Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

Significant Increase in Motorcyclist Fatalities

May 17, 2021

The month of May marks National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. In Wisconsin, there are 545,587 drivers with Class M motorcycle licenses, with almost 6,000 motorcycle instruction permits issued in 2020. Unsurprisingly, motorcycles are a common presence on Wisconsin roads. Unfortunately, motorcycle crashes are similarly common throughout the state.

Significant Increase in Motorcyclist Fatalities

From 2019 to 2020, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that motorcyclist fatalities increased by 36.6%. This increase is especially significant, considering that the COVID-19 Pandemic led to a 16.6% decrease in the number of vehicle miles driven across the country in the first half of 2020. So even though streets and highways were almost empty, fatalities increased substantially.

Both distracted driving and an uptick in risky driving behavior have contributed to the increase in motorcyclist fatalities, despite low traffic numbers during the pandemic. Wisconsin State Patrol superintendent, Tony Burrell, indicates that many of the people on the roads during the pandemic are less risk-averse and more likely to use excessive speed and drive while impaired. Additionally, distracted driving instances continued to rise, even while the number of motorists decreased. In fact, one in six crashes in Wisconsin is due to distracted driving. All of these factors contribute to an increasingly dangerous environment for motorcyclists.

In Wisconsin, preliminary data from the DOT shows there were 2,095 motorcycle crashes, 1,788 motorcyclists injured, and 112 motorcyclist fatalities in 2020. Motorcycle crashes most often occur when other vehicles are changing lanes, turning left, or when vehicles pull out in front of a motorcycle. Often, these instances result in a citation for the vehicle driver for failure to yield the right of way. Under section 346.18 of the Wisconsin Statutes, a citation can result in a $175 fine, but penalties increase severely if the violation results in injury or death.

Staying Safe on the Road

While not every accident or crash is avoidable, there are several steps riders and drivers can take to obtain zero preventable deaths on Wisconsin roads. Generally, avoiding distractions while driving, such as cell phones, driving sober, and slowing down will help keep eyes on the road and eliminate unnecessary accidents.

Specifically, motorcyclists should ensure they are properly licensed and have proper motorcycle-specific gear, including the right type of helmet and jacket. Motorcycle gear is designed with extra padding and visibility to help keep riders safe. The Wisconsin DOT also strongly recommends completing a motorcycle safety course, even though one is not required to obtain a Class M motorcycle license. Additionally, motorcyclists should always stay alert of themselves, other motorists, and their surroundings in order to potentially avoid dangerous situations. Assessing the road ahead for debris or wildlife in the roadway can help motorcyclists avoid potential hazards.

Other drivers should also be sure to stay alert and conscious of their surroundings while driving. Specifically, motorists should make sure to double-check their blind spot when changing lanes, turning, or merging into traffic. Additionally, sharing the road and leaving extra distance between vehicles and motorcycles can help keep both driver and rider safe.

With more and more drivers back on the roads as COVID restrictions loosen and the warm weather returns, keep these tips in mind to keep yourself and others safe.

If you have any concerns regarding a vehicle or motorcycle accident, please reach out to Axley Attorneys.