Motorcycles are perennially popular, especially in places with excellent weather like California. They’re efficient in both fuel and space, they’re convenient, and they’re fun. However, motorcycles also pose substantial risks, and the dangers may be rising.
Year-over-year, motorcycle accident fatalities have risen dramatically annually since 2018, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). At their lowest, there were 5,038 motorcycle fatalities nationally. In 2021, there were 5,932 deaths, making up more than 14% of all traffic fatalities despite motorcyclists making up a tiny fraction of all vehicle miles traveled. This is the highest fatality rate since 2000.
This increase should concern anyone who rides regularly. Let’s explore the statistics around motorcycle accidents, why they are becoming more dangerous, and how to keep yourself safe and respond after crashes.
Statistics and the Steady Rise in Motorcycle Accidents
Statistics don’t lie. According to most metrics, riding your motorcycle is becoming steadily more dangerous.
According to the most current available data, motorcyclists are substantially more likely to suffer severe injuries or death in a crash than other road users. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that motorcyclists were 24 times more likely to die in a crash than passenger occupants per mile traveled. Furthermore, they were four times more likely to be injured.
This is part of a greater trend. Overall, motorcycle fatalities have been rising since 1998, the earliest year for which the NHTSA has information online. In 1998, there were 2,294 motorbike deaths nationally, for a fatality rate of 22.31 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT). In 2021, the 5,932 deaths led to a fatality rate of 30.05 per 100 million VMT.
The problem is particularly bad in California. The state is second in the nation for motorcycle accidents annually, just behind Florida. In 2021, 565 riders died during crashes in California alone; that’s nearly 10% of the entire national death toll. In other words, motorcyclists are crashing more often and facing more serious consequences for each crash.
Risk Factors Leading to More Motorcycle Crashes
But why are accidents becoming so much more dangerous? Many factors might contribute. According to a 2016 analysis performed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on California crashes, the biggest factors putting motorcyclists at risk include:
- More traffic: California roads are more congested than ever before. Despite constant spending on new roads and investment in public transport and highways, urban streets are routinely crowded and traffic jams are common. When more vehicles are on the road, drivers can’t give motorcyclists as much space, making serious accidents more likely.
- Distracted drivers: People are more distracted than ever before. Smartphones provide a constant distraction, especially for rideshare and gig delivery drivers. It only takes a split second of distraction to miss a motorcyclist and cause a tragic crash, so this is a primary contributor to increasing fatality rates.
- Speeding and other traffic violations: The single most common reason for a motorcycle accident is another driver violating the rider’s right-of-way. This includes drivers turning left in front of riders they didn’t see and riders falling while trying to avoid an accident. When drivers speed, ignore traffic signals, and otherwise violate road regulations, these accidents become more common and deadly. This is a particular problem because the NHTSA has found that speeding has increased substantially since 2020.
In short, roads are crowded, drivers are more distracted, and more likely to break the law. Combined, this is a perfect recipe for putting motorcyclists’ lives at risk.
Staying Safe While Riding
While you cannot control other drivers’ behavior, you can take measures to keep yourself safe. Some of the best ways to avoid accidents and reduce the risk of injuries include:
- Wear a helmet: California has universal helmet laws, so all riders must wear one. This is not a law to ignore. According to the NHTSA, failing to wear a helmet can increase your risk of death in a crash by as much as 42%.
- Wear safety gear: Helmets aren’t the only protective gear that matters. At a minimum, you should wear durable pants and long sleeves when riding. Ideally, wear jackets, leg protection, boots, and gloves designed for motorcyclists – they can help you walk away from a crash that might otherwise have been fatal.
- Use reflective materials: California has strict laws regarding headlights and reflectors on bikes. Make sure to follow these laws at a minimum, and consider adding extra reflective materials to make yourself easier to see.
- Keep your bike in good condition: Keeping your brakes, tires, and steering in good condition can be the difference between life and death. Maintain your bike carefully to give yourself a better chance of avoiding crashes.
- Avoid riding after dark or in wet weather: Road conditions and visibility play a major role in many accidents. Riding in the dark makes you harder to see and can prevent drivers from seeing you in time to avoid a crash. Meanwhile, wet conditions can alter how your bike responds and prevent you from safely making accident-avoidance maneuvers if someone cuts you off.
What to Do If You’re Hurt in a Motorbike Crash
You can be the safest rider in the world, but it won’t make a difference if someone sideswipes your bike or runs a red light in front of you. If you’ve been hurt in a motorcycle accident, you should get help from an experienced personal injury attorney. You’re likely eligible to pursue damages for your injuries, medical bills, and pain and suffering. At the Law Office of Reuben J. Donig, we can help. Our skilled team has years of experience representing motorcycle accident victims in California. Schedule your consultation today to discuss your accident and discover how we can help you seek justice for your injuries.