Yourself and Others: Motorcycle Season is Back

motorcycle helmet

Posted on April 14th, 2021 by Zane Cagle

Helmets Are Still the Safe Choice

While the Governor of Missouri signed a bill last summer (2020) weakening motorcycle helmet laws, all motorcycle safety groups strongly encourage you to STILL WEAR A MOTORCYCLE HELMET every time you ride.   As motorcycle accident attorneys, we cannot stress enough the importance of wearing a helmet when operating a motorcycle in Missouri or Illinois.  The statistics have been clear that helmets reduce the risk of death and serious injury by 37-42 percent. Motorcyclists without helmets are three (3) times more likely than helmeted rider to suffer traumatic brain injuries (NHTSA, 2018).   For 40 years, the value of motorcycle helmet in reducing deaths and serious injuries has been clearly documented.

The mandatory law was introduced in the US in 1967 and resulted in fewer motorcycle head injuries and fatalities.  The changed law in Missouri, signed in August 2020, allows motorcyclists not to wear a helmet if they are at least 26 years of age, have proof of medical insurance and proof of financial responsibility (motorcycle insurance). Unfortunately, in serious injuries the financial toll on the individual and system in general is devastating.  When motorcyclists are seriously injured, often times the amount of insurance for the motorcycle and health insurance are seriously strained if not overcome.  It can result in serious financial hardship in addition to life-changing injuries.

States with mandatory helmet laws have been effective in reducing the number of motorcycle crash deaths and serious injuries.  Other states that have weakened their mandatory helmet laws have seen increases of 25% in deaths. Florida and Michigan both saw increases in head injuries and fatalities once they removed helmet law mandates.

Every year, we do many motorcycle safety awareness articles. We find that it is not so much the motorcyclists that need reminding to be safe but all other motorists.  We all have equal access to the roadways and must share the roadway safely.   When you receive a driver’s license, you have been made aware that looking out for all other people on the roadway is your obligation.   If you are operating on the roadway, you have an obligation as a fellow motorist to pay attention  to all roadway users, if not an obligation as a fellow human being.  

Fatality Facts

As we approach Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in May, we again remind people to keep a look out for motorcyclists.  When a motorcycle crash occurs, riders lack the protection of an enclosed vehicle, so they are more likely to be injured or killed.  The federal government safety organizations estimates that per mile traveled in 2018, the number of deaths on motorcycles was nearly 27 times the number of in cars. A total of 5,014 motorcyclists died in 2019 in motorcycle crashes.  Motorcycle deaths accounted for 14 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in 2019 and more than double the number of crashes from 1997. Hence, motorcycle crash deaths have been on the increase after falling in the early 1980’s.

In Missouri and Illinois, the bulk of motorcycle riding season is between April and the end of October depending on weather. For some reason, it seems to take motorists several weeks and months to notice that motorcycle traffic has increased even though it happens every year.  Lack of awareness and visibility is one reason motorcyclists ride together in groups.

Motorcycle safety is a two -way street. Not only do motorcyclists have to be safe, but all motorists on the roadway must keep a look out for motorcyclists. Motorcycles make up 3 percent of all registered vehicles and only .6% of miles traveled in the US. Motorcyclists accounted for 14% of all traffic fatalities in 2017.

Common Behaviors of Successful Motorcyclists

I’ve represented more than a few motorcyclists.  Unfortunately for motorcyclists, successful riding means almost no errors.  Safely riding a motorcycle without injury doesn’t happen for all motorcyclists.   So, I look to the riders who have been riding for decades for practical suggestions.  Interestingly, what my motorcycle friends tell me reinforces the statistical information we follow regarding motorcycle safety.

Successful riders never compromise on the safety “stuff” below:

Wear a helmet.  Whether a motorcyclist is riding across town or across the river to and from Illinois, they wear their helmet every time.

Never Ride Impaired. Many motorcyclists enjoy riding in groups as it is an incredibly fun way to socialize and riding in groups often also provides more visibility and safety. Sometimes these rides involve stops at eateries and bars. Responsible motorcyclists do not drink and drive as they know the catastrophic impact it has.

Wear Protective Clothing.   The friction of the road can cause serious damage to your  body without precautions.  In addition to a helmet, it is essential to cover your arms, legs, full feet and ankles.  The absolute easiest way to increase one’s personal safety is to wear high quality, properly fitting gear every time you ride.  Experienced and safe riders wear leather protective layers even in the heat of summer. They know serious road rash is exceedingly painful and can result in injuries that last a lifetime.  Fortunately, the motorcycle industry has made protective clothing that is both utilitarian and hip.

