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Most Fatal Accidents Are NOT
"I didn't see him" problems - despite what you have heard

By: James R. Davis



I can't tell you how many times I've heard that most motorcycle accidents are the result of someone turning left into them from oncoming traffic. That apparently wide-spread belief has never felt right to me based on my own half a million miles on the road, and it clearly smacks of an attempt to rationalize responsibility away from the motorcyclist.

I have included the complete text of a July 1994 report issued from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at the end of this Tip because I could not find a URL to let you link to it yourself. [I found a URL to it after I created this tip: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/PPSC/Research/june95.htm.] In summary, however, it makes the following points:

  • Running off the road, usually in a curve, often involving alcohol, and almost always a 'single vehicle' accident accounted for a stunning 41 percent of the total motorcycle fatalities. This is more than twice the percentage of any other cause.


  • The running of a traffic signal in an intersection, most often a stop sign and most often by the other vehicle, accounted for 18 percent of the total accidents.


  • Oncoming, head-on crashes accounted for 11 percent of the total. Very few of these were in intersections and a few were on divided roads. About half were on straight roads and the other half on curves. 58 percent of all these crashes were attributed to the motorcycle rider's failure to stay in lane or using excessive speed.


  • Left-turn oncoming crashes, as with the oncoming crash type described above, involve vehicles traveling in opposite directions. However, for this crash type, one of the vehicles is in the process of making a left-turn in front of oncoming traffic. This was the fourth most common crash type accounting for only 8 percent of the total. The left-turn was almost always being made by the other vehicle and not the motorcycle. That is, the motorcycle almost always had the superior right of way. This crash often occurred at intersections (69 percent) or at driveways and alleys (7 percent).


  • "Motorcycle down", meaning the motorcyclist loses control of the bike (including deliberately 'dumping' it) and it goes down on the roadway, accounted for another 7 percent of the total. These usually occurred on dry, level, and straight roads.

These five categories account for about 86 percent of all the fatalities looked at. "He didn't see me" excuses could only be used in about half the 'running traffic signal' and 'oncoming' situations as well as most of those categorized as 'left-turns'. In other words, no more than about 20 percent of all these fatalities involved a second vehicle that could have claimed not to see the motorcyclist. That's a long way from 'most'.

Further, while the report goes on to make some suggestions about how to reduce these accidents, it does not read like the writings of a motorcycle rider. To suggest that an important possible countermeasure is to 'avoid excessive speed when entering an intersection' pales in comparison to simply insuring that another vehicle is on your right side as you enter intersections, for example.

Following is the full text of the cited article:

quote:
Analysis of Fatal Motorcycle Crashes: Crash Typing from FARS Data by David Preusser, et al (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 1005 N Glebe Road, Arlington, VA 22201; ph 703-247-1500) (July 1994) [HE 5616.5 .P7]

Motorcycles, which are a small subset of all motor vehicles, are greatly overrepresented in fatal crashes in the United States. The death rate per registered motorcycle (59 per 100,000) is more than three times the death rate per registered passenger car (17 per 100,000). Death rates calculated per vehicle, however, do not take into account the substantially lower mileage traveled by motorcycles. Per mile traveled, the death rate for motorcycles is estimated to be 22 times higher than the comparable death rate for passenger cars.

In 1992 there were 2,074 motorcycle crashes. These were grouped into 11 crash type categories: 10 defined crash types plus one category for other and unknown. The most frequently occurring crash type was ran off-road, followed by ran traffic control, oncoming (i.e., head-on), left-turn oncoming, and motorcyclist down. Taken together, these five most frequent types accounted for 86 percent of the 2,074 crashes.

Ran off-road crashes involve situations where the motorcyclist leaves the roadway and overturns or strikes some off-road object. This is the most frequently occurring motorcycle crash type accounting for 41 percent of the total. These are often late night, weekend crashes involving a motorcyclist who had been drinking. Off-road objects struck include: culvert, curb, or ditch (24 percent of the 857 crashes); posts and poles (11 percent); trees (10 percent); and guardrails (10 percent). This crash type, unlike the other crash types, most often occurs on a curve in the road (71 percent at curves versus 21 percent for all other crashes). Most are single-vehicle crashes though occasionally the motorcycle, the driver, or debris returns to the roadway and some other vehicle becomes involved.

Ran traffic control crashes occur when one vehicle with an obligation to stop, remain stopped, or yield, fails to do so and thus collides with some other vehicle. This was the second most frequently occurring motorcycle crash type accounting for 18 percent (375) of the total. Most occurred at intersections (72 percent), driveways and alleys (7 percent), or interchanges (4 percent). The traffic control device was most often a stop sign (39 percent) or traffic control signal (18 percent). Nearly all (97 percent) were "angle" collisions. Of the 375 events, 341 involved just one motorcycle plus one other vehicle. Within the FARS coding system, variables are defined and coded for driver and occupant factors as well as for the crash and vehicle. Analysis of these 341 crashes indicated that it was the driver of the other vehicle, not the motorcyclist, who was most often assigned the FARS driver factor "failed to yield" (146 versus 63). That is, in many cases, the motorcycle had the superior right of way. The driver factor most often assigned to the motorcycle was "excessive speed" (80 versus 4) indicating, at least in some of these cases, that the motorcycle was approaching the intersection at a high rate of speed making it difficult for the other motorist to detect the motorcycle in time.

