Florida is becoming an ever more popular destination in the country for motorcycle enthusiasts, and more and more Florida residents are driving motorcycles in addition to, or in lieu of, other motor vehicles. According to state data, there are approximately 600,000 motorcycles officially registered in Florida. Consequently, it is not surprising that there has been a steady increase in the number of motorcycle accidents in South Florida, including Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Miami, and West Palm Beach, that result in injuries or fatalities over the last few years. According to reports from Ride Smart Florida, an outreach program developed by the Florida Department of Transportation State Safety Office:
- In 2013, over 450 motorcycle riders and their passengers were killed in fatal vehicle accidents;
- Males between the 25 and 34 years old are at the highest risk of suffering injuries in a motorcycle accident; and
- Over 90% of all motorcyclists injured or killed in a traffic collision in the state in 2013 were residents of Florida.
Across the country, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been tracking motorcycle crash data annually. In 2013, NHTSA reported that there were 4,668 motorcyclists who died in motor vehicle traffic accidents, which is a decrease of 6 percent from 2012 when there were 4,986 motorcyclists who died in such accidents. During 2013, there were approximately 88,000 motorcyclists who suffered injuries, which represents a 5-percent decrease from 2012 when 93,000 motorcyclists were injured. However, from 2004 to 2013, fatalities from motorcycle crashes went up by 16 percent.
Approximately 93 percent of all motorcycles involved in fatal accidents in 2013 were two-wheeled motorcycles. Motorcyclists made up approximately 14 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2013, which constitutes about 4 percent of all individuals injured, 18 percent of all vehicle occupant fatalities, and 4 percent of all the occupants who were injured. 94 percent – or 4,399 – of the 4,668 motorcyclist fatalities were riders, while 6 percent or 269 were passengers.
NHTSA reports that motorcycles are more involved in fatal crashes with stationary objects than other kinds of vehicles. Specifically, around 22 percent of motorcycles are involved in accidents with fatalities collided with stationary objects, as compared with 4 percent for large commercial trucks, 14 percent for lighter trucks, and 18 percent for passenger automobiles. Out of the total number of fatal motorcycle accidents, 2,182 involved two-vehicle accidents involving a motorcycle and another kind of vehicle. 42 percent of these accidents involved the other vehicle turning left while the motorcycle involved was either overtaking or passing the other vehicle or going straight.
NHTSA also collects demographic data related to motorcycle accidents. In its 2013 report, NHTSA stated that 55 percent of the motorcyclists killed in crashes in during that year were aged 40 and older. The average age of motorcycle riders who were killed in crashes with other vehicles in 2013 was 42. Additionally, the majority of motorcyclists who were killed in crashes in 2013 died during the weekday.
Common Causes of Motorcycle Accidents
· Head on Collisions
In nearly 80 percent of the crashes involving motorcycles and other motor vehicles that result in at least one fatality, the motorcycle was in a head-on collision with the other vehicle involved. In fact, the other vehicle only hits a motorcycle from the rear 5 percent of the time. Head-on crashes occur when the front ends of two vehicles crash into each other. These accidents typically occur when a vehicle suddenly turns into oncoming traffic and collides head-on with oncoming vehicles. These kinds of collisions that involve motorcycles often cause severe injury or death.
Sadly, this kind of motorcycle crash is not unusual. Head-on collisions occur more frequently than rear-end crashes. Even if a motorcycle avoids a head-on crash with another motor vehicle, the sudden maneuvers that a motorcyclist would have to execute to avoid that crash may still cause a loss of control and lead to other types of accidents.
Motorcycle riders are at a significant disadvantage in the event they are involved in an accident with other motor vehicles because riders are, for the most part, unprotected. While helmets provide some protection, they are limited in what they can do for riders who are ejected from their motorcycles during head-on collisions. Unfortunately, when a motorcycle is involved in a head-on crash, the cyclist is usually always seriously injured because he or she has very little protection.
· Left Hand Turn Collisions
Approximately 42 percent of all of the crashes that involve motorcycles and other types of motor vehicles occur when other vehicles are executing left-hand turns. The vehicles collide with the motorcycle for a variety of reasons. The motorcycle may be attempting to overtake the vehicle, passing the vehicle, or going straight through an intersection. Although these accidents also occur between vehicles without motorcycles involved, they tend to be potentially more dangerous when a motorcycle is in the mix simply because the motorcycle rider is much more vulnerable and doesn’t have the same protection.
Studies show that car drivers turning left in front of an oncoming motorcycle are a primary cause of motorcycle crashes. NHTSA commissioned the Hurt Report, which found that the most common motorcycle crash involved another motor vehicle causing the crash by violating the motorcycle’s right-of-way at an intersection, typically by turning left in front of an oncoming motorcycle because the automobile driver did not see the motorcycle. Additionally, the Hurt Report recognized that some motorcycle crashes that do not involve collisions which are reported by the insurance companies as single vehicle accidents are caused by a motorcyclist executing an evasive maneuver to avoid a crash with a car that turned left in front of the motorcyclist.
