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The Anatomyof a Motorcycle Crash

A motorcycle crash.

A motorcycle crash is a complex event involving the interaction

of human, vehicle, and environmental factors. While there is no “typical” motorcycle crash, what is “typical” is that a motorcycle crash is a violent event. More than 80 percent of all reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death to the motorcyclist. The motorcycle itself provides no head injury protection to the rider or passenger. Ejection from the motorcycle is a common injury pathway. If a motorcycle comes to a sudden stop and the rider is ejected from the motorcycle, the rider will forcibly strike objects in the path as well

as the ground.

Vehicle differences.

A motorcycle lacks the crashworthiness and occupant

protection characteristics of an automobile. An automobile has more weight and bulk than a motorcycle. It has door beams, a roof, airbags, and seat belts. It is also more

stable because it is on four wheels. Because of its size, an automobile is easier to see. What a motorcycle sacrifices in weight, bulk, and other crashworthiness characteristics is somewhat offset by its agility, maneuverability, ability to stop quickly, and ability to swerve quickly when necessary.

Causes of motorcycle crashes.

In 1996 there were 67,000 motorcycles involved in

police-reported crashes, of which 40 percent (27,000) were single vehicle crashes. Many of the causes of motorcycle crashes may be attributed to lack of experience or failure to appreciate the inherent operating characteristics and limitations of the motorcycle. These factors require motorcyclists to take special precautions and place more emphasis on defensive driving. A motorcyclist, for example, has to be more alert at intersections, where most motorcycle-vehicle collisions occur. About one-third of multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes are a result of other motorists turning into the path of the motorcycle. More than other vehicle drivers, motorcyclists must remain visible at all times, and anticipate what might happen. For example, motorcyclists must anticipate that drivers making left turns may not see them and prepare to make defensive maneuvers. They also must be more cautious when riding in inclement weather, on slippery surfaces, or when encountering obstacles on the roadway. Motorcyclists must place greater reliance on their helmet, eye protection, and clothing to reduce the severity of injury should they become involved in a crash. And they should attend a motorcycle training course to learn how to safely operate a


Approximately 43 percent of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve alcohol. A motorcycle requires more skill and coordination to operate than a car. Riding a motorcycle while under the influence of any alcohol significantly decreases an operator’s ability to operate it safely.

Source: UCLA School of Public Health, Center for Injury Prevention


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