The summer months began with devastating motorcycle accidents making headlines this year.

One such accident took place in June in New Hampshire that killed seven motorcyclists out on a group ride.

The accident rocked the motorcycle community, as family and friends mourned the loss of their fellow riders. No information has been released yet as to whether the riders were helmeted or even if helmets would have been beneficial in preventing any of the fatalities.

However, New Hampshire is one of three states that does not have a helmet law in place. They are currently under scrutiny as to whether that should change. Early accounts of the accident reveal the riders were in a safe formation and within their lane.

The driver of a tractor trailer heading in the opposite direction crossed over the yellow line, resulting in the crash. There are several discussion-worthy topics surrounding the crash.

The driver of the tractor trailer had apparently been charged previously in Texas with loss of control of a tractor trailer and drug possession. He later failed a sobriety test in May just one month before the fatal crash.

Questions surrounding the need for better driver reporting systems, as the tractor trailer driver had yet to have his commercial license suspended for the charges and even continued working that fateful evening.

Unfortunately, this is the plight for motorcyclists.

They rely on drivers of other vehicles to visualize them and safely avoid them. Many motorcyclists diligently remain aware of their surroundings — and to anticipate the actions of other drivers. But, they do not always have time to avoid such crashes.

Motorcycle accident victims face imminent danger

The danger of riding motorcycles has been a hot topic for decades. It’s a given that the potential morbidity and mortality for those involved in accidents is greater than those in enclosed vehicles since the law of gross tonnage prevails.

While helmets have historically provided some level of protection from potentially fatal head injuries, their efficacy is argued by some. For instance, there are reports surrounding the true safety of DOT helmets.

It is worth noting that there are many gaps in the science behind determining helmet’s safety features. Furthermore, manufacturers of DOT-approved helmets only need to “self-certify” through their own testing measures, according to FortNine. That seems like questionable practice.

motorcycle accidents

Helmets approved by the Snell Memorial Foundation, which tests and certifies products, undergo much more rigorous testing than DOT. This makes them potentially more reliable.

Unfortunately, the statistics available to confirm correlations between helmet use and injuries sustained for non-helmet riders are often misleading. This further fuels the argument.

Many of these statistics don’t account for the number of riders who were wearing a helmet who did not report to the hospital with injuries. It’s difficult to determine if their helmet prevented head injuries since the healthcare system did not track these people.

Some of these same reports show that medical expenses for injured riders with helmets were equal or more than those without helmets.

This also is misleading because it does not account for those people mentioned above who didn’t suffer any injuries, perhaps because they wore helmets. It also does not take into account fatalities that would not have required ongoing medical care.

In addition to the ongoing debate about helmet safety, there are other factors that contribute to motorcycle crashes, such as alcohol and drug use, inclement weather and traffic conditions.

Motorcycle accident statistics add concern

According to the statistics from the Insurance Information Institute, in 2016 there were 5,286 motorcycle fatalities of which 1,600 were alcohol related. That’s 30% of the fatal accidents.

This is slightly less than the percentage of alcohol-related enclosed vehicle fatalities (33%), although it is important to consider there are far more reported vehicle crashes because of the number of trucks and cars operated in comparison to motorcycles.

The Insurance Information Institute — per 100,000 registered vehicles by type — reports the occupant fatality rates as follows:

  • 61% for motorcycles
  • 12% for light trucks
  • 12% for passenger cars

Time of day motorcycle accidents generally occurred varied by day of the week in 2016, according to the institute:

  • On weekdays, the greatest number of crashes took place between 3 to 6 p.m.
  • On weekends, the largest number of crashes occurred from 6 to 9 p.m.

Who rides motorcycles today?

The demographics of motorcycle ownership have changed as well, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Over the past few years, there has been a shift to older owners, according to the bureau and the Motorcycle Industry Council.

  • 2003, the median age of owners increased to age 41,  up from age 27 in 1985.
  • 2012, the median age was 45.
  • 2014, the median age was 47.
  • 2018, the median age was 50.

What is unclear is whether these statistics were new owners or existing motorcycle owners because the median age seems to go up in accordance to the normal age advancement for the years reported.

More women own bikes now too, with 19% female owners reported in 2018, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

With the median age for motorcycle owners increasing, the issue of comorbidities must be considered.
Thus, their overall health could affect the incidence of mortality and morbidity.

Long road to recovery post accident

For victims of motorcycle accidents who suffer non-fatal injuries, the road to recovery can still be a long one.

There are common injury patterns reported in the healthcare industry, and some — like tibial and radial fractures — are considered “motorcycle injuries” because of how often they occur, according to the Nursing 2019 journal article, “An upward trend in motorcycle crashes.”

Spinal injuries, more commonly the seventh vertebra of the thoracic region, get frequently reported. Pelvic fractures occur often because the rider must straddle the bike. Additionally, handlebars can be a contributor for serious abdominal injuries, such as evisceration or traumatic hernias, according to Nursing 2019.

Traumatic brain injuries are certainly at the top of the list for non-helmet riders, but they also can sustain serious facial fractures as a result of a crash.

Short-term and permanent disabilities are typically higher in motorcycle crashes too. Loss of income coupled with ongoing pain and rehabilitation are challenges that crash survivors must face.

While riding motorcycles will always pose an increased safety risk compared to enclosed vehicles, there are many things riders can do to better protect themselves.

  • Protective clothing and proper helmets do save lives.
  • Operator safety courses are available — and often mandatory — for motorcyclists.
  • Avoiding alcohol or other substances while operating a motorcycle or riding as a passenger is important to maintain quick judgement and reflexes.

While there is no greater feeling of freedom for some than riding a motorcycle, returning safely to your loved ones is always the ultimate goal.

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