A separate Florida study confirmed the findings of the Hurt Report. The Florida Department of Transportation Motorcycle Safety Coalition states that drivers who turn left suddenly in front of motorcycles either fail to see the motorcycle or fail to judge correctly the speed at which the motorcycle is approaching. A motorcycle’s smaller profile affects other drivers’ perceptions of speed and distance. For example, drivers will normally perceive a large semi-truck as traveling faster and being closer than a motorcycle that is moving at the same speed and is the same distance away.
· Lane Splitting
Lane splitting occurs when a motorcyclist stops his or her bike between lanes of vehicles that are stopped in traffic or between vehicles that are moving very slowly. Lane splitting commonly occurs when the traffic circumstances result in slow-moving traffic. Because motorcycles are easily maneuverable, they allow riders to weave their bikes into makeshift traffic lanes. However, lane splitting becomes a common cause for motorcycle accidents because the motorcycles are so close to other motor vehicles, and lane splitting reduces the amount of space the motorcycle has to move around. Also, other motor vehicles do not always see the motorcycle or anticipate that it will be moving up next to them. The driver of one of the motor vehicles might decide to change lanes without becoming aware that there is a motorcycle coming up on the left- or right-hand side of the vehicle.
The Hurt Report noted that moderate or heavy traffic activity was occurring during 59.2 percent of the motorcycle accidents that NHTSA analyzed for the report. Therefore, reducing a motorcyclist’s exposure to motor vehicles that are frequently accelerating and decelerating on congested streets can be one of the ways to reduce rear collisions for vulnerable motorcyclists.
Florida has specifically passed laws making lane splitting illegal in the state. Some groups suggest that lane splitting takes motorcycles out of stop and go traffic, which is safer because they are more vulnerable to such conditions and allows them to escape congested traffic. The American Motorcycle Association has stated that it is for allowing lane splitting in across the U.S., but the organization also recognizes the need to educate other drivers who do not understand the necessity of lane splitting and become incensed when they see a motorcyclist splitting lanes.
· Dangerous Behaviors
Dangerous riding behaviors remain some of the biggest causes of motorcycle crashes. Speeding is a common dangerous behavior, and many crashes are caused by a motorcyclist’s failure to adjust speed fast enough to match roadway conditions.
Another dangerous behavior is riding while tired. Riding a motorcycle exerts greater demands on drivers than operating other motor vehicles. Fatigued riding, riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or any other form of impaired driving reduces reaction times and increases risks exponentially. These conditions are also factors in other kinds of motor vehicle crashes as well. The primary difference is that motorcyclists have far less protection and are at greater risk of injury or death.
Finally, failure to wear appropriate riding gear is also a dangerous behavior for a motorcyclist that increases the risk of injury or death. Motorcycle riders who get on a bike without a helmet and are later involved in crashes are three times more likely to get a brain injury as a rider who is wearing a helmet. An alarmingly high number of motorcyclists die each year due to head injuries that they sustained in accidents.
· Hitting a Fixed Object
Collisions with fixed or stationary objects are a common cause of serious motorcycle accidents. This type of impact is extremely dangerous, regardless of whether the object is a fence, a tree, or a vehicle on the roadside. When a motorcycle hits a stationary object, it often results in the rider’s ejection from the bike, which may result in severe injuries and/or death.
According to a study conducted by Wake Forest University and Virginia Tech in 2011, there is a significant increase in the risk of fatalities when a motorcycle collides with a fixed roadside object – much higher than simply hitting the ground. The study noted that motorcycle crashes often involve a second event crash, with the motorcyclist colliding with another vehicle, then a stationary object, and then the ground. Additionally, the study reported that collisions with trees are 15 times more likely to cause a fatality than simply hitting the ground. Additionally, collisions with guardrails have a higher likelihood to be fatal than a ground impact.
· Road Conditions
Motorcyclists are more prone to hazardous road conditions than other motor vehicles. Driving another type of vehicle for years does not automatically mean preparedness to handle different road conditions and hazards in a motorcycle. Motorcyclists should become aware of the common road hazards that can cause motorcycle crashes, particularly since many of them would not pose the same hazard to other vehicles. These hazardous road conditions may include the following:
o Gravel on paved roads. Gravel present on pavements, which would normally not pose a significant hazard for other vehicles, can be very tricky to navigate for motorcyclists. In particular, motorcyclists may find it troublesome to encounter gravel during cornering maneuvers. The danger is highlighted since motorcyclists may encounter gravel more frequently on winding roads, which requires a lot more cornering maneuvers. Often, gravel-related accidents go hand-in-hand with speeding and lack of requisite skill to perform such complex maneuvers.
o Poorly maintained roads. If federal, state, or local governments fail to maintain roadways properly, motorcyclists may be impacted to a greater degree than other drivers. Bumpy and rough roads or the existence of potholes can cause motorcycle crashes. These types of roadway conditions may be caused by construction or resurfacing work or failure to implement proper repairs.
