Because of the price of gas, and the sheer enjoyment of the open road, motorcycles are becoming more and more prevalent on the highways across the United States. In 2004, the sales of new motorcycles surpassed the one million mark, with even higher sales in the summer of 2005. The number was expected to increase in 2006 as fuel prices reached all time highs.
Because they are capable of high speeds and offer minimal protection to the occupant, motorcycles are the most dangerous vehicle on the highway. Studies have shown that motorcycles have the highest crash cost per person per mile. Since 1997, the number of fatalities resulting from motorcycle involved accidents has increased more than 40 percent and the number of injuries resulting from such accidents has been on the rise as well.
In the laws of all the states a motorcycle is defined as a motor vehicle that has a seat or saddle for the rider and no more than three wheels. In some states this includes mopeds, while in other states it does not. Off the road vehicles, such as all terrain vehicles or motorized bikes, are not included in the definition and have their own laws and regulations. It is important that you check the laws of your state regarding the vehicle that you intend to drive.
The findings from data collected from accidents involving motorcycles indicate the following:
- About three fourths of the accidents involved a collision with another vehicle, mostly passenger automobiles
- The other one-fourth were single vehicle accidents with the motorcycle colliding with some other object
- Vehicle defects were rare
- Most victims were between the ages of 16 and 24 and male
- Lack of attention was a common factor as was lack of training
- Many cyclists did not have a license or had their license revoked
- Weather, road defects, and animal involvement were very minimal
Who Pays for Medical Costs
Research has shown that only slightly more that half of motorcycle crash victims have private health insurance coverage. Therefore a majority of the medical costs are borne by the government, and ultimately the taxpayer. Some victims may be covered by Medicaid or another government program. Other who are listed as "self-pay" may become indigent and thereby qualify for Medicaid when their costs reach a certain level.
In addition to medical costs, there are other costs and issues that are associated with motorcycle accidents. These include lost work and decreased quality of life. For many victims, lost wages because of work that was missed outweigh the medical costs. If the victim is permanently disabled, the earnings are reduced for the remainder of their life.
On July 3, 2006, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its 2006 motorcycle safety program plan, which updated its 2003 plan. The plan presents priorities and initiatives that NHTSA intends to pursue. The recommendations that can be implemented by state and local governments include:
- Increasing access to rider education programs
- Increasing the proportion of motorcyclists who are properly licensed
- Reducing the number of motorcyclists riding while impaired
- Increasing motorcyclists' visibility
- Increasing helmet usage
- Increasing other motorists' awareness of motorcyclists
NHTSA indicated that one of the main reasons that motorcyclists were killed in collisions was because the motorcycle itself provides no protection to the rider or passenger.
The plan urged motorcycle riders to take personal responsibility for their own safety by taking training courses, obtaining a proper license, wearing a federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218 compliant helmet and other safety gear, and riding unimpaired.
The NHTSA motorcycle safety plan for 2006 states that decades of research has consistently shown that helmets are the most effective piece of safety gear for motorcyclists. The use of a compliant helmet lowers the fatality and injury rates of motorcyclists. In fact, helmets have been estimated to be 37 percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcyclists.
Twenty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico required the use of helmets by all motorcycle operators and passengers in 2005. Another 27 states made it mandatory only for those under a certain age, usually 18. Colorado, Illinois, and Iowa do not have any laws requiring the use of helmets.
Other Protective Gear
In addition to helmets, it is highly recommended that motorcyclists wear proper clothing, preferably reflective clothing, including gloves, boots, long pants and a durable long sleeved jacket. Eye and face protection should also be worn.
The District of Columbia and all of the states, except for Washington, require that motorcyclists have at least minimal comprehensive insurance coverage. Some states even require the driver to be able to show financial responsibility.
You can obtain motorcycle insurance in the same way that you obtain insurance coverage for your automobile. The coverage can protect you and your family, your passengers, your bike, and your equipment. The amount and type required varies from state to state and will depend on your personal preference.
Claims for collision, personal injury to yourself, your passenger, or another party are filed with your insurance carrier in the same way that a claim under an automobile policy is done. You should follow the same basic procedures like obtaining the other party's name, contact information, and insurance coverage, notify the police and file a police report, and keep a record of medical and repair bills.