AMA Unveils New Initiative to Reduce Motorcycle Crashes

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AMA Press Release, February 23, 2001:

AMA Unveils New Initiative to Reduce Motorcycle Crashes

The American Motorcyclist Association has launched a new initiative to battle a major cause of motorcycle crashes: other vehicles violating the right-ofway of motorcyclists.

Called Motorcyclists Matter, this multi-pronged effort is aimed directly at some of the most common accident scenarios involving motorcycles and cars -- cases in which drivers turn left in front of an oncoming motorcyclist, pull into the path of a motorcycle from a side street or cut into a lane occupied by a motorcycle.

The Motorcyclists Matter campaign seeks to increase penalties for car drivers who injure or kill motorcyclists, and to raise public awareness of motorcyclists on the road.

‘Research shows that more than half of all motorcycle crashes are caused by other vehicles violating the right-of-way of a motorcyclist,’ said Sean Maher, AMA director of state affairs. ‘By Increasing penalties and aggressively promoting motorcycle awareness, we hope to cut the number of crashes dramatically.’

Under the new initiative, for those drivers who ignore the rules of the road and inflict injuries on motorcyclists as a consequence, the AMA will pursue a gettough policy with state legislators. ‘Often, a driver convicted of violating the right-of-way of a motorcyclist gets off with a fine of $100 or less, even if his actions result in serious injury or death,’ noted Maher. ‘The AMA is seeing increased penalties in those cases --$200 to $1,000 in fines and a mandatory driver’s license suspension of 30 days to six months.’

In addition, the AMA is asking states to develop a course for offenders, focusing on the vulnerabilities of motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians. This class could be mandatory of right-of-way violators, or could be offered as an alternative to stiffer penalties.

Another component of the project is to encourage the creation of public information campaigns reminding drivers to watch for motorcyclists. These campaigns will include billboards, posters, radio spots, government proclamations and letters to newspapers.

The AMA will be working with state and local organizations across the country in an effort to kick off the Motorcyclists Matter program this spring. Clubs or individuals who would like to get involved in this project should contact Maher at 614 856-1900, ext 1265, or by e-mail at smaher@ama-cycle.org, and ask for the Motorcyclists Matter information kit.

AMA Motorcyclists Matter Program

Right-of-Way violations and Motorcycle Safety [issue brief]

Background: Over two-thirds of car-motorcycle crashes, and nearly half of all motorcycle crashes are caused by drivers, not by motorcyclists. Of the 1,319 fatal car-motorcycle crashes in 1999, 38 percent involved another vehicle violating the motorcyclist's right-of-way by turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the vehicle.

The unfortunate truth is that a driver's inattentive left turn, unwary lane change, casual red light "run", or untimely cell phone call can, and often does, result in the death or serious injury of a motorcyclist. While the motorcycling community has made efforts to mitigate these right-of-way type crashes through enhancing motorcycle awareness via billboard, poster, media and other campaigns, the message to "watch for motorcycles" continues to be unheeded by the general motoring public.

Compounding this serious traffic safety issue is the attitude of indifference that permeates law enforcement and the courts in matters regarding the violation of a motorcyclist's right-of-way. Lackadaisical prosecution, unspoken and sometimes spoken anti-motorcycle sentiment within the judiciary are telling signs of the sentiment that "motorcyclists don't matter." The National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety recognizes this problem noting, "Prosecutors and judges should be equitable when dealing with motorists who cause motorcycle crashes."

This societal and institutional indifference, combined with the substantial growth in motorcycling, increasing number of motorists on the road and the proliferation of in-vehicle technologies that exacerbate driver distraction creates an unprecedented urgency to address right-of-way violations in an aggressive manner that gets results.

Current Status: In general, right-of-way laws do not take into account the considerable vulnerability of road users such as motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Consequently, the penalty for a right-of way violator who dings a car, is generally the same as the penalty for a right-of-way violator that sends a more vulnerable road user, such as a motorcyclist, to the hospital or grave; a misdemeanor or summary offense with a small fine from $25 to $100.

Action: Introduction and enactment of legislation that enhances the penalties for right-of-way violations that cause injury to other road users, including motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists.

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Recommended enhanced penalties for right-of-way violations

1) Whoever is convicted of or pleads guilty to a right-of-way violation (or a violation of section xxxx, xxxx, xxxx, etc.,.) in which the offender is found to have caused injury, in addition to any other penalties, shall be fined $200 and shall have their driver's or commercial driver's license or permit or nonresident operating privilege suspended for 30 days.

