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Essay by Aimee Clesi
Safety Measures for Motorcyclists
Just this past week, a friend of mine was involved in a serious collision that completely totaled her vehicle. The damage to the driver’s side was significant and she is very lucky to be alive. Although the driver’s side door had to be cut open for paramedics to remove her safely from the vehicle, she escaped the crash without having sustained a single broken bone or fracture. However, this scenario would have been much different had she been riding a motorcycle instead of driving a luxury sedan. Steve Brooks, an experienced personal injury lawyer, reports statistics from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a recent video.
Figure 1. The design and mechanics of a modern vehicle, like my friend’s Nissan Maxima, are responsible for saving her life.
Figure 2. A devastating car and motorcycle accident that occurred on South Ponte Vedra Boulevard in June of 2017.
which find that “for every 100,000 cars registered in the US, 13 people end up in fatal crashes” and “out of 100,000 motorcycles, the number is a staggering 5x greater – 72 deaths.” Quick math suggests my friend would have been 500% more likely to be killed had she been riding a motorcycle instead of driving a car and been involved in the same accident. For the motorcyclist, a motorcycle crash is significantly more dangerous than a regular collision. While it is almost impossible for the motorcyclist to avoid injury during an accident, bodily harm can certainly be minimized if the motorcyclist takes necessary measures to protect themselves.
A car is much different from a motorcycle as it is designed to crumple upon impact, shielding the driver and other occupants from the force brought on by a collision. The energy of a crash radiates around the driver and passengers within the enclosure of the vehicle, which largely protects them from grievous bodily harm. However, motorcyclists are confined within no such enclosure, and thus are offered no similar source of protection by their vehicle. Instead, a motorcyclist tends to be thrown from their motor vehicle upon impact with another vehicle or a stationary object, such as a stop sign. According to University of Oviedo engineering researchers Mantaras and Luque, “the impact of motorcyclists against the posts of the roadside barriers is one of the most frequent and harmful accidents.”
Figure 3. A motorcyclist is thrown from their bike. Instead of boots, the driver wears a pair of Converse, which offer relatively little protection.
Regardless of the object one collides with, a motorcyclist is likely to experience multiple broken limbs or fractures, facial misconfiguration, a concussion, and/or even worse injury upon impact with the ground. If matters could not be worse, motorcyclists are not provided with the safety offered by a seatbelt, even if they happen to wear one. Being strapped to a motorcycle during a vehicular crash can be just as dangerous as being thrown from the motorcycle, because in some cases, the motorcyclist may survive the tumble to the ground, but then be crushed by the motorcycle they were just steering. Keeping this in mind, it is important to note that of all motorcycle accidents, 43% are deadly and involve critical bodily damage (Brooks and Strohmier). Perhaps the lack of an enclosed space that offers protection and the physical freedom that comes with riding a motorcycle is what makes a motorcycle crash so serious.
There are many precautions motorcyclists can take to protect themselves while riding, especially considering how dangerous the activity is. Possibly the best proactive measure is for a motorcyclist to wear a helmet, yet Florida law does not require those over 21 years of age to don a helmet if they are adequately covered by insurance. This is evidenced in the Florida statutes governing motor vehicles:
…a person over 21 years of age may operate or ride upon a motorcycle without wearing protective headgear securely fastened upon his or her head if such person is covered by an insurance policy providing for at least $10,000 in medical benefits for injuries incurred as a result of a crash while operating or riding on a motorcycle. (Title 23)
As evidence points out, Florida law does not enforce the use of protective headgear, which could potentially save the lives of motorcyclists, if riders are beyond a certain age. This is problematic and contributes to a kind of mentality which does not promote safe driving behaviors for motorcyclists. For instance, many falsely believe that the older one is and the more experience they have riding a motorcycle, the more likely they are to avoid or survive a motorcycle crash. However, this belief is clearly false.
Figure 4. Wearing a helmet could save a motorcyclist’s life.