o Slick or slippery surfaces. There are a variety of road surfaces that are, or can turn, slippery because of changing circumstances. While slippery surfaces can pose a hazard for other vehicles, they are even more dangerous for motorcycles. The need for additional balancing on a motorcycle and a motorcycle’s much lighter frame can cause motorcycles to slide on a road and result in an accident. Slippery surfaces can increase the risk when motorcyclists are performing turning maneuvers. Additionally, the existence of certain debris on roadways may cause them to be very slippery when wet. This debris may include leaves, trolley tracks, cross-walk lines and other painted surfaces, and oil or anti-freeze liquid. Finally, if a roadway has been under the dry weather for an extended period, the first rain may cause that road to be extremely slippery as dried mud and oil may combine to form a slick surface. Standing water may also have the same effect.
o Joints or Breaks in the Road, or Railway tracks. There are certain types of road construction that can pose greater risks for motorcyclists. For example, when two different traffic lanes are of different heights, there may be an edge break on the road. While such an issue may not be a danger for cars, unaware motorcyclists who are traveling at higher speeds may find such breaks problematic. Additionally, sections of roads or bridges may be joined by expansion joints. These joints may contract or expand and cause uneven surfaces which may cause motorcycle crashes. Bridge joints may also be wider than normal and cause difficulties for motorcycle riders. Finally, motorcycle tires may be small enough to get stuck in a railway track and cause an accident.
o Debris or Other Objects in the Roadway. Certain objects such as portions of tire treads, miscellaneous objects that fall from trucks, rocks, branches, or animals that run into the road, may cause serious crashes to occur. Large animals such as deer are already a danger to most motor vehicles – they can pose an even greater danger for motorcyclists.
· High-Performance Motorcycles
High-performance motorcycles, categorized as either sport or supersport motorcycles, have caused a disproportionately high number of motorcycle crashes. There are a variety of potential reasons for this disproportionate representation. These types of motorcycles tend to run faster, and this can subsequently make these motorcycles more difficult to control as compared to standard motorcycles. Many of the individuals who ride these motorcycles are younger and tend to be more reckless when riding. Statistically speaking, the number of fatalities in crashes involving high-performance motorcycles is around four times higher than for those who ride standard motorcycles.
Supersport motorcycles are bikes that manufacturers intended for use on racing platforms that riders or motorcycle shops have modified for normal highway use. These motorcycles are built more lightweight than standard bikes and possess engines with higher horsepower. These motorcycles can run up to 160 mph. Most supersport motorcyclists are under the age of 30. On the other hand, sports motorcycles are similar to supersport motorcycles, but with a lower horsepower to cycle weight ratio. Statistically, drivers of sports motorcycles tend to be 34 years of age or younger.
Motorcyclists experience a higher likelihood of suffering serious or fatal injuries in a motorcycle accident than drivers of other kinds of motor vehicles. The lack of protection that motorcyclists get in a vehicle crash causes this greater risk. This lack of protection can result in more serious losses and greater expenses such as prescription and other medical bills. Severe injuries may also cause extended time away from work as a result of a motorcycle crash. If you were a victim of a motorcycle accident in Miami-Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach County, the attorneys at Englander Peebles is here to assist you with recovering compensation for your injuries.
Most Common Types of Injuries Caused by Motorcycles Crashes
Wearing protective clothing such as a helmet while riding a motorcycle is a critical step in reducing the likelihood of severe, disabling, or fatal injuries that you may suffer as a result of a motorcycle crash. However, protective clothing cannot prevent an accident or eliminate the possibility of all crash-related injuries. Motorcycle accidents can cause a wide range of physical injuries such as:
- Lacerations, cuts, and abrasions or road rash;
- Various degrees of bruising;
- Moderate to severe internal bleeding or injuries to internal organs;
- Amputation of one or more limbs;
- Permanent scarring;
- Permanent disfigurement;
- Pelvic and hip injuries that may require physical therapy;
- Spine and neck injuries that may cause temporary or permanent paralysis; and
- Serious head injuries due to hard blows, resulting in long-term traumatic brain injuries.
These physical injuries from motorcycle crashes may require emergency treatment, costly and painful long-term hospitalization, extensive surgery, physical therapy, and a long period of absence from work. These injuries may also cause significant pain and suffering and result in short-term or permanent disability. An experienced South Florida motorcycle accident lawyer can help you in recovering the financial compensation you deserve to help you manage these expenses.
Motorcycle Crashes and Florida’s Comparative Negligence Law
If you suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident and shared fault for the crash, you may still be able to obtain compensation for your injuries. Florida adheres to a comparative negligence scheme, which means that a judge or a jury will assign a percentage of fault to each party involved in the motorcycle crash. The award of damages awarded to a prevailing party will then be reduced by the court according to the percentage of fault assigned to that party.
Contact Our Motorcycle Accident Attorneys Today
It is crucial to seek aggressive and experienced representation from an experienced personal injury attorney if you were involved in a motorcycle accident. Englander Peebles' South Florida motorcycle accident attorneys understand the difficulties and unique challenges that motorcycle crashes can cause for injured victims. Englander Peebles is located in Fort Lauderdale. Contact Englander Peebles today by calling (954) 500-4878 for dedicated and experienced legal representation.