Helmets Save Lives, But Motorcycle Operators Still Face RisksWhile there are many benefits to riding motorcycles, such as the joy of riding in the fresh air with friends and inexpensive transportation, there are dangers too. Many motorcycle accidents cause serious injuries, including traumatic brain injuries and fatalities.

According to the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security’s dashboard, there have been 2,066 motorcycle accidents in the first eight months of 2023 (40 of them in Sevier County). Of those accidents:

  • 140 were fatal; three fatalities occurred in Sevier County
  • 554 led to a serious injury; eight of these crashes occurred in Sevier County
  • 614 led to a “minor” injury; 17 of these occurred in Sevier County

The majority of these collisions occurred in broad daylight on a clear day, and about 47% did not involve another vehicle. We point this out because even when riders and operators take precautions, motorcycle crashes can still cause severe, even deadly injuries.

Why motorcycle crashes are so devastating

The primary reason motorcycle wrecks are so often deadly is because riders and operators lack the protection that drivers have. When two cars collide, the chances are good that the crumple zones will absorb most of the impact. A motorcycle operator doesn’t have that cushion of protection. He or she also doesn’t have airbags, a steel frame, or seat belts. When a biker is hit by a vehicle (or an animal), he or she is much more likely to be ejected from the seat and thrown into the road.

Does wearing helmet help reduce the risk of injury?

It does. When legislators tried to pass a pilot program that would make helmets optional for riders over 21, we had serious concerns. (Thankfully, the bill failed.) Helmets can help save the lives of drivers and passengers and help reduce the risk of more severe injury. “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, [states] that helmets reduce the risk of death by 37% to 42%, and that unhelmeted motorcyclists are three times more likely than helmeted riders to suffer traumatic brain injuries,” according to reporting by The Joplin Globe.

Advocates of motorcycle helmets assert that helmets:

  • Save lives and prevent serious injuries such as TBIs. They argue that helmets absorb the impact of a motorcycle crash instead of having your head directly strike the road or other objects.
  • Increase the likelihood other drivers see the motorcycle rider better especially if the helmet is a bright color
  • Help protect the rider’s face and eyes from bugs, rocks, and other object that may fly towards the rider
  • Protect the rider’s ability to hear by blocking out loud music or traffic
  • Keep the rider’s hair out of their eyes and mouth
  • Have ventilation features to keep the rider warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot
  • Are required in many states – such as in Tennessee
  • Can add Bluetooth so riders can listen to music or communicate with others

Choosing the right helmet for your needs

Consumer Safety strongly recommends that operators and passengers wear motorcycle helmets. They state that wearing a helmet greatly reduces a rider’s risk of serious head injury (such as a traumatic brain injury) and death. Both operators and riders should wear a helmet every time they’re on a motorcycle – even for short trips.

Consumer Safety specifically recommends that “Your helmet should have a thick polystyrene-foam inner liner, weigh about three pounds, and have a sturdy chin strap to hold the helmet on your head.” Helmets should also have a face shield to protect the rider’s eyes – unless the rider chooses to wear safety goggles.

Buyers of new helmets should be certain that the motorcycle helmets meet US Department of Transportation (DOC) safety standards. Helmets that are approved by DOT will have a DOT symbol (a sticker or painted on the helmet) – usually on the outside back of the helmet. Some helmets may also be certified by the Snell Memorial Foundation or the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Drivers and passengers can examine the inside label for one of these additional certifications. Tennessee law used to require that all riders over 21 wear a motorcycle helmet that meets federal standards and drivers under 21 were required to wear a helmet that meets additional standards.

Motorcycle helmets should be replaced approximately once every five years – or immediately if there are visible signs of a crack or other damage.

Everyone has a role to play in keeping motorcycle operators and riders safe

The Crossville Police Department shared some recommendations with WATE for how drivers can help keep motorcycle operators and riders safe. Drivers:

  • Need to recognize that motorcycle riders do have the right to be on the road.
  • Must allow motorcycles the full width of the road at all times.
  • Must signal when merging with traffic or changing lanes.
  • Need to be careful when a motorcycle has its signal on – “as motorcycle signals are often non-canceling.” Drivers should ensure that the motorcycle operator is turning before proceeding
  • Should check all their mirrors and blind spots for motorcycles before switching lanes or merging with traffic – especially at intersections
  • Must allow “ample follow distance – three to four seconds – when driving behind a motorcycle.” This helps drivers maneuver or stop in case of an emergency.

Consumer Safety recommends that motorcycle riders:

  • Ride only if they have a valid motorcycle license
  • Examine the motorcycle before each ride
  • Sit in the center of the seat and keep both hands on the handlebars except when signaling
  • Obey the traffic laws
  • Continually observe other vehicles
  • Look out for damaged roads and obstacles
  • Buy a motorcycle with an anti-lock brake system (ABS)
  • Never ride while intoxicated

At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, our Sevierville motorcycle accident lawyers understand the unique challenges involved in handling injury cases. We’re respected by former clients, insurance companies, and defense lawyers for our strong record of successful settlements and verdicts in personal injury cases and wrongful death cases. We demand full compensation for all your economic and personal damages.

To speak with our strong advocates, call us or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We represent motorcycle accident victims and families in Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the surrounding Tennessee areas.