2) Whoever is convicted of or pleads guilty to a right-of-way violation (or a violation of section xxxx, xxxx, xxxx, etc.,.) in which the offender is found to have caused serious bodily injury, in addition to any other penalties, shall be fined $500 and shall have their driver's or commercial driver's license or permit or nonresident operating privilege suspended for 90 days.

3) Whoever is convicted of or pleads guilty to a right-of-way violation (or a violation of section xxxx, xxxx, xxxx, etc.,.) in which the offender is found to have caused a fatality, in addition to any other penalties, shall be fined $1,000 and shall have their driver's or commercial driver's license or permit or nonresident operating privilege suspended for 6 months. Fines should be credited to state motorcycle safety program funds. Alternatively, if an offender's education program exists or is established, funding could be provided in part from these right-of-way violation fines as well.

The AMA further recommends that priority be given to incorporating these enhanced penalties with the right-of-way violations most often associated with motorcycle injuries and fatalities...those occurring in intersections, while turning left, at stop signs and yield signs.

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Program Outline: Putting a Stop to Right-of-Way Violations

While many in the traffic safety community, federal and state legislatures have been quick to regulate motorcycles and in some cases condemn motorcycling in the name of safety, little has been done to enhance motorcycle safety by holding those most responsible for motorcycle crashes and fatalities accountable... right-of-way violators. This neglect has led to an attitude of indifference

that permeates the motoring public, law enforcement and the courts in matters regarding the violation of a motorcyclist's right-of-way.

Though certainly not the only victims of those who violate rights-of-way, motorcyclists, along with bicyclists and pedestrians, are among the most vulnerable to injury when such a violation occurs. An inattentive left turn, an unwary lane change, or a casual red light "run" can, and often do, result in death or serious injury to motorcyclists.

Consider that more than one-half (1,319) of all motorcycles involved in fatal crashes in 1999 collided with another motor vehicle in transport. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the majority of these crashes were of the two-vehicle type, in which seventy-six percent of the motorcycles involved were impacted in the front. In 38 percent (425) of these crashes the other vehicle was turning left while the motorcycle was going straight, passing, or overtaking the vehicle. And in 23 percent (262) of these crashes both vehicles were going straight.

In the landmark study, Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures, 1981, researchers found that 64.7 percent of multi-vehicle crashes with motorcycles were due to the actions of the driver of the other vehicle. In addition, it was found that in 10.9 percent of single vehicle motorcycle crashes, another vehicle was at fault even though no contact occurred. Overall, it was found that half of all motorcycle crashes were caused by other vehicles violating the motorcyclists right-of-way.

Continuing societal and institutional indifference, combined with the substantial growth in motorcycling, the increasing number of motorists on the road and the proliferation of in-vehicle technologies that exacerbate driver distraction create an unprecedented urgency for the motorcycling community to tackle the issue of right-of-way violations in an aggressive, forthright manner. To that end, the American Motorcyclist Association announces the "Motorcyclists Matter" Initiative; a multi-component motorcycle safety initiative, the cornerstone of which is enacting state legislation to enhance the penalties for right-of-way violations that cause injury to other road users, including motorcyclists,pedestrians and bicyclists.

A multi-component motorcycle safety initiative from the AMA

The multi-component structure of this initiative recognizes that political climate, resources and support mechanisms vary from state-to-state. While one state may have a legislature that would be supportive of enhancing penalties, another may not. Similarly, resources may be more readily available to support an awareness program in one state than another. Whether pursued individually or collectively, any of these components will contribute to the enhancement of motorcycle safety through the reduction of right-of-way violations. The AMA encourages motorcycling organizations, as well as individuals to pursue components that are "right" for them. Following are the recommended components of the AMA's Motorcyclists Matter Initiative, along with descriptions.

1. Enhanced Penalties for right-of-way violations
2. Awareness Programs
3. Law Enforcement, Prosecutors, and the Courts
4. Bicyclists, pedestrians and coalition-building
5. Offenders Education Course

1. Enhanced Penalties for Right-of-Way Violations

The strategy of enhancing penalties to both elevate an issue and deter unwanted behavior has been applied successfully in a number of traffic safety initiatives. Perhaps the most notable is that of Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In virtually every state, traffic offenders face stiffer penalties and higher crimes if excessive alcohol or illegal drug use is involved while committing a traffic offense. This, combined with aggressive public information and education campaigns has led to an overwhelming societal awareness of the problems associated with operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Similarly, it is expected that enhanced penalties for right-ofway violations in combination with Public Information and Education (PI&E) campaigns will greatly increase the general motoring public's awareness of this issue and lead to reductions in right-of-way related crashes, of which motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable.

