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The majority of motorcycle crashes with other vehicles are not the motorcyclist’s fault

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) found that, “While occupant (and nonoccupant) fatalities [in cars] have decreased, motorcyclist fatalities have steadily increased” (Motorcycle Crash Causes 1). Even as innovative technology is integrated into our cars to automatically brake when an impending collision is detected or alert us to a car in our blindside, motorcycles, it would seem, have yet to benefit from this surge of safety technology. Motorcycles remain an incredibly popular mode of transportation for Americans, but the danger of a debilitating or even fatal crash is higher than ever. The NHTSA notes that, “motorcyclists are 16 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a traffic crash and about four times as likely to be injured.” At the same time, “an astounding 80 percent [of] motorcycle crashes” result in injury or death (“A Comprehensive Approach”), and one nine year study found “an almost 80-percent increase” in incapacitating injuries from 1997 to 2006 (Austin & Hanna 7). The types of injuries one can sustain from a motorcycle crash can be potentially permanently disabling—even if one is wearing proper protective gear. Motorcycle enthusiasts should always wear a helmet for their safety, but even that basic precaution cannot prevent potentially devastating injuries as another NHTSA study found that in 2008, over fifty-percent of fatally injured motorcyclists were helmeted (Prioritized Recommendations D-11). Enthusiasts should be aware of the causes of accidents as well as the resulting injuries to help them make the right decisions about riding and determine the best course of action should they or a loved one be involved in a crash.

The vast majority of motorcycle accidents result from either a collision with another moving object or a stationary one. Nearly half are due to a collision with another vehicle (Holfing, et al. 4) (Prioritized Recommendations D-22). In crashes with others, the notes that, “The majority of the crashes with other vehicles are not the motorcyclist’s fault” (“A Comprehensive Approach”). Furthermore, the NHTSA finds that “in 35 percent” of fatal motor vehicle accidents, “the other [involved] vehicle violated the motorcycle’s right of way” (Prioritized Recommendations D-22). On the other hand, the NHTSA found that in 2008, less than a third, or “29 percent,” of riders had a blood alcohol concentration over the legal limit (Prioritized Recommendations D-5). The study assumes, therefore, that approximately thirty percent of motorcycle accidents would not have occurred had the rider been sober, but this extrapolation is not fully proved. In any event, the fact that more than one third of accidents involve a violation of the motorcyclist’s right of way indicates that many accidents are not the motorcyclist’s fault. The CDC finds that “roughly half of all crashes take place on rural roads,” and that most riders who die from an accident are “riding sport motorcycles with mid-size engines designed to maximize speed and agility” (6). Motorcycle accidents also tend to be more costly than other accident types.

One study notes that motorcycle accidents on average cost “$57,190 per crash versus $17,950 for all [other] vehicle types combined” (Wang, et al. 29). Shockingly, the CDC notes that, “The economic burden from crash-related injuries and death in one year alone totaled $12 billion” (5). While this covers the overall cost of dealing with a motorcycle accident, the medical bills following a collision can also be quite high. With respect to lower-extremity injuries, the most common injury type following a motorcycle accident, “single-isolated lower-extremity injuries had an estimated median [cost] of $20,745 on hospital charges per patient” (Austin & Hanna 3). This amount jumped as high as $56,288 in the same study for patients who sustained lower-extremity injuries alongside other bodily injuries. It may be surprising that lower-extremity injuries are the most common type after a motorcycle accident, but numerous studies support this idea.

Lower-extremity injuries are by far the most common injury type following a motorcycle crash and account for anywhere from one-third (33%) to nearly one half of injuries following a motorcycle accident (Kerns, et al., 2013, p. 1), (Höfling, et al. 4), (Dischinger, et al. 243). (Austin & Hanna 3), (Med n.p.), and (Haworth, et al. n.p.). This is the case whether the rider was wearing protective lower-body gear or not. This may be because the vast majority of lower extremity injuries involve fractured bones which are not well-protected by riding leathers or chaps (Höfling, et al. 3). Indeed, a report published by the NHTSA notes that that “hip or knee replacement” is the most common treatment following a motorcycle accident at “35.6% of cases” in a study that included “65,952 cases” (Miller, et al. 7). Other common lower extremity injuries include dislocations, broken bones, and tears to the ligamentous or meniscus. While lower extremity injuries were the most common, the worst injuries by far were ones to the head.

Although the CDC notes that helmets “reduce the risk of head injury” by an incredible “69%,” (11), and the NHTSA estimates helmets reduce fatalities in a crash by “37 percent” for riders (Prioritized Recommendations D-12), they are still common enough to be a serious concern for riders. In fact, even as the NHTSA claims that helmets reduce fatalities, in the same report they state that “49 percent of fatally injured passengers, and 58 percent of fatally injured motorcyclists overall were helmeted” (Prioritized Recommendations D-11). This indicates that even when wearing proper gear, motorcyclists are still at serious risk of injury, but the fact that the CDC also reports that, “Unhelmeted riders are 40% more likely to die from a head injury than someone wearing a helmet” (11) illustrates that a helmet should always be worn when riding to at least mitigate the damage from crippling head injuries.

The CDC’s report states that, “even when not fatal, [. . .] debilitating head injuries can mean a lifetime of costly rehabilitation and serve emotional trauma for family and friends” (11). Other studies note that brain injuries account for between ten to thirty-five percent of injuries to riders (Kerns, et al., 2013, p. 3), (Höfling, et al. 4), (Austin & Hanna 12), (Miller, et al. 7), and (Haworth, et al. n.p.). Even though they are less common than injuries to the lower body, they tend to be much more devastating requiring an average length of stay in the hospital of twenty-five days (Miller, et al. 8), and the CDC notes that, “treating severe traumatic brain injuries costs 13 times more than non-brain injuries” (11). For these reasons, head injuries remain the most dire threat to motorcycle riders—particularly those who eschew helmets.

Because of the potential high cost of a motorcycle related injury, anyone injured while on their motorcycle due to the negligence of another should be represented by an attorney to ensure the highest possible settlement or judgment. If you, or someone you know, have been injured after a motorcycle accident, please contact our offices for a consultation.


“A Comprehensive Approach to Motorcycle Safety.”
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. No date.

Austin, Rory & Refaat, Hanna. Lower-Extremity Injuries in Motorcycle Crashes.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. August, 2008.

CDC. “Motorcycle Safety: How to Save Lives and Save Money.”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2012.

Dischinger, et al. “Injury Patterns and Severity Among Hospitalized Motorcyclists:
A Comparison of Younger and Older Riders.” 50th Annual Proceedings Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine: October 16-18, 2006 (p. 237-249).

Haworth N, et al. Case Control Study of Motorcycle Crashes.
Department of Transport and Regional Development The Federal Office of Road Safety. (December 1997).

Kerns, et al. “A Description of Motorcycle Crash Injuries and Helmet Use in a Sample of
Maryland Trauma Patients.” University of Maryland National Study Center for Trauma & EMS: October, 2013.

Kortor, et al. “Lower Limb Injuries Arising from Motorcycle Crashes.”
Nigerian Journal of Medicine 19.4 (October, 2010): 475-478.

Miller, et al. “Rehabilitation Costs and Long-Term Consequences of Motor Vehicle Injury.”
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. March, 2006.

Motorcycle Crash Causes and Outcomes: Pilot Study. U.S. Department of Transportation.
June 2010.

Prioritized Recommendations of the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety.
U.S. Department of Transportation. June 2013.

Wang, Jing-Shiarn, et al. “The Dimensions of Motor Vehicle Crash Risk.”
Journal of Transportation Statistics. 2.1 (May 1999): 19-35.