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What can we learn from NASCAR and Motorsports to Prevent Motorcycle Accidents?

Many NASCAR fans and sports fans at-large have already heard of the tragic news from the dirt-track race in upstate New York. For those still unfamiliar with the incident, it occurred on Saturday August 9, 2014 at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Well-known NASCAR driver Tony Stewart was participating in a dirt-track race – a hobby of his. During the race Stewart’s No. 14 car and Kevin Ward’s No. 13 car are about to emerge from a turn with Stewart gaining on Ward. It then appears that Stewart and Ward’s car or wheels make contact. Then Ward’s car spins out and strikes the wall – and unfortunately this isn’t yet the tragic part. As often occurs in motorsports and NASCAR, Ward took the collision with Stewart as something of a personal challenge. With the race still raging around him, Ward, clad in all black, exited his now disabled vehicle. He then gestured at the vehicle that he believed had caused his wreck: Stewart’s. Narrowly avoiding another racer, Ward appeared to approach Stewart’s oncoming vehicle. Then disaster stuck. Ward appeared to be pulled into Stewart’s car’s wheels, under the car, and was then thrown through the air. Ward died from injuries sustained in the crash before medical attention could arrive.

Investigators believe that the low visibility of Ward, or lack of conspicuity, may have contributed to or caused the accident. Ward’s dark fire-suit and dark helmet coupled with the dim lighting may have contributed to the incident. Low conspicuity is also often a contracting factor or cause in motorcycle accidents. In fact, it is the leading reason for motorcycle crashes. Were you injured in a motorcycle accident and had a defective helmet? Contact a Philadelphia helmet injury lawyer today.

What causes Motorcycle Accidents?

According to statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when compared to a driver of a passenger car, a motorcyclist is about 34 times more likely to suffer a fatal injury in an accident. The seminal 1981 USC study, Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, also known as the Hurt report, found that 98-percent of multi-vehicle crashes and 96-percent of one vehicle accidents result in an injury to the rider. The most common cause for motorcycle accidents is that the driver of the other vehicle did not see the motorcyclist. In fact, according to the report, the most common scenario for multi-vehicle accidents occurred when the driver of a car was making a left turn as an oncoming motorcycle approached the intersection.

How can Motorcycle Accidents be reduced?

A number of national and international studies have identified improving the conspicuity, or visibility, of motorcyclists as the front-line of reducing motorcycle accidents. At least since the time of the Hurt report it has been considered uncontroverted fact that, “The failure of motorists to detect and recognize motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of motorcycle accidents.” Furthermore, the study found that reduced visibility due to sun glare and obstruction of view by other vehicles plays a factor in nearly half of all multi-vehicle accidents. Finally, the study concluded that, “Conspicuity of the motorcycle is a critical factor in the multiple vehicle accidents, and accident involvement is significantly reduced by the use of motorcycle headlamps (on in daylight) and the wearing of high visibility yellow, orange or bright red jackets.”

A 2004 study conducted in New Zealand found decreases in the risk of accident when motorcyclists took measures to improve their conspicuity. The risk of accident was reduced by 37% if the motorcyclist wore any type of fluorescent or reflective clothing. Those who wore a white helmet instead of a black helmet faced a 19% lower risk. Finally those who employed their headlights during the day saw their accident risk reduce by 27%. This study likewise concluded that visibility of motorcyclists determines their risk of getting into an accident. A 2010 Iowa State University study illustrates that many states are making efforts to improve awareness regarding motorcyclist conspicuity. 39 states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, provide a comprehensive overview of conspicuity in their state motorcycle manual. 5 states include some mention or at least a partial discussion of the topic in their guides. While two stats’ manuals were not available to the study’s authors, 4 states fail to make any mention of conspicuity. Of the 44 states to have taken some action, 96% have initiated conspicuity campaigns and half have performed outreach to other motorists. Perhaps the simplest means of reducing motorcycle accidents is improving motorcyclist visibility. This can be accomplished by wearing bright, reflective, or fluorescent apparel or taking other measures including:

  • Headlights on during the day
  • Use of signals
  • Ensure functional brake lights
  • Use of mirrors
  • Perform head checks
  • Use of horn
  • Avoid riding at night

Taking steps like these can allow you to do the things you enjoy and ride your motorcycle while potentially preventing yet another motor vehicle tragedy.

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