Oncoming, or head-on crashes involve a collision between two vehicles traveling in opposite directions. This was the third most common motorcycle crash type accounting for 11 percent (225) of the total. Few of these crashes occurred at intersections (5 percent versus 25 percent for all other cash types) and few occurred on divided highways (7 percent versus 25 percent). About half occurred on straight roadways and half occurred on curves. Driver factors, typically failure to remain in established lane and/or excessive speed, were most often assigned to the motorcycle (158 versus 58).

Left-turn oncoming crashes, as with the oncoming crash type described above, involve vehicles traveling in opposite directions. However, for this crash type, one of the vehicles is in the process of making a left-turn in front of oncoming traffic. This was the fourth most common crash type accounting for 8 percent (176) of the total. The left-turn was almost always being made by the other vehicle and not the motorcycle (175 of 176 events). That is, the motorcycle almost always had the superior right of way. This crash often occurred at intersections (69 percent) or at driveways and alleys (7 percent).

Motorcyclist down crashes cover situations where the motorcyclist loses control of the vehicle and goes down in the roadway. The motorcycles could have struck something in the roadway or have been struck by some other vehicle after going down. This was the fifth most common crash type accounting for 7 percent (152) of the total. Generally, it could not be determined why the motorcycle went down. The "loss of control" could have been a deliberate action on the part of the motorcyclist (i.e., putting the bike down) to avoid some perceived threat ahead. The crashes occurred on dry (93 percent) level (73 percent) roadways that were straight (56 percent) or curved (43 percent).

The most important finding in the present study was that five defined crash types accounted for 86 percent of all of the motorcycle crash events studied. Two of these types, ran off-road and oncoming, are predominantly the result of one or more errors (i.e., FARS driver factors) on the part of the motorcyclist. Both typically involve a motorcyclist who leaves the appropriate travel lane(s) either running off the road or colliding with a vehicle coming from the opposite direction. Both tend to occur more frequently in rural areas, on higher speed roadways and at curves. Ran off-road crashes are very often alcohol related. Countermeasures designed to promote helmet use and reduce drinking and driving, and excessive speed, would be appropriate.

Ran traffic control and left turn oncoming involve an interaction between the motorcyclist and one or more other drivers. Unlike ran off-road and oncoming crashes, they occur more often at intersections, on lower speed roadways, in urban areas, during times of the day when more traffic would be expected, and less often are alcohol related. Typically, the motorcyclist has the superior right of way just prior to the crash, and some other vehicle fails to grant this right of way moving into the path of the motorcycle.

Possible countermeasures include improved signal timing, enforcement of stop and yield obligations, and improved sight distances at intersections particularly in cases where the smaller motorcycle may remain blocked from view long after larger vehicles have become visible. Motorcycle drivers can reduce their chances of becoming involved in these two crash types by maintaining lane discipline (not popping out from some unexpected location). wearing conspicuous clothing, and by avoiding excessive speed when entering an intersection.

That some people persist in thinking that most motorcycle accidents occur in intersections still bothers me. I'm all for being extra careful in an intersection, if that is what this thinking leads to, but am most distressed that the evidence suggests that we need to be even more careful in handling curves and that this is being discounted.

Though the stats I provided were admittedly fatality related, there simply must be a correlation between fatal accidents and total accidents. Still there are other available sources than those that I have provided.

Consider this from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) 1994 report entitled: TRAFFIC SAFETY FACTS, on all traffic fatalities in the US during that year:

quote:
MOTORCYCLES The 2,304 motorcyclist fatalities accounted for 6 percent of total fatalities in 1994. The motorcycle fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled is about 20 times that of passenger cars. Motorcycle operator error was identified as a contributing factor in 76 percent of fatal crashes involving motorcycles in 1994. Excessive speed was the contributing factor most often noted. 43 percent of fatally injured operators and 48 percent of fatally injured passengers were not wearing helmets at the time of the crash. Approximately one out of every five motorcycle operators involved in a fatal crash in 1994 was driving with an invalid license at the time of the collision. Motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes in 1994 had a higher blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level (28.9 percent) than any other type of motor vehicle driver. NHTSA estimates that 518 lives were saved by the use of motorcycle helmets in 1994.

Operator error - 76% of fatal crashes involving motorcycles - and excessive speed. This is simply NOT descriptive of intersection accidents.

This is NOT an argument that most two-vehicle accidents occur in curves - rather it is an argument that most fatal motorcycle accidents do, thus it is probable that most of all motorcycle accidents resulting in injury do as well. There is no doubt in my mind that multi-vehicle accidents tend to occur in intersections.

Copyright © 1992 - 2020 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.
http://www.msgroup.org

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

     
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