Motorcycle Accident Fatalities Increase in Ohio, Nationwide
The following article analyzes why motorcycle accidents continue to occur at a high rate nationwide, even though the overall number of fatal motor vehicle accidents has steadily declined during the last two decades. Most recently, motorcycle fatalities nationwide increased by an estimated 10 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year. Based on such statistics, motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to be killed in an accident compared to people traveling in a passenger vehicle.[i]
In response to this trend, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has embarked on its largest comprehensive research project in 30 years analyzing motorcycle accident statistics nationwide in an effort to understand why motorcycle accidents remain so common.[ii]
A total of seven states nationwide agreed to participate in this study, including Ohio. This article will examine whether motorcycle accident injuries and fatalities remain a serious problem in Ohio and Cuyahoga County in particular. Additional studies and articles focusing on the causes of motorcycle accidents have also been examined for this article to determine what action, if any, should be taken to reduce the number of motorcycle accidents.
The primary geographic focus for this article includes the state of Ohio and, when statistics are available, Cuyahoga County in northeast Ohio. Cuyahoga County includes Cleveland, the second-largest city in the state. Other communities located in Cuyahoga County include Parma, Lakewood, Cleveland Heights, North Royalton and North Olmsted, Ohio.
Between 1997 and 2014, the overall number of motor vehicle accident fatalities declined nationwide, according to the statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). In 1997, there were 42,013 fatalities nationwide as a result of motor vehicle accidents. In contrast, there were 32,675 fatalities in motor vehicle accidents in 2014, a decrease of 22 percent compared to 1997.[iii]
Meanwhile, the number of motorcycle accident fatalities during the same 17-year time period increased by 116 percent. Specifically, 2,116 people died in motorcycle accidents nationwide in 1997. In 2014, a total of 4,586 people died in motorcycle accidents in the United States. The upward trend continued in 2015, in which an estimated 5,010 people died in motorcycle accidents nationwide, a 10 percent increased compared to 2014.[iv] Based on such statistics, federal officials say that motorcyclists are 26 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident as compared to people in motor vehicles.
"These sobering findings provide a stark reminder of how susceptible motorcyclists are to fatal and life-threatening injuries," said Richard Retting, co-author of the Governors Highway Safety Association’s (GHSA) annual forecast of motorcyclist fatalities, released May 19, 2016.
The trend was similar in Ohio. In 1997, there were 1,270 motor vehicle accident fatalities in 1997.[v] In 2014, there were 1,006 motor vehicle accident fatalities in Ohio, a decrease of 20.7 percent. The trend was similar in Cuyahoga County as well. In 1997, there were 81 total motor vehicle fatalities. In 2014, there were just 46, a decrease of 43 percent.
As for motorcycle accidents in Ohio, there were 108 fatalities and 2,801 injuries in motorcycle accidents statewide in 1997.[vi] In 2014, motorcyclists sustained 140 fatalities and 3,060 injuries in accidents statewide. That’s a 29.6 percent increase in fatalities and 9.2 percent increase in injuries compared to 1997.[vii] Those numbers climbed even higher in 2015, when 163 people were killed and 3,362 were injured in motorcycle accidents in Ohio.[viii]
"Obviously there's concern about the fact that the numbers are trending back up," Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Craig Cvetan, a patrol spokesman, said during an interview with the Associated Press.[ix]
Similar statistics comparing motorcycle accident fatalities in Cuyahoga County were not available before 2010 or after 2014. During that five-year period, there were 12 motorcycle accident fatalities in Cuyahoga County in 2010; in 2011, there were 14 fatalities; in 2012 and 2013, there were 4 fatalities each year. Then in 2014, that figure increased to 9 motorcycle accident fatalities in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.[x]
Increase in registered motorcycles
The increase in the number of motorcycle accidents nationwide and in Ohio since 1997 coincides with a dramatic increase in the number of registered motorcycles during the same time period. In 1997, there were 3,826,373 registered motorcycles in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.[xi] In 2014, more than double that number of motorcycles were on the road nationwide. Specifically, there were an estimated 8,417,718 registered motorcycles in 2014, an increase of 119 percent or 4,591,345 motorcycles compared to 1997.[xii]
However, the increase in the number of motorcycle accident injuries and fatalities has far outpaced the number of additional motorcycles on the road. Specifically, "motorcyclist fatalities increased proportionately more than registrations and vehicle-miles traveled" between 1997 and 2006.[xiii]
Similar statistics were not available for Ohio for 1997. However, in 2014, there were an estimated 404,770 registered motorcycles in Ohio, the fourth-largest number of registered motorcycles compared to other states nationwide.[xiv]
Another trend has also emerged in recent years – the average age of motorcycle owners has increased dramatically. Between 1985 and 2003 nationwide, the average age of motorcycle owners has increased from 27.1 years old in 1985 to 41 years old in 2003.[xv] Another, more recent study found that the average age of motorcycle owners increased from 40 years old in 2001 to 49 years old in 2010.[xvi]
In addition, motorcycle buyers have been purchasing more powerful motorcycles in recent years. Specifically, motorcycles with 750 cc engines or larger increased by 54 percent between 1998 and 2003. Sales of motorcycles with 450 cc to 749 cc engines also increased by 16.6 percent during the same time period. In contrast, motorcycles with 449 cc engines or smaller all experienced double-digit declines in sales during the same time period.[xvii]
Common causes of motorcycle accidents
Motorcycle accidents occur for many different reasons. One of the most common reasons cited by drivers who crash into motorcycles includes not being able to see the motorcyclist. However, there are many other risk factors which can result in accidents involving motorcyclists, according to Richard Retting, co-author of the Governors Highway Safety Association’s (GHSA) annual forecast of motorcyclist fatalities in 2015.[xviii] Specifically, the GHSA identified four risk factors associated with motorcycle accidents in its 2015 study:
- Lack of helmet use
- Alcohol involvement;
- Invalid licensure
"The risk of motorcycle crashes and fatalities is compounded by factors such as alcohol and drug use, increased speed limits, the repeal of state helmet laws, and a record number of vehicles on U.S. roads. Concerted efforts are needed to reduce this tragic loss of life," Retting said.
