Motorcyclists are fourteen times more likely to be killed than regular motorists. Why is this?
Many people believe motorcyclists are often injured or killed because they are young, reckless, driving in wet conditions or speeding excessively. While these may be factors in some crashes, they usually aren’t.
Ontario Provincial Police statistics reveal that between 2008 and 2014, the 45-54 year old age bracket suffered the highest number of motorcyclist fatalities. The 55-64 year old age bracket was a close second. In contrast, riders under the age of 25 were involved in less than 10% of all motorcyclist fatalities.
Many people believe that choosing to ride in wet road conditions is a major cause of motorcycle crashes. However, over 90% of motorcyclist fatalities between 2008 and 2014 took place on dry roads.
Speeding & Reckless Driving
While speeding and reckless riding are sometimes factors in motorcycle crashes, the Ontario Provincial Police have stated that the vast majority of Ontario motorcyclists demonstrate safe, defensive driving.
The Real Causes of Motorcyclist Injuries
Motorcyclists are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in crashes because they are more exposed, and the smaller size of motorcycles makes them less visible (especially to inattentive drivers). It’s easy for a car switching lanes to strike a motorcyclist in its blind spot. If this happens, the operator of the car will probably be unhurt. However the motorcyclist will likely go flying off his motorcycle and suffer serious injuries.
The potential for more serious injuries and death is what makes motorcycle safety so vital. A small collision may mean nothing for the driver of an F-150, but for a motorcyclist the consequences could be devastating. Given how seriously motorcyclists are injured, it’s important to understand how automobile insurance policies respond to the types of injuries they suffer.
Accident Benefits Insurance
Motorcyclists frequently suffer brain injuries as a result of collisions they are involved in. On June 1, 2016, the Accident Benefits (also known as no-fault benefits) portion of our insurance policies changed. Before the change, someone who suffered a “catastrophic” injury could receive up to $2 million of treatment and care if it was reasonable and necessary. If their injuries were not catastrophic, then they could receive up to $85,000 of treatment and care if it was reasonable and necessary. After the change however, only $1 million is available to those who are catastrophically injured, and $65,000 to those non-catastrophically injured.
It gets worse. Before the June 1, 2016 changes, all that was required to be considered catastrophically injured on the basis of a brain injury was to have a low level of consciousness following the collision. This method ensured that if someone suffered a serious brain injury, they could start receiving extensive treatment soon after their injuries.
Unfortunately, with the changes to the law, it takes an extended period of time to be able to access the insurance benefits available to catastrophically injured people. The quickest way to access catastrophic benefits is by being in a coma for over a month. Of course, very few brain injuries cause a person to be in a coma for so long. The next opportunity for the insurance company to consider a person catastrophically injured is six months after the date the injury occurred. To gain access to the catastrophic benefits at this juncture a person’s brain injury must render them severely disabled.
Motorcycle Crash Example
You may think that even if a person has a serious brain injury, $65,000 of treatment goes a long way. To challenge this belief, let me give you an example of someone who suffers a moderate brain injury in a motorcycle crash.
Rick takes out his brand new Triumph motorcycle for a ride. Despite riding responsibly, a distracted driver sideswipes him. The impact sends him flying off his bike and he smashes his head into the road median. Rick loses consciousness. He wakes up at the hospital with a severe headache and his senses overwhelmed by the light and sound in his hospital room. Hospital doctors tell him that he has some bleeding in his brain but that he will survive.
After a week, Rick is still feeling terrible and has difficulty taking care of himself. But the hospital desperately needs the bed for other seriously injured people and they discharge him home. Rick suffers from severe headaches which debilitate him for a few hours each day. He sleeps 14 hours per day and struggles to speak clear sentences. He is forgetful, has difficulty thinking, and suffers from sensitivity to light and noise.
A speech language pathologist helps Rick re-learn how to communicate effectively. An occupational therapist teaches him strategies to compensate for his cognitive problems. A social worker helps him work through his day to day life. A psychologist provides counselling to aid with anxiety and depression caused by the brain injury.
Rick also needs several pain medications to help him endure his headaches. He has a personal support worker who attends his house each day to help the types of personal care that he is no longer capable of performing.
With this comprehensive care plan, Rick will exhaust his $65,000 for treatment within a few months. It will be months before his insurance company will even begin to consider whether to give him access to catastrophic benefits.
Suddenly, Rick has no more treatment. He has no personal support worker to help him with his personal care. Without his speech language pathologist helping him to communicate effectively, he struggles with interpersonal conflicts and setting up his medical appointments. His day to day life becomes overwhelming and his anxiety and depression worsens without the aid of counselling. Rick goes into a downward spiral.
The reduced insurance benefits have compromised Rick’s recovery. His lack of timely treatment will prevent him from achieving a full recovery. His lack of recovery will likely harm his long term psychological health. His new limitations will stop him from working in a cognitively demanding job. Both the crash and the new insurance law have irreparably harmed his future. The lack of adequate automobile insurance makes motorcycle safety even more important.
We know that the consequences of even a simple motorcycle crash can be devastating. So how can we reduce the risks of them occurring?
As a motorcyclist it’s important not just to drive safely, but also drive defensively in case another vehicle makes an error. Regardless of whose fault the crash is, it will be the motorcyclist who pays the price in terms of serious injury or even death. Below are a few tips for how motorcyclists can drive defensively to protect themselves from other vehicles.
Motorcyclists can reduce the risk of a crash by adjusting their lane position in response to the driving situation. For example, if you are going to be travelling straight through an intersection where drivers travelling in the opposite direction will be turning left, you can stay to the right side of your lane. By staying to the right side of your lane, you allow yourself more time to maneuver if a car starts to make an ill-advised left turn in front of you.
Given the small size of motorcycles, it is easy for them to be missed in a car’s blind spot. You never know if the driver of a vehicle will do a proper shoulder check before switching lanes. The best solution is to avoid being in a motorist’s blind spot when driving on a two lane road. If you find yourself beside a vehicle, either speed up or slow down to make yourself easily seen.
Since motorcyclists can be difficult to see, a good idea is to wear highly visible clothing. This way you will stand out. A car driver who performs only a quick, cursory shoulder check before switching lanes may notice you if you have bright clothing when they otherwise wouldn’t.
The second component to wearing proper gear is wearing protective clothing. A motorcycle helmet, a jacket with proper padding in the elbows, shoulders, and spine, gloves, proper footwear, and protective riding pants are all important to safe riding.
In vehicle – motorcycle collisions, the driver of the vehicle is often at fault. So how can we drive in a manner which ensures the safety of motorcyclists?
Because of their small size, a motorcycle can be easily hidden in a car’s blind spots, or masked by objects outside a car such as bushes and signs. Take an extra second to look for motorcycles, whether you’re changing lanes or turning at intersections.
Motorcyclists often slow down by letting off the throttle or downshifting. This means they are less likely to activate their brake lights. Motorists should predict that a motorcycle may slow down without a visual warning. Motorists should also allow more following distance between themselves and a motorcycle.
Another issue with the small size of motorcycles is that they tend to look further away than they actually are. The most common collisions involving motorcycles are as a result of drivers turning left in front of a motorcycle when there is not enough time to do so. A good idea is to assume that a motorcycle is actually closer to you than they appear to be.
Hopefully these tips can help motorcyclists have a summer of safe and enjoyable riding.
Author: Lane Foster
Lane Foster is a lawyer practising at William J. Teggart Personal Injury Law with offices in Barrie, Ontario. You can follow his popular Twitter and Instagram accounts @Lanefoster7.