5.25.2012

What Kills Motorcycle Riders?

I work in an Emergency Room. 
Not only do I see a lot of people come in with injuries from motorcycle accidents, I also ride, and work with a lot of medical professionals who ride motorcycles. From my perspective, I can see a lot of what makes a motorcycle accident minor and what makes it deadly. 

HellForLeather has a great article this morning on What motorcycle accident rates can teach us about safety, based on the latest projections on motorcycle fatalities from the Governors Highway Safety Association. (full report here) The quick take is that motorcycle fatalities correlates with motorcycle sales. Even as car fatalities drop to the lowest levels in 70 years ( thanks to increased safety laws and features, and graduated licensing) motorcycle fatalities continue.  Why?

"A direct correlation between motorcycle sales and fatalities is bad new for motorcycle riders. It highlights that we’re the problem and that we’ve been unable to address the issue as an industry through training or other efforts," HFL asks "Helmets, safety gear, brakes, tires and chassis have all improved drastically since 1975, so why do deaths still correlate with sales so strongly?" 
One reason for the consistent fatalities are laws that allow motorcycle riders to leave their safety features at home. In the last decade seven states have repealed helmet laws. Guess what? Wearing a helmet prevents 37 percent of rider and 40 percent of passenger fatalities. 

So just putting a lid on reduces your chance of dying on a motorcycle by 37 percent. 

Alcohol is another huge factor in getting yourself dead. In 2010, one third of motorcycle riders were drunk when they killed themselves. More than one third (35 percent) were speeding when involved in a fatal wreck. 

In cars, the protection is often there even if you are drunk and/or speeding. The airbags go off, the seatbelts are on (sometimes) and the crumple zones and roll cages are part of the package of even the cheapest clunker on the road. The cage compensates for the idiot behind the wheel. 

Motorcycles don't have that added margin for error. 

Indeed, most of the minor stuff we see were guys who were wearing their gear, sober and obeying the speed limits. Most of the bad traumas were drunk and/or driving recklessly. 

Education of two and four wheel drivers can also reduce the fatality rate. When bikes hit cars, it is usually the car that turns into the bike's path of travel.  Better educating drivers on four wheels should  help. 

Better education of us on two wheels is even more necessary. I was riding for years before I took my first MSF course and I learned a bunch of things I was doing wrong. Self-taught is how most in the motorcycle community take to the streets.  Yet, that's leaving a ton of information that can improve skill and safety on the shelf. 

That's the bottom line of course. The knowledge and equipment to bring down motorcycle fatalities is out there, but too often, we riders leave it behind. The reason cars are getting safer, is that you can't leave the airbags in the garage. 

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