Think Like a Cyclists.  In a surprising 2019 study in the journal of Transportation Research, they found that most drivers instinctively view cyclists as “less than fully human” when they are riding a bike.   Whether or not other motorists actually view cyclists and motorcyclists as less than human,  I am not sure.  I do know that a motorcyclists or a cyclists is viewed as ‘less threatening’ and this in context to the size.  For example, you are operating your passenger vehicle and you are keeping a look out on the roadway. Naturally, you view a semi-truck as far more ‘threatening” than you do a compact car and even less for a cyclists or motorcyclist.  This perception may be purely a survival perception as you encounter other vehicles on the roadway.  We know the odds of our own survival if we are in a passenger car that gets hit by a large truck verses a motorcyclists..

Work to Be Seen  Every motorcyclist I have ever known says that it is alarming how many other motorists simply do not see them due to inattention.  Wearing bright, reflective colors assists in other drivers seeing motorcyclists but motorcyclists are always anticipating that a driver will fail to yield or never see them at an intersection.  Successful motorcyclists know they have become the most defensive drivers in order to survive. While passenger vehicle drivers may be annoyed by the sounds of a motorcycle, the loud sounds are yet another way motorcyclists remind other drivers they are on the roadway.

Take a Motorcycle Safety Course–Most successful riders I know have taken a motorcycle safety course early in their riding career.  They also inspect their bike before they take off on any ride.  A mechanical error can cause serious trouble.  The greater St. Louis area has several resources to plan motorcycle safety courses.

Most Common Causes of Motorcycle Injuries and Fatalities

Cars making Left-Hand Turns. One of the most dangerous situations a motorcyclist will be in is when they come across cars making left-hand turns. While it may seem simple, these collisions are 42 percent of all accidents that involve a motorcycle and other car.  The turning car usually hits the motorcycle when going straight through an intersection, trying to pass the car or overtaking it. These accidents are fairly common among passenger vehicles as well, but due to the size comparison these crashes rarely end well for motorcyclists.  In some situations, a motorcyclists can be found at fault if they were speeding or in the wrong lane.  The rules of the roadway are critical here so before you make any turn as an operator of ANY motor vehicle, double check traffic.

Hazardous Road Conditions: Motorcycles are incredibly vulnerable to dangerous road conditions. While a road condition may be something that a car can recover with only property damage, the same scenario can be fatal for a motorcyclists. Slippery surfaces, loose gravel, uneven payment and debris in the roadway cause countless motorcycle accidents.

Head-On Collisions:  Crashes between a motorcycle and another vehicle make up 56% of deaths from motorcycle accidents.  Seventy-eight (78) percent of these incidents are head-on collisions.  Head-on collisions can easily result in serious injury and death when passenger vehicles are involved but are usually fatal when a passenger vehicle strikes a motorcyclists head on.  Because head-on collisions often occur at high speeds, the death rate of motorcyclists is high in these scenarios.  In each incident, all factors have to be evaluated to see why two vehicles intersect in such a way.

Reckless Driving, Speeding and Alcohol Use: Crash incidents involving any three of these factors are extremely tragic because they are most often preventable.  Crashes in general are more likely to occur when a party is speeding, driving distracted, driving aggressively or driving under the influence.  Engaging in any of these behaviors is egregious for passenger vehicle drivers and motorcyclists. When serious injury or death is a result of reckless driving, speeding or impairment, it is personally appalling to the members of our firm and our community as it is purely wasteful.  Waste of life and potential of life due to injury is especially galling for our firm as we see it happen way too often and not as the exception.

Motorcycle Injury Crash Claims

While your state may not have a mandated helmet law, you may be “penalized” for failure to wear a helmet when filing an injury claim.  If you are in a motorcycle crash without a helmet and the crash was not your fault, an insurance carrier may claim that you failed to protect yourself and work to reduce your compensation.  Likewise, should your case go to trial, jurors may wonder why you failed to wear a helmet and equate that a lack of safety on your part.  While it is not right, it is just one of the many challenges that motorcycle crashes victims face as if the physical injury is not bad enough.

Our attorneys represent those injured in motorcycle crashes that are not their fault.  If you are going to operate any motor vehicle, make sure that you are properly insured. We answer questions for those injured in motorcycle and motor vehicle crashes. We know the importance of doing the claims correctly which is why we very much prefer to get involved early.

If you have been involved in a motorcycle crash, chances are you are seriously hurt. You should not talk with any insurance adjuster while you are in the hospital. In fact, an injury insurance adjuster should actually not try to  call you while you are in the hospital.  Injured victims are generally on pain medication due to their injuries and it is not really ethical for an insurance adjuster to try to get statements and information from you if you are taking medication that may impair your ability to recall.  Call an attorney or have a family member call an attorney and get immediate advice on how to protect your claim.

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