The odds of surviving a motorcycle accident are anything but encouraging. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that motorcyclists are roughly 29 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than people riding in passenger vehicles. Motorcycle riders are also more likely to sustain serious injuries.
Despite this grim picture, the majority of people involved in motorcycle accidents do survive. The difference between survival and fatality often boils down to a few key factors: the type of collision, the driver’s speed, helmet usage, and receiving swift medical attention.
Below is a look at how each of these factors influences the survival rate, and some helpful steps you can take if you ever find yourself in a motorcycle accident.
What are the most common types of motorcycle accidents, and how do they impact survival?
Before diving into the factors that impact survival, it’s helpful to know that not all accident types are created equal. Some accidents occur when a motorcycle collides with another vehicle while others involve a collision with a fixed structure like a tree or building. Here is a look at some of the most common types of motorcycle accidents and how they impact survival:
#1. Left-Turn Motorcycle Accident
This common type of accident occurs when a driver turns left in front of a motorcycle, causing a collision. Such accidents often occur at intersections and involve drivers who are speeding to try to beat a light. Some drivers may even turn left illegally when a light is red, while others are simply distracted or do not notice the oncoming motorcycle.
Left-turn accidents account for over one-third of all deadly motorcycle accidents. They are associated with an increased risk of death because the driver of the vehicle turning left is frequently speeding, resulting in a more forceful impact. At the same time, the motorcycle driver is not expecting the collision and can't slow down or brace for the sudden impact.
#2. Head-on Collision
A head-on collision refers to an accident in which a motorcycle and another vehicle travel toward each other and collide. Head-on collisions often occur when one of the vehicles inadvertently veers or weaves over the double yellow line into oncoming traffic. This type of accident may also occur if a driver is distracted or suddenly swerves to avoid an animal or obstruction in the road.
Head-on collisions often result in fatalities because of the sheer amount of force generated during the accident. Most motorcycles are not designed with airbags, safety belts, and other protective features that cars have to help minimize the impact of an oncoming vehicle. Drivers are more likely to be thrown from the motorcycle, experience traumatic head injuries, or sustain fatal internal organ trauma.
#3. Rear-end Collision
This type of collision occurs when a vehicle traveling behind a motorcycle strikes the motorcyclist.
This type of collision typically occurs for one of the following reasons:
- The other driver is speeding and fails to slow down in time to avoid hitting the motorcyclist
- The other driver is distracted and fails to notice the motorcyclist slowed down
- The other driver is following too closely or “tailgating” the motorcyclist
- The other driver overestimates the speed of the motorcyclist
This type of accident may only cause minor damage to the vehicle that crashes into the motorcycle and the driver of the other vehicle may not sustain any major injuries.
However, motorcycle drivers are rarely as lucky, despite the insubstantial force of the impact. The risk for serious injury and death still looms, as does the risk for head trauma, broken bones, and internal organ damage.
#4. Accidents Involving Stationary Objects
While many accidents involve drivers of other vehicles, a smaller number involve only one person: the motorcyclist. This type of accident is sometimes called a single-vehicle accident and occurs when the motorcycle hits a stationary structure such as a tree, telephone pole, guardrail, building, or median barrier. In isolated cases, a motorcyclist may collide with a deer, dog, or other animal crossing a road.
Roughly two-thirds of single-vehicle accidents involving a motorcycle were the result of rider error. Common errors include distracted driving, exceeding the speed limit, unfamiliarity with roadways, or driving under the influence of alcohol. In some cases, a manufacturing defect in the motorcycle or poor road conditions cause this type of accident.
Survival rates among riders who crash into stationary objects vary. For instance, hitting a median barrier and getting thrown from a motorcycle into a concrete wall or structure may result in serious injury or death. On the other hand, striking a fence and being thrown into a cornfield may produce less severe injuries.
What other factors impact the odds of surviving a motorcycle accident?
Clearly, the type of motorcycle accident a driver has can dramatically affect survival odds. But other variables can boost or decrease your odds of survival. Here are a few critical factors to consider:
1) Timeliness of first responders
“After a crash has occurred, an injured rider’s life can depend on rapid and appropriate emergency medical response. Emergency medical service personnel provide life support at the scene and during transport to the optimal emergency care facility. Injury severity and time are critical to survival.” - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Every second counts after a motorcycle accident. Surviving a life-threatening injury often requires prompt medical intervention by a skilled trauma surgeon or medical specialist. If an accident occurs in a rural location with limited access to emergency responders and skilled medical professionals, the chances of survival are reduced. On the other hand, fast evaluation and treatment by an experienced medical team can help you overcome your injuries.
