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William E. Weiss
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Motorcycle Accident Attorney in San Francisco Serving Throughout California

Motorcycle riding has greatly increased in the last several years. In 2006, over 1,000,000 motorcycles were sold. In 2004, there were 5.8 million motorcycles on the road in the United States. Such enthusiasm for motorcycle riding has not been seen since the 1970s. The increase in ridership begets an increase in motorcycle accidents. In 2006, motorcycle fatalities were at the highest level since 1981. Also, more people over the age of 40 are buying and riding motorcycles. This increase in new older riders has lead to an increase in the death rate of motorcycle riders over the age of 40; 40% of motorcycle fatalities involve riders who were 40 years of age or older.

These statistics are not surprising. The motorcycle is a single-track vehicle that lacks the stability of a four-wheeled vehicle. Furthermore, the learning curve for a motorcycle is much steeper than that for a car—the motorcycle rider must be much more aware of his surroundings since motorcycles are less visible than cars or trucks. Furthermore, motorcycles are becoming more and more prevalent. The motorcycle’s popularity is attributed to the low initial cost of a motorcycle, its use as a recreational vehicle, and its fuel efficiency. Worsening traffic congestion and the appeal of motorcycling to middle-aged, new, and former riders with increased disposable income, have resulted in an increase in motorcycle popularity and, not surprisingly, a rise in motorcycle accidents.

Motorcycle Injuries Statistics

Motorcycle fatalities have increased every year since 1996 when 2175 people were killed in motorcycle accidents. In 2006, motorcycle fatalities totaled 4,652. In 2005, there were 103.000 accidents involving a motorcycle. Of the 103,000 accidents, 80,000 involved injury and 18,000 suffered property damage only. Property damage only motorcycle accidents are relatively rare, comprising only two-tenths of a percent of all motorcycle accidents; most motorcycle accidents involve some injury to the rider.

Bodily Injury Locations in Fatally Injured Motorcycle Riders

In October of 2007, the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration released a report on a study called “Bodily Injury Locations in Fatally Injured Motorcycle Riders.” This report suggests a direct correlation between motorcycle deaths and helmet use. The report defined injuries to the head including (1) superficial injury of head; (2) open wound of head; (3) fracture of skull and facial bones; (4) dislocation, sprain, and strain of joints and ligaments of head; (5) injury of cranial nerves; (6) injury of eye and orbit; (7) intracranial injury; (8) crushing injury of head; (9) traumatic amputation of part of head; and (10) other head injuries. One telling statistic is that among motorcycle fatalities, 31% of helmeted riders had a head injury whereas 51% of the unhelmeted riders had a head injury. However, the report did not indicate the cause of death in these crashes—only whether the dead riders had head injuries.

The NTHSA study also broke down the injuries by location. The following table is for fatalities with only one injury location.

Location Percent
Multiple Locations 51%
Head 27%
Neck 2%
Thorax 5%
Shoulder/Arms 0%
Abdomen/Lumbar/ Spine 2%
Hip/Legs 0%
Unspecified 13%

Fatalities with multiple injury locations are listed on the following table.

Locations Percent
Head + Head 26.5%
Head + Thorax 13.4%
Head + Neck 11.0%
Multiple + Unspecified 7.8%
Thorax + Abdomen 7.0%
Head + Abdomen 5.8%
Head + Unspecified 5.7%
Head + Multiple 5.2%
Thorax + Thorax 2.8%
Thorax + Unspecified 1.9%
Neck + Thorax 1.7%
Other 11.2%

Alcohol Related Motorcycle Injuries and Fatalities

Of the 4,655 motorcycle fatalities in 2005, the motorcycle rider had a blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) of more than .08% in 27% of those crashes. This is down from 33% in 1995. Thirty-four percent had lower alcohol levels (0.01 to 0.07 BAC.). Motorcycle drivers who were between the ages of 35 and 44 had a BAC above .08% in 39% of the fatal crashes. On weekend nights, the number of motorcycle operators who died in single-vehicle crashes with a blood alcohol level of .08% or higher was 61%.

Types of Motorcycle Accidents

Riders should be aware of several different types of motorcycle crashes:

  • Crashes involving cars and trucks: about 75% of all motorcycle accidents involve other vehicles. Most of the time the other vehicle does not see the motorcycle and will change lanes or turn into the path of the motorcycle.
  • Single-bike accidents: many times the police report will indicate the motorcycle operator to be at fault for single-bike accidents. However, much of the time road debris (see below) can be the real cause. Different types of single-bike accidents include the high-slide, the low-slide and the “endo” (flipping the bike by hard breaking of the front brake).
  • Chains and ropes across trails: motorcyclist who ride off-road should be aware of property owners who install chains and ropes across trails to keep bikers away. Property owners are not allowed to install traps such as these and can be held liable for any accident cause by a chain or rope placed across a trail.
  • Rear-end collisions: other vehicles are heavier than motorcycles and cannot stop as fast.
  • U-turns: when making u-turns, both legal and illegal, some car drivers do not look for oncoming traffic, and, if they do, they may not see a motorcycle.
  • Road debris: sometimes a motorcycle operator cannot avoid the grease, motor oil, loose pavement, uneven concrete or blacktop surfaces, tire treads or potholes in his path.
  • Car doors opening unexpectedly: many people exiting their cars do not look for oncoming traffic—especially the smaller motorcycle.

The National Traffic Highway Safety Administration’s Motorcycle Action Plan

As a response to the increase of motorcycle fatalities (and perhaps the Secretary of the NTHSA’s own motorcycle crash in 2005), the NTHSA recently announced its Motorcycle Action Plan. The purpose of the plan is to improve motorcycle safety. High points of the plan include the following:

  • Conducting the Motorcycle Crash Causes and Outcomes Study
  • Developing National Standards for Entry Level Motorcycle Rider Training
  • Amending Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218, Motorcycle Helmets, to address the falsification of helmet certifications facilitated by the current labeling requirements of the motorcycle helmet standard
  • Distributing a brochure containing official guidance on designing, constructing, and maintaining roadways for increased motorcycle safety to road planners, designers, and engineers
  • Creating a training program designed to educate police on motorcycle safety and the specific enforcement efforts they can undertake to reduce motorcycle crashes

California Motorcycle Laws

Motorcyclists in California should be aware of the various statutes concerning motorcycles and their operation.

  • Helmet law: Helmets are mandatory in California. Motorcyclists must wear a DOT approved helmet when riding in California.
  • Lane splitting: Lane splitting is legal in California. If a lane-splitting motorcycle is involved in a collision, the police will generally blame the biker for the crash and indicate that on the traffic collision report.
  • Statutes of limitations: you only have a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit, depending on the type of case. It is, therefore, important to consult with an attorney soon if you are involved in a motorcycle accident.
  • License and permit requirements: to ride a motorcycle in California, you must have an M-Class license. The Department of Motor Vehicles will issue an M endorsement after passing both a written test and a road test.

If You Have Been Injured in a Motorcycle Accident, Seek Legal Advice from a San Francisco Motorcycle Accident Layer

Personal injury matters, such as motorcycle accidents are extremely time-sensitive. It is important to act promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the cause of the accident, and to file a lawsuit prior to the deadline imposed by the statute of limitations. If you or a loved one have been involved in a motorcycle accident, contact San Francisco motorcycle accident attorney, William E. Weiss at (888) 622-7274 for a no cost, no obligation consultation. William E. Weiss is an avid biker and experienced personal injury attorney with special expertise in motorcycle accidents. If you have questions about your motorcycle accident or injury, contact San Francisco personal injury attorney William E. Weiss.

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