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Motorcycle Safety Guide: People Who Ride, People Who Die

Profile of a girlThe mother of a 13-year-old girl clinging to life wonders why her daughter wasn’t wearing a helmet as she rode on the back of a motorcycle driven by her father... They were both listed in critical condition Sunday — a "touch-and-go" situation two weeks after the motorcycle accident which is under investigation by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
- News Sun, August 20076

Today, more people are riding motorcycles than ever before. Motorcycle riders represent almost every demographic group in the country. Riders now tend to be more affluent than 30 years ago. The average age of riders has increased, and more women are riding than ever before.8 The profile of who crashes and who dies has changed too:

Age: Young people are not the only ones dying in motorcycle crashes. In 2010, more than half the people killed in motorcycle crashes were 40 or older, up from 25% in 1995.1,2

Sex: While only 10% of riders killed in motorcycle crashes in 2010 were women, almost all passengers (89%) killed in motorcycle crashes were women.2

Image: an outline of a womanWhen Ryan died from a motorcycle crash in 2004, the whole family was devastated. First, his brother became addicted to drugs, and after years of struggling with his addiction, he just recently got out of rehab. Then, his best friend tried to commit suicide. My cousin Ryan was only 24 when he died. His parents are still struggling to deal with the death of one son, and the damage to the other from drugs — both as a result of the crash. We're from a small town and everyone felt it. We're all looking for ways to cope.
- Emily W., January 20107

Helmets: Forty-one percent of motorcycle operators and 50% of motorcycle passengers who died in 2010 were not wearing a helmet.2

Location: More people are killed in motorcycle crashes on rural roads now than 20 years ago. Roughly half of all crashes take place on rural roads.9

Alcohol: When people drink and ride, they are at much greater risk of crashing and dying. Twenty-eight percent of motorcycle riders who died in 2010 had a blood alcohol concentration that was at or above the legal limit of .08 g/dL.10

Motorcycle Type: The majority of people who die in crashes are riding sport motorcycles with mid-size engines designed to maximize speed and agility.9

Who Dies?

Photo: crashed motorcycle and a dented minivanWhile studying for ministry, I spent a year as chaplain resident at a Chicago hospital. I was “on call” one evening when the emergency room paged me. An ambulance had just brought in a fellow who’d been riding his motorcycle without a helmet when an SUV had turned in front of him. Unable to turn or stop, he had hit the vehicle, ramming his head into a door.

He was a classic “biker dude”: muscular arms, tattoos, and a couple day’s growth of beard. He was unconscious and his face was swollen and turning purple. Emergency room staff swarmed around him.

I spent most of the night with that family. I listened to their stories, I shared their tears. The couple had two teenagers, plus a younger girl, age nine. I think about his family every time I see a biker zoom by without a helmet. Helmets and cautious driving save lives.

If, like this fellow, you have tough biker friends, I suppose they will tease you pretty hard if you do wear a helmet. It takes a thick skin and courage to handle teasing. Then again, I wonder how much courage it took for the nine-year-old girl to go in and say goodbye to her father?

-Reverend Dennis McCarty11

“From the moment of injury, society picks the person up off the highway; delivers him to a municipal hospital and municipal doctors; provides him with unemployment compensation if, after recovery, he cannot replace his lost job; and, if the injury causes permanent disability, may assume responsibility for his and his family’s subsistence. We do not understand a state of mind that permits plaintiff to think that only he himself is concerned.

- Opinion of the Federal Court of Massachusetts, 1972 Affirmed by the United States Supreme Court12

“A group of state legislators from across the country heard a presentation from a University of New Mexico neurosurgeon. At the end of his talk, one legislator asked, ‘If there was one thing we could do in the legislature to make your job easier, what would it be?’ They expected to hear, ‘Give us more money’ or ‘Increase our budget!’ Instead the surgeon answered, ‘Pass a motorcycle helmet law.’”

- Melissa Savage
National Conference of State Legislatures13


References are located on the Endnotes page.

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