At the close of last year, the National Transportation Safety Board took an important step towards protecting America’s motorcyclists. In November, the NTSB added improvements in motorcycle safety to its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements – a list that defines the Board’s legislative and administrative priorities. The Chicago motorcycle injury attorneys of Passen & Powell are encouraged by this step, although disappointed that the Board chose to focus only on riders and not on the motorists who often injure or kill them.
The Board’s action was prompted by the recent rise in fatalities from motorcycle accidents. In the years from 1997 to 2008, highway fatalities nationwide declined. In that same time period, however, people killed in motorcycle accidents not only increased, they more than doubled (they increased by 150 percent). Moreover, motorcycle fatalities represent an astounding 13 percent of all American motor vehicle fatalities. Yet motorcycles represent only 3 percent of the vehicles registered nationwide.
The NTSB’s motorcycle safety recommendations were originally issued in 2007. At that time, the Board set forth six key improvements which they would like to see. These recommendations were designed to improve motorcycle safety and decrease the number of fatalities among motorcyclists riding on on America’s highways. Now, three years later – with the NTSB’s recommendations still not universally adopted – the Board has added motorcycle safety to its “most wanted” list.
Among the NTSB’s focus points is a request that states enact universal helmet laws. Wearing a helmet while riding is perhaps the single greatest thing that a rider can do to improve his chances of surviving a crash – and surviving without permanent, disabling traumatic brain injury. Riders who do not wear helmets suffer head injuries at around twice the rate of helmeted riders. And states which have enacted helmet laws have seen motorcycle fatalities decrease by around 37 percent. As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated, motorcycle helmets saved 1,829 lives in 2008 alone.
At present 27 states, including Illinois, do not have laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear a helmet at all times. But Illinois is one of only 3 states that have no law requiring helmet use – not even a partial requirement.
Our top motorcycle accident lawyers join the NTSB in advocating for this important safety legislation. In the meantime, we urge our readers and clients to always wear a helmet. Not only is this a crucial safety precaution, but it is also an important legal precaution.
Many, many collisions between a motorcycle and an automobile are entirely the fault of the automobile’s driver. If, however, the injured rider was not wearing a helmet, juries have a tendency to view him as irresponsible, and conclude that at least some of his injuries were his own fault. As unfair as this conclusion may be, it is a reality, and one that riders should take pains to avoid.
While we are pleased to see that the NTSB is taking action to improve motorcycle safety, we are disappointed that the focus of the Board’s action is so narrow. Putting the focus solely on helmet requirement in effect confirms the prejudice that riders are responsible for the injuries and deaths coming from motorcycle accidents. We at Passen & Powell know that the story is not quite that simple.
We urge the NTSB to improve its motorcycle safety campaign by broadening its focus to what may be done to encourage or force automobile drivers to behave responsibly towards motorcyclists. Encouraging the states to enact and enforce harsher penalties for drivers who injure or kill cyclists would be an important step. Equally important is educating drivers on how to watch for and avoid not only other cars and trucks, but motorcycles, as well. The NTSB should consider ways to encourage the states to properly educate licensed drivers on these important issues. This, like mandatory helmet use, could have a substantial impact on the number of unnecessary motorcycle fatalities.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago motorcycle injury attorney at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.