In 2002, the State of California declared that Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month will be observed each May. We join the California Highway Patrol, the Office of Traffic Safety, and the Department of Motor Vehicles in urging all car and truck drivers to share the road with motorcyclists.
The fatality rate per registered vehicles on the road is six times higher for motorcyclists than it is for passenger car occupants. Per mile traveled, motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to die in a crash than occupants of cars. Nationwide, 4,668 people were killed and 88,000 were injured in motorcycle accidents during 2013. During the first nine months of 2013 (the most recent state-by-state data available), 299 deaths from motorcycle crashes occurred in California. California's large population and favorable climate account for its larger than average share of fatal motorcycle accidents.
“Sharing the road” means respecting the right of every vehicle to use the road. Trucks, busses, passenger cars, and motorcycles all have equal access to California's public roads. Bigger does not mean better. The driver of an 18 wheeler or a Hummer has no more entitlement to a position in a traffic lane than a motorcycle rider.
Unfortunately, as motorcycle collision lawyers, we see the devastating effects of motorcycle accidents. Head injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, can cause permanent damage to a rider's ability to think, communicate, and experience the joys of life. Spinal injuries confine riders to wheelchairs. Fatal injuries leave surviving family members with a lifetime of grief. Even less devastating injuries, like broken limbs and facial scarring, can have lasting consequences.
Five tips for avoiding motorcycle accidents
A Florida study found that drivers who have a motorcycle endorsement on their licenses are more likely to notice motorcycles on the road, while drivers who have no motorcycle riding experience tend to be oblivious to motorcycles. We encourage every driver of a vehicle with four or more wheels to be conscious of the fact that they are sharing the road with smaller, less visible motorcycles.
We encourage motorcyclists to ride defensively. Here are five defensive riding tips that can help motorcyclists avoid accidents:
- Assume that drivers of cars or trucks do not see you. In many cases, they don't.
- When you approach an intersection, slow down. Assume that any oncoming car will turn left in front of you and that cars approaching from the left or right will not yield the right-of-way. Left turns in front of motorcycles are a leading cause of motorcycle crashes.
- Never ride in a driver's blind spot.
- Lane splitting (passing a vehicle in its own lane) is legal in California, but it also causes accidents when drivers drift or swerve within their lanes. Unless traffic is not moving, it is best to avoid lane splitting.
- Do not drink and drive. That rule applies equally to drivers of other vehicles, but motorcyclists have less protection from injury in an accident than drivers who are surrounded by a cage. In 2011, 29% of motorcyclists killed on the road had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher.
In addition, remember that riding a motorcycle is a skill. Too many young riders fail to get the training they need to ride safely. Some inexperienced motorcyclists fail to get the motorcycle endorsement that the law requires. About 22% of motorcyclists killed in crashes are not licensed to ride a motorcycle. Learn to ride and pass the DMV's safety test before you take your bike on the road.
Helmets save lives
Motorcycle helmet laws are controversial. California is one of 19 states that require all riders and passengers to wear a helmet. Several other states require minors to wear a helmet but give adults the option to ride without a helmet.
Whether or not helmets should be required, there is little doubt that modern motorcycle helmets save lives. After California's mandatory helmet law took effect in 2002, statewide motorcycle accident deaths dropped substantially.
However you feel about mandatory helmet laws, we urge all motorcycle riders to comply with California's law. In our personal injury practice, we often see the devastating results of motorcycle crashes. There is nothing we would like more than to see riders walk away from accidents without a serious injury — or better yet, for all riders and car drivers to share the road in a responsible, respectful way that avoids accidents.