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Washington motorcycle accidents: a primer

Motorcyclists can be seriously hurt or killed in crashes.

If you’re a motorcyclist, you understand that nothing feels quite like hitting the open road on your bike. The wind on your face, the sunshine beaming down on you, and the freedom that comes with having no barriers between you and nature; there really is no other feeling like it. When the weather warms across our state each year, riders hit the road en to take advantage of the riding season.

This enjoyment doesn’t come without risks, however. The lack of a protective barrier (like the steel frame, windshields, cushioned seats and airbags of a passenger vehicle) can mean that the motorcyclist’s body takes the brunt of the force in a crash. Such trauma can easily result in:

  • Compound bone fractures that require surgical intervention for reconstruction
  • Serious damage to internal organs
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • “Road rash,” scrapes and lacerations
  • Friction burns
  • Paralysis due to spinal fractures and spinal cord damage

Statistically, motorcycle accident injuries tend to be much more severe when passengers don’t have on helmets and other protective gear (like boots, leathers, gloves, and goggles). That is why Washington state law makes conforming, federally compliant helmets and eyewear mandatory for all motorcycle operators and passengers at all times. (See Revised Code of Washington 46.37.530(1)(c) for more information.) Still, many riders see helmets as a matter of choice. They are willing to accept a possible citation and risk injury in order to exercise their personal freedoms.

Risk factors

Sometimes motorcycle accidents are not caused by any unsafe actions or behaviors of the motorcyclists themselves. The small size and lower profile of motorcycles can mean that they simply aren’t seen unless drivers are truly focused on the task at hand. For example, if a distracted driver fails to notice a motorcycle up ahead stopped at a red light and rear-ends it, that is in no way the fault of the motorcyclist. The same goes true if a driver making a left-hand turn at a busy intersection and doesn’t see the motorcyclist proceeding lawfully with the right of way through the green light.

Alcohol consumption on the part of either drivers or motorcycle operators plays a large role in the overall crash rates. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that, in 2015 (the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available), nearly 5,000 motorcyclists were killed in accidents across the country; 76 of those fatalities were in Washington. Nearly 34 percent of the fatal accidents involved motorcyclists with detectable blood alcohol levels. Not only are impaired vehicle drivers more likely to crash into motorcycles, but impaired motorcyclists are more likely to be unable to avoid accidents through evasive measures.

Motorcycle accident injuries are often serious or catastrophic. An instantaneous crash can result in wrongful death or a life-changing injury. If you or someone you love was hurt in a Washington motorcycle crash, seek the advice of a personal injury attorney with experience handling these complex accidents before you sign anything concerning fault or accept an insurance settlement offer.