A life-threatening motorcycle accident can happen to any rider at any given time and matters are made worse if the driver is not wearing a helmet. As one can see, it is important to wear a helmet as it offers the protection which can be the difference between life and death. Furthermore, all motorcyclists should wear protective clothing. A comprehensive study on the effectiveness of motorcycle protective equipment finds that motorcyclists who crashed wearing safety gear such as motorcycle jackets, pants, or gloves were significantly less likely to be admitted to the hospital following a devastating incident (de Rome et al. 1893). Clearly, protective clothing decreases the risk and severity of injury and hospitalization following a dangerous motorcycle collision. Since Florida law does not enforce the use of a helmet or protective gear for motorcyclists, de Rome et al. offers a helpful solution: “perhaps consideration could be given to providing incentives for usage of protective clothing, such as tax exemptions for safety gear, health insurance premium reductions and rebates” (1898). Such legislation would encourage the use of protective gear and could potentially save lives.
Aside from safety gear and helmets, several creative inventions have offered additional ways for motorcyclists to protect themselves while riding. This is evidenced by a patent proposed by Jacob Alaloof for an invention described as “a protective system including a garment-shaped inflatable member for surrounding at least upper portions of the body of a rider of a nonenclosed vehicle.”
According to the patent filing, the inflated member would have a “generally bulbous configuration” upon expansion so that “large magnitude concentrated forces” from a collision would not be transferred to the rider (1). If inventions such as Alaloof’s are successful, it can be reasonably predicted that riders would be much more likely to survive a motorcycle crash using creations like the inflatable member while riding. Additionally, reasonable inference suggests that if motorcyclists were to wear protective clothing, use a safety invention, and wear a durable helmet, their odds of surviving a collision would be even higher.
Overall, motorcycle crashes tend to be so serious because a motorcycle offers little protection for drivers and riders tend not to wear the proper equipment needed to protect themselves from injury and substantial pain. However, there are many safety measures motorcyclists can take to defend themselves while riding, namely those which involve wearing a helmet and protective clothing and/or by using an invention, such as the inflatable member, designed specifically to protect the motorcyclist from a dangerous collision. Motorcyclists are possibly the most vulnerable drivers on our nation’s roads, so it makes sense that they would need the most protection. It is up to us, as responsible citizens, to ensure to the best of our ability that motorcyclists are protected on the road, just as other drivers are.
- Alaloof, Jacob. Protection System for the Rider of a Non-Enclosed Vehicle. US 006125478A,
- United States Patent and Trademark Office, 3 Oct. 2000.
- Brooks, Steve. “Motorcycle Accidents.” Brooks Law Group, commentary by Steve Brooks, 13
- April, 2018, www.brookslawgroup.com/motorcycle-accidents/motorcycle-accidents/.
- Brooks, Steve and Joe Strohmier. “Florida Motorcycle Accidents.” Brooks Law Firm, 2015.
- CBS Action News. “Photos: Motorcycle, Car Crash in Ponte Vedra.” 17 June 2017, www.fox30jax.com/news/photos/photos–motorcycle–car–crash–in–pontevedra/535030039.
- De Rome, Liz, et al. “Motorcycle Protective Clothing: Protection from Injury or Just the Weather?” Accident Analysis & Prevention, vol. 46, no. 6, Nov. 2011, pp. 1893-1900.
- ScienceDirect, doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2011.04.027.
- MacDonald, Sean. “The Complete 2015 Guide to Buying A Motorcycle Helmet.” 4 December 2015, jalopnik.com/the-complete-2015-guide-to-buying-a-motorcycle-helmet-
- Mantaras, Daniel, and Pablo Luque. “Assessing Motorcyclist Protection Systems Using Finite Element Simulations.” International Journal of Simulation Modelling, vol. 14, no. 1,
- March 2015, pp. 110–120. ResearchGate, doi:10.2507/IJSIMM14(1)10.294}.
- The State of Florida. 2018 Florida Statutes. Title 23, section 316.11, The Florida Legislature, 27
- October 2018, www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes.