The facts and statistics on fatal motorcycle accidents aren’t pretty. More than a dozen bikers die in traffic accidents every day across the United States, often because of someone else’s careless, reckless actions. In the aftermath of a fatal motorcycle accident, a skilled motorcycle accident lawyer can assist those left behind in seeing justice done and securing fair compensation for a tragic, preventable loss.
U.S. Annual Motorcycle Accident Fatalities, By the Numbers
Data reported by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) paints a stark picture of motorcycle accident fatalities in the United States.
- On average, more than 5,000 motorcyclists die in traffic accidents every year in the United States. That’s around 15 motorcyclists killed per day.
- Motorcycle accident deaths consistently represent well over 10 percent of all traffic fatalities on the nation’s roads every year, even though motorcycles constitute only about 3 percent of the registered vehicles on the road and drive less than 1 percent of all vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
- In a recent year, motorcyclist deaths in accidents were 28 times more frequent than passenger car occupant crash deaths.
- Motorcycle accident fatalities have been on a steady upward trend over the past ten years, reaching an all-time high of 5,579 deaths in a recent year.
- The vast majority of motorcyclists who die each year are men, with 25-34-year-olds making up the largest single group of victims.
Significant Factors Contributing to Motorcycle Accident Fatalities
The statistics above reflect that riding a motorcycle in the United States is undeniably more dangerous than driving or riding in a car. But that does not mean that all motorcycle accident deaths are unavoidable. Far from it.
Many motorcycle accident deaths happen not because of some inherent danger in riding a motorcycle but instead because of the dangerous decisions and actions of someone other than the motorcyclist who ends up suffering fatal injuries. Here is a review of significant factors contributing to motorcycle accident deaths, as reflected in NHTSA data.
Two-Vehicle Collisions (Especially Left-Hand Turns)
According to the NHTSA, a slim majority (55 percent) of fatal motorcycle accidents in a recent year involved collisions between a motorcycle and another motor vehicle (primarily a car, truck, or bus). In roughly three-quarters (76 percent) of those collisions, the front of the motorcycle collided with the other vehicle. In other words, many motorcyclists die in accidents in which, for some reason, they are unable to avoid hitting a vehicle ahead of them.
When does this happen? The most common scenario, accounting for 42 percent of biker fatalities in two-vehicle accidents in a recent year, involves another vehicle turning left into the path of a motorcycle going straight.
This won’t come as a surprise to experienced bikers, most of whom have had the frightening experience of slamming on the brakes, swerving sharply, or lying their bike down to avoid a car turning left across their oncoming lane.
Too often, car, truck, and bus drivers simply seem not to see an approaching motorcycle in the moments before they turn left across a lane of opposing traffic.
Psychologists even have a name for this phenomenon—they call it inattentional blindness, or the tendency of a driver’s brain to give low priority to recognizing and reacting to a relatively unexpected object, like the sight of a motorcycle (rather than a car) approaching in an oncoming lane.
Collisions With Fixed Objects
About one-quarter of all fatal motorcycle accidents involve collisions between a motorcycle and a fixed object, such as a concrete highway barrier or a bridge abutment. At first blush, some of these accidents seem inexplicable—why would a motorcyclist not be able to avoid hitting an object that most riders can see from hundreds of yards (or more) away?
NHTSA data suggest that some of those accidents may occur because of unsafe riding behaviors like speeding or drunk driving.
But certainly not all of them. Fatal motorcycle collisions with fixed objects also happen because other motorists fail to yield rights of way to motorcyclists in various traffic scenarios.
One common situation involves a driver who carelessly merges or changes lanes into a lane already occupied by a motorcycle. This can force the motorcyclist to take emergency evasive maneuvers that put the motorcycle on a collision course with a fixed roadside object.
Another fatal fixed object collision scenario involves motorcycles running into open car doors. Urban motorcycle riders know this hazard well. When riding on a narrow city street with cars parallel parked on either side, motorcyclists face a constant risk of having a car or truck driver open a door directly into their path. These so-called “dooring” incidents leave riders little (if any) time to avoid a collision that sends them headfirst over their handlebars and onto the road.
Riding Without Helmets
As motorcycle accident lawyers, we believe the public puts far too much blame on motorcyclists for getting hurt in crashes. Motorcyclists do not want to get into accidents. They’re not asking for injuries. They all too often die in an accident because of other people’s careless, reckless actions, not their own.
That said, we would be remiss if we did not mention the critical and undeniable role helmet use plays in predicting the severity of injuries a biker will suffer in a wreck. Simply put, helmets work. They save bikers’ lives. A biker wearing a helmet is far, far more likely to survive a crash than a biker who rides without one.
We understand—really we do—that some motorcyclists consider helmets an intrusion on their liberty and enjoyment of the open road. Others figure they’d rather die in a wreck than linger after suffering catastrophic injuries. Legislators in many states understand that too, which is why more U.S. states than not allow at least some unhelmeted riding. As lawyers for riders, we will fight relentlessly to protect that right in any state where it’s allowed.