The recent GHSA study also noted that other drivers, not motorcyclists, often caused accidents involving motorcyclists. The report states:
Drivers of other motor vehicles that collide with motorcycles are often at fault in these crashes, violating the motorcyclist’s right of way. The most common collision type is when the other motor vehicle is turning left while the motorcyclist is going straight, passing, or overtaking other vehicles. The reason most often offered for these collisions is that motorcycles present a smaller visual target and are not seen by the striking motorists. Motorcyclists are rightfully concerned about incursions into their path. [xix]
In an effort to gain a greater understanding of why motorcycle accidents continue to occur at an increased rate, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has been analyzing motorcycle accident statistics nationwide dating back to 1997. "Having a better understanding of what causes these crashes will help us improve roadway safety for everyone," Federal Highway Administrator and Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez said in 2009. "Keeping people safe on America's roads is Secretary LaHood's top priority at the Department of Transportation." The study is expected to be completed this year.[xx]
Motorcyclists injured in an accident in Ohio or who sustain damaged to their motorcycle due to someone else’s reckless or negligent behavior have the right to pursue compensation for property damage, injuries and other accident-related expenses. Under Ohio’s Statute of Limitations laws, the injured party or surviving family members generally have up to 2 years from the date of the accident to take legal action. However, if the injured party is less than 18 years old, he or she can file a claim up until his or her 20th birthday.
In many instances, injury victims or family members file a personal injury lawsuit or wrongful death lawsuit, according to Ohio Revised Code Ann. § 2305.10 and Ohio Revised Code § 2125.02.
The amount of damages (financial compensation) an injury victim or surviving family members can obtain after a motorcycle accident in Ohio varies from case to case. If a lawsuit goes to trial and a jury finds in favor of the injury victim or their family (defined as the plaintiff), the jury decides how much money to award the plaintiff based on losses such as medical bills, future medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost wages.
There is no limit on how much a jury can award to a plaintiff in Ohio in a personal injury or wrongful death case. The intent of the law is to make the injured party whole again by paying for the full cost of the accident.
Motorcycle accident injuries and fatalities have become an even more serious problem in recent years. Even taking into account a significant increase in the number of motorcycles on the road, the injury and fatality rate has steadily increased. A clear understanding of why such accidents occur continues to be a matter of debate. The age of the motorcyclist, the size of a motorcycle’s engine and actions taken by drivers could all be factors that contributed to the sharp rise in the number of motorcycle accident fatalities and injuries. As a result, the Motorcycle Crash Causation Study (MCCS) of the causes of motorcycle accidents currently being conducted by the Federal Highway Administration comes at an opportune time.
Ohio’s participation in the MCCS should benefit motorcyclists in the state, in which the number of motorcycle accident fatalities and injuries has steadily increased in recent years. Based on the findings of MCCS and other studies, experts studying the problem will hopefully be able to offer solutions designed to reduce the number of motorcycle accidents in Cuyahoga County and throughout Ohio.
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[i] "New Data: Motorcyclist Deaths Surge 10 percent in 2015," Governor’s Highway Safety Association, May 19, 2016.
[iv] "New Data: Motorcyclist Deaths Surge 10 percent in 2015," Governor’s Highway Safety Association, May 19, 2016.
[v] "Motor Vehicle Accident Statistics Nationwide By County, 1995-2012," Melissa Data, undated.
[vi] "Table 5.08, Crashes, Deaths and Injuries Involving Motorcycles, 1986-2000," Ohio Public Safety, Ohio Crash Facts 2000, Published Aug. 6, 2001.
[vii] "Table 5.08, Crashes, Deaths and Injuries Involving Motorcycles, 2014," Ohio Department of Public Safety, Ohio Traffic Crash Facts 2014, Published May 12, 2015.
[x] "Traffic Safety Facts, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 2010-2014," National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, undated.
[xi] "Table 5, Motorcycle Registrations and Vehicles Miles Traveled (VMT) by Year," Recent Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes: An Update, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, June 2006.
[xii] "Motorcycle Traffic Fatalities by State, 2015 Preliminary Data," Governor’s Highway Safety Association, May 19, 2016.
[xiv] "U.S. motorcycle registration estimates in 2014, by state," The Statistics Portal, undated.
[xvi] "J.D. Power Study: U.S. Motorcycle Riders Aging, and Leaving Market," Motorcycle Daily, Dec. 16, 2010.
[xvii] "Table 2, New Street-Legal U.S. Motorcycle Sales by Engine Sizes, 1998 and 2003," Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, May 14, 2009.
[xviii] "New Data: Motorcyclist Deaths Surge 10 percent in 2015," Governor’s Highway Safety Association, May 19, 2016.
[xix] "Motorcycle Traffic Fatalities by State, 2015 Preliminary Data," Governor’s Highway Safety Association, May 19, 2016.