Nearly every Florida resident has had the experience of driving down one of our major interstates, with another car speeding by, merging from lane to lane with little concern for those around them. But the drivers at most peril are those who too often go unnoticed even by drivers paying attention.
Since 2001, motorcycle fatalities have increased dramatically, by nearly 90% when compared to other motor vehicle fatalities. While motorcyclists seek to enjoy the benefits of the Florida sunshine, they also face serious risks, particularly on one of America’s most dangerous stretches of road, I-95 in south Florida.
From 2011-2013, Florida averaged about 456 motorcyclist deaths per year, down slightly from 2006-2008, but up dramatically from 246 in 2001. Regardless of Florida’s increase, the U.S. has seen a steady decrease from 2005 (43,510 deaths) to 2013 (32,719 deaths). The question that Floridians, and specifically those who ride motorcycles, should ask is: why aren’t we seeing a similar downward trend in our State?
There are likely several reasons, but perhaps the most easily remedied is the lack of a universal helmet law in Florida. Florida’s “helmet law” isn’t much of one, as it only extends to people under the age of 21, so long as the operator or rider is covered by $10,000 in medical benefits coverage. Unfortunately $10,000 is almost never enough coverage for someone injured in a motorcycle crash.
Out of the 50 states, there are four categories of approaches to helmet laws: those with no helmet law at all (Illinois and Iowa), those with an age requirement only, those with an age and insurance requirement, and those with mandatory helmet laws. This is hardly a plea for a mandatory helmet law, as this is maybe more an issue of self-responsibility, but those 19 states with mandatory helmet laws have invested in the safety that reduces a rider’s risk of death by almost one-third according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Even the best motorcycle rider faces the many dangers presented by poor drivers with whom he or she shares the road. I have had the privilege to represent several motorcyclists, who through no fault of their own, found themselves seriously injured following crashes. While each faced multiple broken bones and a significant and painful recovery process, they universally credited their helmets with saving their lives. A helmet is no guarantee that a rider will survive a crash, but it surely gives him or her a far better chance. According to NHTSA, riders who wear no helmet and who experience a crash are 40% more likely to sustain a fatal head injury, with head injuries being the leading cause of death in motorcycle crashes. NHTSA’s statistics are overwhelming when extrapolated out over a decade. From 1984 to 1995, they estimate that over 7,400 lives were saved by motorcycle helmets, and wearing a helmet might have saved another 6,300 lives.
So for those of you who plan to enjoy the open roads and sunny skies on motorcycles, by all means please do, but please be as safe about it as possible.