Did you know that A-List Hollywood celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and Jim Carrey are all avid bike lovers? As of 2011, the United States motorcycle industry is estimated to be worth a whopping USD21 billion, with the top manufacturers being Harley-Davidson (28%), Honda (25%) and Yamaha (17%).
The problem with having literally millions of motorcycles on the road though is that it also increases the risk of fatal accidents. While there was one notable drop in biking accidents in 2009, the number of biker-related accidents has been on a steady upward trend. Statistically, there is a 6% of experiencing a bike accident each time you ride out, which is considerably high compared to the risk of a car accident (1%). Another interesting numerical proof that it is much more dangerous to be riding a motorcycle than it is riding a car would be the fact that 13% of road fatalities are caused by motorcycles, despite the fact that only 3% of registered vehicles are motorcycles.
Although motorcyclists tend to go slower than larger cars, bikers are much more vulnerable to the external environment (such as rain or snow) and they are also unprotected from road hazards such as flying stray objects and poor road conditions. Relative to driving a car, a motorcyclist also has to pay close attention to his or her manoeuvring ability at all times, which could be both mentally and physically taxing.
While big bikes might be built to be as robust as four-wheel drives, the fact that the rider is not protected in an enclosed environment such as a car frame also means that injuries to the rider will also be much more severe during accidents. After all, 50% of motorcycle accidents also involve a collision with other types of motor vehicle whereas another 25% of the accidents involve the rider crashing into static road fixtures (such as a telephone pole or concrete abutment), all of which can take on a larger impact force relative to our fragile bodies.
Quite possibly the most dangerous aspect about riding the bike though is the ease of exceeding the speed limit. In 2007, it was deduced that the simple act of speeding on a motorcycle increased the probability of a fatal crash by 36%.
According to numbers gathered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), deaths caused by motorcycle accidents have dramatically increased by over 70% between the years 2000 to 2007. NHTSA has also issued a warning in 2010 warning all motorcyclists that they are 25 times likelier to die during a road accident and 5 times likelier to get injured relative to car passengers travelling on the same road.
The number of fatalities and injuries suffered by motorcyclists in the USA can be divided in terms of age and driving style. Interesting enough, motorcycling seems to be much more popular with bikers over the age of 40. However, this age group also happens to account for 54% of fatal accidents that occur during motorcycling. The good news is that the death toll of motorcyclists under the age of 39 years and below have been steadily dropping from 24% to 19% in the past decade.
Like car accidents, motorcyclists who drink and ride on the road are also much more susceptible to crashing their ride. According to the NHTSA, 30% of drivers involved in serious accidents were legally drunk with a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08%. It should also be noted that out of this 30% of intoxicated drivers, a majority (41%) of those with a blood alcohol content of about 0.08% were aged between 40 to 44 years, closely followed by drivers aged between 35 to 39 (41%).
One other interesting pattern was that if you were over the age of 40 and had blood alcohol content over 0.08% on a weekend, you would also have an increased 63% chance of riding into a single-vehicle crash. Similarly, those who rode motorcycles at night were also three times likelier to have blood alcohol levels over 0.08% and hence, had a 46% higher chance of getting killed relative to those riding in the daytime.
Besides age, alcohol intake and time of day, another cause of motorcycle accidents is known as speeding. While only 23% of car motorists get into mortal accidents due to reckless driving, 35% of motorcyclists risk their lives each time they speed up. Another obvious cause of reckless driving on the road can be attributed to the rider as well, as studies have shown that one out of four motorcyclists involved in fatal accidents do so without a valid driving license.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has also issued a statement that the mortality rate of a motorcyclist is in proportion to the type of motorcycle being ridden. In other words, riding a larger motorcycle might look cooler, but it also puts you at higher risk of getting into an accident mostly due to the fact that these superbikes (also known as supersports motorcycles) are designed to run at 190mph. These bikes which are also noticeably popular with drivers under the age of 30 also contribute to fatal road accidents by over 20%. 57% of superbike accidents in 2005 have also been attributed to fast speeds whereas 46% of non-superbike drivers were involved in accidents due to speeding.
Relative to touring and cruiser motorcycles, the superbike is noted to contribute to the overall highest insurance loss under collision coverage. Specifically, the superbike is 6 times costlier relative to the cruiser and 4 times costlier relative to the touring models. It has also been noted that from the list of the top ten motorcycles with the highest insurance loss, nine out of the ten models are superbikes as there are at least 9 claims for every 100 superbikes insured per year.
A collaborative effort between the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and state governments involves actively encouraging new and current drivers to undergo education, training and licensing tests. To further promote the importance of licensing, the states pf Connecticut and Tennessee have also began offering insurance discounts for drivers who have undergone motorcycle training courses approved by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.