But as lawyers, we also feel duty-bound to remind our clients that riding without a helmet means taking a big risk not just with their lives and also with their legal rights. It’s no secret that the odds of dying or suffering severe brain trauma in a motorcycle crash are exponentially higher if they don’t have a helmet on their heads.
And because of that, even if a crash was not remotely our client’s fault, the fact that our client was not wearing a helmet can add complication and difficulty to the task of convincing insurance companies and juries to award as much money in damages as they would have if our client had been wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.
Make no mistake: any responsible motorcycle accident lawyer will fight to get you and/or your loved ones maximum compensation no matter what choice you made on helmet use because you never deserve to suffer injuries in an accident that was someone else’s fault. But the steps you take to protect yourself while riding can affect the outcome for you and your family, and that’s always worth considering.
How can a lawyer help after a fatal motorcycle accident?
Losing a loved one in a fatal motorcycle accident can throw your life into turmoil. As if grieving your loss wasn’t difficult enough, you may also find yourself besieged with calls from insurance companies, inquiries from investigators, and demands from medical bill collectors. You need help navigating this difficult time, getting justice for your loved one, and obtaining financial support for the future.
A motorcycle accident wrongful death lawyer can help. Here’s how.
Wrongful Death Claims
A sudden, unexpected death takes a heavy personal and emotional toll and a financial one. In most cases, a motorcycle accident lawyer’s first job is to take all the steps necessary to secure financial compensation for you and your family. Of course, money will never replace your lost loved one, but it can supply vital assistance in getting you and your family back on your feet after a tragedy.
Motorcycle accident lawyers can often secure financial compensation for your loss through a wrongful death lawsuit. In every U.S. state, laws permit surviving spouses and family members, or personal representatives acting on their behalf, to pursue financial compensation from anyone at-fault for causing a motorcyclist’s death in a traffic accident.
Those parties might include, for example:
- A driver who turned left across a motorcyclist's lane or forced a motorcyclist off the road by merging into an occupied traffic lane;
- A passenger who opened a car door into a motorcyclist’s path;
- A business that employed a driver who caused a motorcycle accident while operating a work vehicle;
- A government road construction agency that failed to fix or warn a motorcyclist about dangerous road conditions like grooved pavement or loose gravel;
- An automotive manufacturer that produced defective vehicles or vehicle parts that contributed to the cause of a fatal motorcycle crash.
Depending on the laws of the state where the motorcycle accident happened, a wrongful death lawsuit can secure financial compensation for damages like medical expenses for treating the rider's injuries before death, funeral and burial expenses, loss of the rider's income, inheritance, support, or guidance, the rider's pain and suffering before dying, and the family's pain and suffering from their loss.
Many wrongful death cases settle through negotiations between the lawyer for the deceased victim and the lawyer and/or insurance company representative for the at-fault party. Those that do not settle often go to court for a judge and jury to decide.
The most reliable way to learn about your and your family’s rights to pursue a wrongful death action after a motorcycle accident is to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible after your loss. The sooner you connect with an attorney, the better the chances of building a strong case.
Advice and Advocacy
Attorneys for the survivors of deceased motorcyclists also serve an important role as advisors and advocates. You may have many difficult decisions to make after losing a loved one, decisions that touch on your and your family's legal rights and future financial interests. An experienced motorcycle accident lawyer who has represented others in your situation can give compassionate, considered advice on those decisions, giving you peace of mind when you are stretched thin.
Fatal motorcycle accidents also tend to attract attention from numerous third parties. Insurance companies—yours and those representing other parties involved in the crash—may try to contact you to minimize their potential financial liability for what happened.
Law enforcement and government regulators may be in touch, seeking to gain evidence to use in official investigations of your loved one’s death. Even the press may reach out if the accident caught a reporter’s attention.
An experienced attorney can protect you and your family from these unwelcome intrusions on your privacy and grieving. The lawyer can speak on your behalf, arrange meetings around your schedule, and safeguard your interests against anyone who might seek to take advantage of you during a vulnerable time.
Connect With an Experienced Motorcycle Accident Lawyer Today
The numbers don’t lie. Fatal motorcycle accidents inflict a tragic, unnecessary, preventable toll on U.S. roads every day. Many of those accidents happen because of the careless, reckless actions of someone other than the motorcyclist victim. In those cases, the late biker’s surviving spouse and/or family members may have important legal rights to seek justice for their loved one and financial compensation to help them recover and rebuild.
If you lost a loved one in a fatal motorcycle accident, an experienced motorcycle accident lawyer can help. A lawyer acting on your behalf can pursue a wrongful death action for compensation, give you sound, compassionate advice, and serve as a tireless advocate for your rights and interests.
To learn more, contact a motorcycle accident injury attorney today for a free, no-risk consultation.