I got in an argument yesterday with a friend who is a motorcycle enthusiast,
and who is contemplating buying a new motorcycle. As a personal injury
lawyer, I know my viewpoint is biased, having worked with so many clients
who have been injured in motorcycle crashes, and many families who have
lost a loved one to a motorcycle collision. I told my friend that motorcycles
are incredibly dangerous, and that he would be risking his life unduly.
My friend said that motorcycle riding is only more dangerous when done
in an urban, high-traffic environment, and that in many ways, driving
a motorcycle is safer than driving a car.
Are motorcycles more dangerous than passenger vehicles?
According to the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Motorcycles are less stable and less visible than cars and often have
high performance capabilities. When motorcycles crash, their riders lack
the protection of an enclosed vehicle, so they're more likely to be
injured or killed. The federal government estimates that per mile traveled
in 2014, the number of deaths on motorcycles was more than 27 times the
number in cars.
Because serious head injury is common among fatally injured motorcyclists,
helmet use is important. Helmets are about 37 percent effective in preventing
motorcycle deaths and about 67% effective in preventing brain injuries.
Yet only 19 states and the District of Columbia mandate helmet use by
A total of 4,693 motorcyclists died in crashes in 2015. Motorcyclist deaths
had been declining since the early 1980s but began to increase in 1998
and continued to increase through 2008. Motorcycle deaths accounted for
13% of all motor vehicle crash deaths in 2015, and were more than double
the number of motorcyclist deaths in 1997.
In what ways are motorcycles safer than passenger vehicles?
There are a number of motorcycle enthusiast sites, including
Riding Safely and
Motorcycle Central, that claim that motorcycle riding is safer for reasons including:
- A rider is usually sitting up higher than a car driver, and so has a better
view which allows them to see danger earlier, and avoid it better. Riders
have no car body around them to create vision blind spots.
- A motorcycle is smaller than a car, and so less of a target to be hit.
Being smaller, it also has more places to go safely. A bike can swerve
to the side, or fit between two cars on a many lane highway. It can pull
onto the safety shoulder if necessary.
- Car drivers have many distractions, including cell phones, radios, passengers,
and food. Motorcycles are safer because they increase attention and reduce
- Motorcycle riders know they are vulnerable, and so motorcycle riders assume
less, which makes a motorcycle safer than a car.
Well, I still think motorcycle riding is more dangerous
The motorcycle riders I know truly enjoy the experience of cruising up
a roadway, feeling the wind, the weather, and the sense of movement and
freedom that motorcycling provides. I am glad they love this activity,
and that they do seem to understand the dangers associated with it. All
I can say is, wear your helmets everyone, watch out for bikers, don't
drive drunk or distracted, and take it easy out there.