2) Driving Speed
In general, the risk of death increases with driving speed. This correlation exists because the motorcyclists have less time to respond to threats and brace themselves for a collision. If the accident involves another driver who is also speeding, the risk of fatality further increases because neither driver involved had time to react to the situation.
3) The age of the driver
Generally speaking, younger people are more likely to survive a motorcycle accident than older accident victims. Research findings suggest that patients over the age of 55 have an increased mortality rate compared to younger patients. Another study noted that injuries to older motorcycle drivers “tend to be more severe than those to younger adults,” thereby reducing survival rates.
Response times also tend to be slower among older motorcyclists compared to younger drivers. They are more likely to leave themselves vulnerable to additional injury following an accident because they are not able to quickly move out of the path of oncoming traffic.
4) Helmet usage
“Motorcycle crash deaths are costly, but preventable. The single most effective way for states to save lives and save money is a universal helmet law.” - Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
The benefits of wearing a helmet cannot be overstated. Safety guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that helmets reduce the risk of death by 37 percent and reduce the risk of serious brain injury by 69 percent. The CDC also notes that hundreds of lives annually could be saved if all motorcyclists wore helmets.
Wearing a motorcycle helmet that meets federal safety standards is just as important as the actual practice of wearing a helmet. Your chances of survival increase if your helmet adheres to federal safety standards.
Helmets bearing the DOT (Department of Transportation) symbol comply with key Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and are designed to be able to absorb a specific amount of force. Wearing a properly sized helmet is also important.
5) Other Protective Gear
Other types of protective gear can also help safeguard against injury and death due to a motorcycle accident. While they may not have the same powerful impact as a helmet during a crash, protective clothing and accessories can help keep accident victims from succumbing to hypothermia and frostbite if they are seriously injured on a cold night in a remote area.
Here are some types of safety gear and equipment that can foster survival after a crash:
- Jacket: A textile jacket with reflective inserts protects you from the elements and hypothermia if you crash in cold weather.
- Pants: Waterproof motorcycle over-pants with CE-certified armor can help keep your legs covered and warm after an accident.
- Boots: A durable pair of boots will safeguard against abrasion while also protecting your anklebones during a collision.
- Gloves: Water-resistant gloves help protect your knuckles while keeping your fingers warm during the colder months.
- Knee and shin guards: Elbows, knees, and shins are all prone to injury. Form-fitting elbow, knee, and shin guards can deliver protection.
- Goggles: Special goggles offer impact protection by preventing flying debris from damaging the cornea or surrounding eye area.
What are five important steps to take if you have a motorcycle accident?
The actions taken immediately after a motorcycle accident could be the difference between survival and death. Here are some key steps to take if a motorcycle accident ever injures you:
Step One: If possible, move out of the path of oncoming traffic
Accidents that unfold on a busy road or interstate can leave victims at increased risk of being struck by oncoming vehicles. If you can move out of harm’s way, then wait for a break in traffic and move quickly to the shoulder. If you are unable to move, then call for help and wait for the authorities to arrive.
Step Two: Call 911 right away
The faster you request medical help for an injury, the better your odds of surviving a motorcycle accident. Calling 911 right away is a critical step that can save your life. If you lost your phone during the accident, try to shout for help so any passers-by can call the authorities on your behalf.
Step Three: Keep your helmet and protective gear on your body
In nearly all cases, keep your helmet and any protective gear on your body following an accident. Attempting to remove your helmet could worsen head or neck trauma while leaving you at increased risk for additional injuries. If you have a motorcycle first-aid kit handy, you can bandage any exposed wounds while you wait for paramedics to arrive.
Step Four: Take pictures and notes
Once you are safely out of the path of oncoming traffic and the authorities are on the way, it’s a good idea to take some pictures of the accident scene and jot down some notes about what transpired. Take pictures of your motorcycle and any other vehicles involved.
Even if you think you have a perfect memory, it is always a good idea to jot down any key pieces of information such as:
- The name and contact information of any other driver(s) involved in the accident
- The make, model, and license plate number of the other vehicle(s) involved
- The location of the accident
- The names and contact information of any witnesses or bystanders
- The circumstances that led up to the accident
Step Five: Contact a motorcycle accident lawyer
Once you are safely out of harm’s way and the police gather the information they need for your accident report, it’s wise to reach out to a skilled personal injury lawyer. An experienced motorcycle accident attorney can review the details of your accident and determine whether you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. An attorney can also guide you through the best legal steps to take once the hospital releases you.
As you compare personal injury lawyers, remember that not all lawyers are created equal. Selecting an attorney with a proven track record of success representing motorcycle accident victims is vital to ensuring you receive the compensation you deserve.