According to preliminary data from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), motorcycle fatalities were down 8.6% in 2017. However, despite the decline in motorcycle deaths across the country, fatalities rose from 119 to 136 in New York. That’s a 14.3% year-over-year increase. Neighboring New Jersey fared even worse, with a 15.9% increase.
While the increase is certainly cause for concern, and motorcyclist safety should command the same attention NYC is currently giving to motorist, pedestrian, and bicyclist safety, the local increase may be attributable to a surprising factor entirely outside the control of both drivers and city planners: the weather.
The Surprising Impact of Weather on Motorcycle Rider Fatalities
Most of us associate bad weather with a higher risk of motor vehicle accidents. Rain and snow cut visibility and make roads slippery, increasing the time necessary to make a safe stop and the likelihood that a hazard won’t be spotted until too late. So, it may come as a surprise that a milder-than-usual winter is the leading suspect in the increase in motorcyclist fatalities.
However, body structure and lack of rider protection isn’t the only way motorcycles differ from cars and trucks. Another significant difference lies in how and why riders use the vehicles. While commuters generally don’t have the luxury of deciding not to drive in to the office if the weather is bad—at least, not unless it’s very bad—motorcyclists typically choose when and where to ride their bikes.
Many ride primarily recreationally, and even those who use their bikes for transportation may do so only sporadically or in season. So, while inclement weather makes the roads riskier for all motorists, it also cuts down the number of motorcyclists on the road.
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2017 Weather Patterns and Motorcycling Season
Michigan had a harsh winter in 2017, and motorcycle fatalities decreased in that state. Kansas, Kentucky, Vermont and New York had milder or delayed winters, expanding riding season, and all four states saw an increase in fatal motorcycle crashes. A similar impact may have occurred in some warm-weather states that faced devastating weather conditions in 2017. Both Texas and Florida typically allow for year-round riding, but were batted by hurricanes last year. And, both saw a dip in motorcyclist deaths.
The Bottom Line in Motorcycle Safety
While it appears that the weather impacted the motorcycle fatality rate in 2017, and the GHSA says this fits a pattern based on expanded or shortened riding seasons, the weather doesn’t play a causal role the way rain or ice might. Rather, the milder weather and extended riding season means more bikes on the road over a longer period of time, providing more opportunity for accidents.
The critical element in motorcycle safety remains the same across fluctuations in the weather and dips and surges in the crash rate and fatality rate: vigilant riders and drivers who follow the law and maintain a safe distance. When a motorist is negligent and collides with a motorcycle, or cuts off a motorcyclist and forces the rider into a dangerous situation, that driver may be liable for damages.
The personal injury attorneys at Dansker & Aspromonte have won millions of dollars for motorcycle accident victims, helping them to pay for medical care, replace lost wages, compensate for pain and suffering, and more. If you’ve been injured in a motorcycle accident that was someone else’s fault, or was partially caused by another party’s negligence, schedule a free consultation right now to learn more about how we can help.