About 70 motorcycle riders are killed on Maryland roads every year, while another 1,400 are injured. According to police reports, almost half of the motorcycle accidents in Maryland do not involve another vehicle, with speeding and driving under the influence being the top causes of fatal crashes.
However, motorcycle riders in Maryland can prevent such accidents from happening by wearing proper protective gear and equipping themselves with the right knowledge and skills needed to ride a motorcycle safely.
Motorcycle accidents in Maryland by the numbers
For four years beginning in 2013, the number of fatalities from motorcycle accidents in Maryland had been steadily increasing. From 62 deaths in 2013, the numbers reached a period high of 85 deaths come 2017.
Across the United States, the number of motorcycle deaths decreased from 2013 to 2014, but the figures have been growing ever since. In 2016, there were 5,286 fatalities from motorcycle accidents in the US, a 5.1% increase from the previous year.
On the other hand, the number of riders injured in motorcycle accidents climbed in 2014 but fell to 88,000 in 2015. However, there was a slight increase in numbers the following year, with an additional 1,291 riders who sustained injuries.
The Maryland numbers may seem small compared to national figures, but one death and injury is already one too many.
Speeding and drunk driving in Maryland
Both speeding and driving under the influence (DUI) are the leading causes of motorcycle accident deaths in Maryland. Over the years, these two have cost the lives of many Maryland riders, which is why it is important to remember that going too fast and riding while drunk is not only illegal but also fatal.
In 2016, 33% of fatalities from motorcycle accidents in Maryland were speeding-related, while 25% of motorcycle accident deaths involved riders under the influence of alcohol. Additionally, 7% of these fatal DUI cases involved riders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) between 0.01% and 0.07%.
Other common causes of motorcycle accidents in Maryland
Despite the low number of motorcycles on Maryland roads compared to any other type of vehicle, data from the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) reveal that there are approximately 1,500 motorcycle accidents that happen in Maryland every year.
The highest number of total crashes occurred in 2014 when 66 motorcycle riders were killed and 1,186 were injured. However, the deadliest year overall was 2017 when 85 people lost their lives in 83 fatal crashes.
Aside from speeding and drunk driving, there are other reasons why motorcycle accidents continue to happen in Maryland. These include:
Sudden and improper lane changes
Due to their smaller size, motorcycles are less visible to other motorists on the road. As a result, accidents may happen when other drivers fail to check their blind spots thereby missing the presence of a motorcycle rider when changing lanes.
Riders failing to judge the speed of another vehicle making a left turn can lead to devastating accidents. To avoid this, riders should leave enough distance between their motorcycle and another vehicle to have enough time to react should another driver fail to see them when turning left.
Rear-end collisions often happen when other motorists follow too closely behind motorcycles, or when a motorcycle rider is too close behind another vehicle. When either vehicle brakes abruptly, the following driver may find it difficult to avoid, thereby causing a rear-end accident.
Car doors opening
People parallel parking along the curb is quite a common sight on many city and urban streets. However, when a driver opens the car door without looking, it can cause a motorcycle rider—who is not expecting a car door to suddenly open—to crash through it and be tossed forward, thereby causing an accident.
Road hazards and weather condition
Riders should always be alert for any road hazard like uneven pavements, potholes, and debris, and avoid riding in bad weather as these are significantly more dangerous for motorcycles than typical four-wheeled vehicles. Because motorcycles are less stable, riders should be extra cautious when encountering such dangers to avoid losing control of their vehicle.
Lane splitting is when a motorcycle rider passes between two lanes of traffic, often when vehicles are stopped at a red light or traffic is moving slowly. However, despite being illegal in Maryland, many motorcycle riders are still willing to take the risk of both a ticket and endangering their lives.
Although not as common as the other causes on this list, vehicle defects due to poor design and manufacturing mistakes can also lead to motorcycle accidents. In such cases, an injured rider may hold the motorcycle’s manufacturer liable for the accident.
Factors that contribute to motorcycle accidents in Maryland
Data from the Maryland MVA show that motorcycle accidents are more likely to happen when certain variables are present. While some of these circumstances may not be avoided, some accidents can still be prevented by making smart choices regarding safety.
Some of these variables include:
The combination of youth and inexperience in riding a motorcycle has a direct relation to the frequency of motorcycle accidents. In Maryland, almost 35% of all motorcycle accidents involve riders between the age of 24 and 34. On average, about 134 riders who are injured and 27 who are killed belong to this age bracket.
At a rate of 86 out of 100, male riders are more likely to be involved in motorcycle accidents than female riders. Female passengers, however, are injured and killed more. From 2013 until 2017, 88.9% of injured passengers and 90% of passenger deaths involved females.
Helmets can drastically reduce the likelihood of serious injuries in motorcycle accidents. In Maryland, one out of ten fatal motorcycle accidents involves a rider not wearing a helmet. The number is similar for injured riders who refused to wear this protective headgear.
Types of route
The roads motorcycles travel on also affect the likelihood of a crash. Maryland highways tend to have the highest rate of motorcycle accidents, with around 54% of all road mishaps occurring on these thoroughfares. These route types also have the highest number of both rider and passenger injuries and fatalities.
Where do motorcycle accidents commonly happen in Maryland?
Of all the motorcycle accidents in Maryland from 2012 until 2016, 28% occurred on country roads while 33.9% percent occurred on state routes. Surprisingly, Maryland parking lots are also witnesses to an average of 25 motorcycle accidents each year.
Motorcycle accidents in Maryland often happen in the counties of Prince George and Baltimore, with 230 and 196 accidents recorded in 2016 respectively. In the same year, there were 151 motorcycle-related injuries and five fatal crashes in Baltimore.
Despite these figures, the total number of motorcycle accidents in Baltimore has been steadily decreasing since 2012, except for a slight climb in cases between 2014 and 2015.
Helmet use in Maryland
Maryland has been implementing a universal helmet law since 1992. This means that helmet use is mandatory and not at the rider’s discretion. Maryland’s universal helmet law requires all riders to wear a helmet while they are riding on public roads.
Moreover, the helmets must also be approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT) following Section 21-1306 of the Transportation Article of the Maryland Code. In addition to this, motorcycle riders in Maryland are also required by law to wear eye protection unless their motorcycle has an approved windshield.
Aside from being DOT-approved, the helmets must also meet the requirements of Maryland’s MVA which uses the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 as its minimum standard for compliant helmets.
As for eye protection such as goggles and face shields that a rider is required to wear in case his motorcycle is not equipped with a law-compliant windshield, they must be non-tinted and should comply with impact-resistance regulations prescribed by the Food and Drug Administration.
In the case of windshields, they must be securely fastened to the bike and at a height that is appropriate to protect the eyes and face while sitting on the motorcycle in a riding position.
Effectiveness of helmets
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), helmets are 37% effective in preventing rider deaths and 41% effective in avoiding passenger fatalities. In 2016, an NHTSA report revealed that the lives of 1,859 motorcycle riders were saved because they were wearing helmets at the time of their accidents, but 802 more lives could have been saved if these riders also wore helmets.
However, even if helmets can reduce the likelihood of injuries from a motorcycle crash, they can only do so much if a rider is involved in a fatal accident.
In Maryland, 75 people lost their lives in motorcycle accidents in 2016. According to the NHTSA, of these numbers, 63 riders wore helmets at the time of the crash while the remaining 12 did not. However, figures from the Maryland MVA are slightly different. According to their records, only 41 people who were wearing helmets died in motorcycle accidents in 2016.