In general, right-of-way violations are considered minor misdemeanor or summary offenses. These typically have penalty provisions of a small fine ranging from $25 to $100, irrespective of whether the violator causes injury, serious bodily injury or in some cases a fatality.

This component does not seek to reclassify right-of-way violations to a higher misdemeanor or felony offense, but rather to enhance the penalty for the existing minor misdemeanor offense when the condition of a violator causing injury, serious bodily injury or fatality is met. In general, the AMA recommends the introduction and enactment of legislation that enhances right-ofway penalties to include a higher fine and mandatory suspension of driving privileges. Specific recommendations and sample language are included on the American Motorcyclist Association's recommendations for enhanced penalties for right-of-way violations page.

2. Awareness Programs

The AMA encourages the development of Public Information and Education (PI&E) campaigns targeting right-of-way violations of motorcyclists. Products such as billboards, poster campaigns, radio spots, news releases, proclamations and timely letters-to-editors can all be integrated to present an effective message reminding drivers to yield the right-of-way. The month of May marks the traditional beginning of the riding season and is an ideal time to launch these campaigns.

A possible funding source is Section 402 grant funding, typically available through your Governor's Highway Safety Office. In addition, the AMA will award five $500 grants to non-profit organizations that develop a right-of-way campaign featuring the theme "Motorcyclists Matter." To request a grant application, contact Sharon Titus at (614) 856-1900, ext. 1252. Finally, please send examples of your awareness efforts to the AMA, c/o Motorcyclists Matter, 13515 Yarmouth Dr., Pickerington, OH 43147. These, in turn, will be assembled into an idea packet for further distribution.

3. Law Enforcement, Prosecutors, and the Courts

Integral to the successful reduction of right-of-way violations are consistent enforcement and adjudication. The AMA encourages concerned motorcyclists to educate local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and judges about the serious issue of right-of-way violations. The enclosed fact sheet should aid in this regard.

Special emphasis should be directed toward prosecutors and judges to ensure they do not diminish the rights of individuals who are injured or killed while on a motorcycle. The AMA encourages aggressive monitoring of local motorcycle- related court cases. Prosecutors and judges who show a history of disregard for motorcyclists should be replaced through the election process. Examples of blatant judicial disregard for motorist right-of-way violations of motorcyclists should be mailed to the AMA, attn: Right-Of-Way, 13515 Yarmouth Dr., Pickerington, OH 43147. Based upon review, the AMA in turn will provide comment to the respective court/prosecutor and will apprise local AMA members of the situation.

4. Bicyclists, pedestrians and coalition-building

Lacking the benefit of a protective "cage", motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians are considerably more vulnerable to injury and fatality when involved in a crash than occupants of other vehicle types. Additionally, bicyclists and pedestrians, like motorcyclists, are frequently the victims of right-of-way violations. It is reasonable that bicyclists and pedestrians also be afforded the protective benefits of enhanced right-of-way penalty legislation. Advocates should consider building coalitions with bicycling and pedestrian organizations to support enhanced penalty legislative initiatives and awareness programs. A good source for identifying local bicycling organizations is the League of American Bicyclists. They can be contacted at (202) 822-1333, or visit their website at www.bikeleague.org.

5. Offenders Education Course

The development and offering of an offender's education course focusing on the unique vulnerabilities of motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians is encouraged. Participation in this course could be mandated for right-of-way violators, or offered as an alternative to the enhanced penalties outlined above. Possible funding sources for course development and delivery include fines collected from enhanced right-of-way penalties and Section 402 Highway Safety Grants. Several states may already have in place similar educational programs. Where these programs exist, advocates are encouraged to integrate a motorcycle safety component.To further aid in this initiative, the following materials are provided: AMA Press Release, Issue Brief, Enhanced Penalty Legislation Recommendations, NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 1999: Motorcycles, National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety. For further information on the AMA's Motorcyclists Matter Initiative, contact Sean M. Maher at (614) 856-1900, or e-mail: smaher@ama-cycle.org.